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GM Banks on New Models to Shift Saturn Out of Neutral

November 3, 2003

When General Motors Corp. chose the Saturn name in 1982 for its future "small car project," it had nothing to do with the ringed planet, buteverything to do with running circles around foreign rivals, according to the Detroit News. The name harkened back to the Saturn rocket that carried Americans to the moon and propelled the United States past the Soviet Union in the space race.In the same way, GM designed Saturn to zoom past the scrappy Japanese in the small car race. Now 13 years later, the brand imagined as the "import killer" is still chasing as Japan's Big Three -- Toyota, Honda and Nissan -- pull further away, the News said.It has also been surpassed by Korean brand Hyundai and is under threat by Kia as well, the News noted.Now Saturn is undergoing sweeping change, including an infusion of new models in new segments, an ambitious goal to nearly double annual sales and a move away from its trademark plastic body panels, according to the News.GM executives said they are committed to see the brand through this rough patch. "Saturn's going to be just fine," GM vice chairman and product chief Bob Lutz said in a recent interview. "They're going to get new products."While retaining its touchy-feely, attentive merchandising strategy, Saturn is moving away from other traits that initially set it apart from GM, according to the News. It willbegin building similar vehicles alongside other GM models that share the same chassis and other parts. The practice will help perpetuate a longGM strategy of building several vehicles off the same basic underpinnings.But as more Saturn vehicles are built on platforms common to other GM vehicles and Saturn's stablemates all declare war on Asianand European brands, does GM's designated "import-killer" still have aviable role?"GM is probably debating it right now," said JimSanfilippo, an analyst with Warren-based consultant AMCI. "If GM has established imports as the competition, does it need one division based on conquering imports alone? The answer is probably no."
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