Thursday, February 19, 2009

A different kind of car company

When Saturn was started in 1990, as a “different kind of car, a different kind of car company” aimed at owners of small Hondas and Toyotas, its small cars were immediate hits. But G.M. executives decided in the mid-1990s that they needed to support G.M.’s other brands over Saturn, which by then had cost $5 billion.
I remember when GM rolled out the Saturn, & it seemed goofy at first, a smaller car where the sticker price was the price you paid. But I thought the Saturn was basically a good idea, except I wondered by GM was carrying both Buick & Olds as separate divisions, or not shrinking Pontiac to a few variations of a fast street machine, maybe market it like a Corvette. The Corvette is a Chevy, not all Chevy dealers had them in showrooms, or had salespeople who understood them, & you went to the dealers who specialized in Vettes. I'm a cultural product of the car crazy Sixties, when monster GM was supposed be an illusion of a bunch of different car companies., & that's how GM structured itself. Everyone knew a Mercury was a Ford & a Dodge was a Chrysler. But around 1990, Hyundais were improving, the Japanese were getting big into luxury cars, you still had the Germans. Selling American didn't mean you had to run the corporation like it was 1965 when the only big import competition was the Volkswagon Beetle (which had a well-advertised retail price you paid for the basic model without sunroof, you could buy in the morning & drive off the lot in the afternoon). Why was GM trying to get bigger?
G.M. said Tuesday that it would phase out its Saturn brand by 2012. It does not plan to develop any more new vehicles for Saturn, which began 19 years ago as an effort to attract owners of small Japanese cars.

G.M. also said it was considering its options for the Pontiac division. The Pontiac name, part of the car business since 1932, could remain on some models, but may no longer be a separate division. G.M. said Pontiac would be a “focused brand” with fewer models.

The disclosures by G.M., contained in a viability plan submitted to the government, means that G.M. plans to cut its brands in half, to four: Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick and GMC.

It said last fall that it would try to find buyers for Hummer and Saab. On Tuesday, it said it would decide on Hummer’s fate by March 31.
Later in 90's, I saw my first civilian Humvee. It was parked by the deli near my sister's in an upscale community, & people were practically orgasmic admiring it. My reaction (& it was vocal) was that it was the ugliest, most damned useless big dick SUV I ever saw, no reason for those to be running loose in suburbia. Shortly thereafter, GM bought rights to the Hummer from what was left of AMC & Hummers were everywhere, but they were driven only by assholes from McMansions & successful drug dealers. & named, so it seemed, after an oral sex act that is impossible to give or receive without laughing - if you have a sense of humor. Driving a Hummer was like saying, "On your knees, bitch" to everyone driving anything smaller, & that's no joke.

I was just a grumpy guy, frustrated with American car companies, expressing common sense opinions. Ford had closed its two Jersey plants & the GM in Linden looked doomed, although it struggled on for another decade.

My girlfriend in the early 90's had a no frills Mazda, stick, very peppy compact, reliable, a pleasure to drive. I had a Dodge Omni hatchback, automatic, only about 50,000 miles on it, prime time for Japanese subcompacts, but the Omni was coming unglued. A hypothetical good car, it was insidiously built to fall apart based on age rather than mileage & normal wear.


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