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January 7, 1985 – Saturn is founded

first gen saturn
First generation Saturn S-Series

The automotive history of Saturn cars started as a code name for what was to be a new small car that would fall under one of General Motors’ existing brands in the mid 1980s. Chevrolet, Oldsmobile and Pontiac all received consideration when discussions of the new car started in June of 1982. At the time, domestic automakers came under pressure to build more efficient compacts to compete with imports. GM Chairman Roger Smith publicized the plan to produce a new vehicle in November of ’83, promising something different. Just more than a year later, on this day in automotive history in 1985, GM officially founded Saturn Corporation. That small car became it’s own company.

A concept car soon followed. While the idea to release the vehicle under an existing brand had faded, the cars had made their marque, pun intended. After nearly five more years of development, Saturn was ready for the big time. Following retooling of the Spring Hill, Tennessee assembly plant, Saturn cars went into production, with the first leaving the facility on July 30, 1990. The first Saturn car was a red 1991 model-year Saturn SL2. GM finally had its premier import fighter.

saturn vue
A silver 2008 Saturn Vue

Saturn: A Different Kind of Car Company

Saturn marketing called itself “A different kind of car company.” The new branch featured unique models and operated a separate retailer network from other GM brand, with the first Saturn dealership opening in Memphis. In the beginning, the cars rolled out of the factory and into driveways with ease. In 1993, workers assembled the 500,000th Saturn. By May of 1995, the one millionth left the line. The next year, Saturn dealers even began selling the GM EV-1, the first electric car from the company.

While the cars sold at a relative success rate, the brand didn’t actually match the expectations that GM had set. Executives and finance buffs alike blamed the numbers on a recession in the early 1990s. However, it was found that more than 40 percent of Saturn buyers already owned a GM vehicle. This caused sales to drop for Chevrolet and Pontiac primarily, with their own executives unhappy with the Saturn brand.

saturn sky
Saturn Sky. By Greg Gjerdingen from Willmar, USA – 2007 Saturn Sky Red Line, CC BY 2.0

The End of Saturn Cars

Despite all of this, the brand continued to grow, for the time being. The first Saturn SUV, the Vue, came to market in 2002 with relative success. The Saturn Sky, the company’s first convertible, hit the market for 2006. The good times would not keep rolling. Internal financial difficulties combined with the 2008 recession sent GM into a tailspin. On December 2, 2008, GM announced it would focus on its four core brands, Chevrolet, Cadillac, GMC and Buick. This meant Pontiac, Hummer, Saab and Saturn were all on the chopping block.

In a hurried attempt to offload Saturn, a GM struck a deal with Penske, which planned to contract other car companies to build Saturn vehicles. The plan ultimately fell apart, leading GM to close the doors on Saturn for good. The last Saturn rolled out of the factory on October 7, 2009.

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