Saturn: GM's New Bright Spot
April 14, 2006
I just finished watching the unveil of the all-new Saturn Sky Red Line, Outlook, and Aura from the New York International Auto Show. One thing that stuck with me from that press conference was the excitement and emotion that Saturn Brand Manager Jill Lajdziak had for the division’s revitalization. It’s unusual to see true excitement from auto company executives when unveiling new product, but it was quite evident that Ms. Lajdziak is excited and ready to revitalize Saturn, which in the end is only going to help them. I have to admit, I am just as excited for the future of Saturn as GM.
No questions asked the one thing that is going to help Saturn the best is their business reputation; when it comes to customer service and pricing, Saturn will not be beat, and according to surveys, that alone attracts conquest customers. Not to mention that a stellar sales and service experience is a recipe for loyal, long-lasting customers. People are saying, “well, import customers won’t flock to Saturn.” Think about it, if the “old” Saturn could manage to snag import owners (which it did so relatively well), how could the new Saturn, with awesome new products; not steal some conquest buyers?
I was very skeptical of the Aura sports sedan in the days prior to it’s arrival. I was sure that the car would be another poor attempt at a midsize sedan by GM, but I was in fact wrong. The car has the safety features, design, interior, and powertrain to spark sales in the midsize segment. Many people are complaining that the car “isn’t true to the concept,” and to them I ask this; did you really expect it to? Insiders have been saying all along that the Red Line version of the Aura will look identical to the concept (down the 19” chrome wheels). In order for the car’s performance variant to look the part, they cannot have the base Aura looking just like it. Another thing I am seeing is that the car “doesn’t have all the features that the imports have.” While I’ll agree that the Aura should have optional Xenon headlights and dual-zone climate control (which I expect to see before the car hits lots), not every car is going to be equipped with every option. That’s the beauty of this industry- LOTS of choices. Will this car take sales from the “oh so wonderful” Camry and Accord? It’s really hard to tell, but one would think that all of the people that buy the Camry and Accord all the time would get tired of owning the same vanilla sedan that half the people on their block own. Maybe not, but if they do, the Aura would be a fine alternative.
It’s a dead giveaway that the new Outlook crossover will steal sales from the Japanese imports. That product is (dare I say it!) near-perfect on paper and photograph. I can’t stress enough that the Outlook, Enclave, and Acadia all represent how GM is going to be executing every product from this point forward. No more half-ass attempts just to “get them by” like we have gotten in the past. I wouldn’t be surprised to see demand for the Outlook jump to levels that are usually reserved for niche products like the Sky. Why? Well, think about it… there are really no crossovers on the market that offer seating for eight comfortably, tons of space behind the third row, unique features (sliding second row), and that doesn’t look like a minivan or wagon. I can see a lot of minivan buyers flocking for the Outlook as well, just for the fact that it offers nearly as much room, but without the minivan looks. Judging from the response online from the Outlook (lots of “That will be in my garage!” comments), I feel this is going to be a BIG (no pun intended) product.
Generally I don’t predict success of new products/lines, but I am making an exception this time; Saturn is going to be a hot brand and it is going to grab GM lots of conquest sales. The Outlook will probably steal the most conquest sales, but the arrival of the Vue and Aura Green Line models could steal quite a few as well.