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Just before the current financial crisis cropped up, General Motors sent out invitations to the media to come and drive the new Saturn Vue two mode hybrid. That event was supposed to happen this past week. But, just like GM's LA Auto Show press conference, the Vue drive was canceled to save money.

As General Motors pleaded for its life in Washington DC this week, the survival plan it submitted to Congress gave four of its eight brands a likely death sentence. One of those is Saturn, the brand that started in the mid-eighties as a subsidiary apart from the rest of GM. It was meant to be an incubator for a new way of building and selling cars in the United States. The idea was only partially successful. Customers liked the Saturn retail experience and a lot of lessons about manufacturing spread to the rest of GM. Unfortunately the early Saturns weren't great cars and those introduced in the latter part of the last decade and early part of this one weren't much better. In recent years, a transformation process that essentially made Saturns re-branded Opels created better products but not a lot of sales.

The two-mode Vue would have been the second iteration of GM's strong hybrid system and the first implementation in a smaller vehicle. A plug-in version has also been under development. The question now is will we ever get a chance to see this hybrid system produced in reasonable sized vehicles? If GM gets the help it needs, will it add the two-mode to the similarly-sized Chevy Equinox or the Malibu or any other vehicle?


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  • 21 Comments
      • 6 Years Ago
      This rebranding kick that GM had been doing for too many years doesn't appear to work with the majority of consumers. Yes there are a few who will believe that a GMC is built better then a Chevy, even if they come out of the same factory.

      It started to fall apart when Olds used Chevy engines, but charged Olds prices. From a branding perspective, Saturn appeared to work for a short time, but their early cars were not very good, and it hasn't improved much. I think it worked because they were truly different, but then failed because it was soon apparent that they were not better.

      Folding Saturn into Chevy makes sense, but why would they keep GMC? GM only need 2 brands, Chevrolet and Cadillac. Buick could be divided into high-end Chevys or low-end Cadillacs.
        • 6 Years Ago
        I have to say its not as bad as Chrysler was in the 80's where a Shadow and Sundance were identical except for some striping and the model nameplate.

        For example, my mother bought an Aura but did not like the new Malibu. The differences in appearance are more substantial. Yet, under the skin they are close to the same vehicle.

        The question is does doing this get GM more revenue than it costs to do these variants.

        The armchair critics of GM's multiple brands see competing brands and not variants of the same car to expand sales. And GM is playing to the crowd and congress aren't going to get into an argument about it. Its really one for the accountants to figure out if it was a benefit or not.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Saturn has a unique dealer agreement that requires an oversight board to approve changes to the product line and dealer agreement. GM can't just stop producing Saturns like it can the other brands.

      Since Saturn is about to be solely rebadged German Opels, it costs GM almost nothing to produce Saturns.

      The problem is that GM's hybrid systems to achieve the goals hybrid buyers are looking for: gas mileage and hybrid cache. And they cost too much for the benefit they provide.

      If the two-mode system can't be put into a Malibu and sold for prices competitive with the Camry Hybrid and Fusion Hybrid, GM should just give up and buy the technology from Toyota.
        • 6 Years Ago
        While the GM "dual mode" hybrid transmission works well and was a good design for big trucks and busses, it is much more complicated and more expensive to build than the hybrid designs from Toyota and Ford. That puts GM at a disadvantage when it comes to competing with the Prius and Fusion hybrids.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I think it would work well in the new Cadillac SRX and it wouldn't need to be sold at a loss as a Cadillac. The only problem is that it is FWD only and that probably won't fly with Cadillac.
        • 6 Years Ago
        An excellent idea, especially since the next-gen Cadillac SRX (and its Saab 9-4X sibling) are reputedly based on the same Theta platform as the Saturn Vue.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Sam -

      I am really surprised that you are not aware of the other dual mode hybrids that GM has in development, including the Malibu.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I still argue for Saturn's survival and Pontiac's demise. I understand Pontiac's been with GM longer than GM's acquistion of Saturn, but Saturn to my knowledge is still a non-union based manufacturer. On top of that, Pontiac's lineup is as bland as they come, with GM attempting to (pathetically) force on the idea of Pontiac as a "niche" brand. The Aura is (obviously) better reviewed than the G6, the G5 is available as both coupe and sedan under Chevy and still, IMHO, inferior to the Astra, the Sky outsold the Solstice, the G3 is a rebadged Aveo, though inexpensive, is inferior to practically every car in its class, and the G8's not selling as well as GM hoped.

      Keep Saturn, keep the Vue, ditch Pontiac. Shift the G8 to Chevy as the Impala (RWD unnecessary for an entry-level Buick and Caddy already as the CTS), the Solstice to Chevy (more brand cache and an open spot in the lineup) and kill everything else.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Saturn has been union since before day 1.

        http://www.saturnfans.com/Company/2004/contractdismantled.shtml
        • 6 Years Ago
        A couple points of clarification: Saturn has always been owned by GM and it has always been union-based. In fact the cooperation between the UAW and GM in running the Saturn plant in Spring Hill, TN was a major part of their early advertising.

        I agree with most of what else you said though about the Saturn models. I really hope the Sky can live on as a Chevy model.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Except that Pontiac outsold Saturn last month. Heck, even Cadillac outsold Saturn. Buick came within 600 cars of outselling Saturn despite that Buick has three models to Saturns five and zero hybrids to Saturns two.

        Since Saturns are no longer totally unique cars, they are just competing with Chevy too much. Pontiac as a niche brand I would see as having a 3-4 car lineup, actually focused on performance and RWD. Probably ditch the G3, G5 and Torrent, possibly ditch the G6 or wait it out for a RWD redesign. The G8 and Solstice are good as is and the Vibe may be able to survive as a youth oriented car.

        Basically, I would think that Pontiac would align themselves against the BMW 3 and 5 series, basically playing a downmarket role to Cadillac who is aiming at the BMW 5 and 7 series.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I really wish the automotive press would actually spend ten minutes background checking their stories. NO WHERE in the GM statement does it even imply the demise of Saturn. Stop making stuff up and start reporting the news!

      Disclaimer: I haven't read any documents relating to the ruling on the 6th. In my defense, the story referenced here is from the 5th.
      • 6 Years Ago
      It'll become a Chevy. Buick buyers are less likely to understand hybrids. A Caddy would be a good idea, but you have to redesign it a lot, you don't want to just rebadge it as a Caddy.

      I wish GM would improve the Malibu hybrid. At least put in a 6-speed, or preferably go to two mode.
        • 6 Years Ago
        The Astra would likely be dropped due to low sales. As much as American's love to ask for Euro model cars, few have been well accepted (Opel Kadett/Chevy Chevette anyone?)

        The Astra was the best selling car in Europe in '06 and continues to sell well - in Europe.

        Likewise, the Corsa is not sold in the US, so is not a problem for Chevys lineup here. The Cobalt is supposed to disappear 1-2 years after the Cruze is introduced.
        • 6 Years Ago
        I figured the same thing too. It takes a lot of money to operate a separate brand. Any Saturn worth keeping would get rebadged as a Chevy, just like Geo.

        Chevy's model lineup might get a little crowded though with both cheap and premium compacts: Aveo, Cruze, Corsa, Cobalt, Astra. There won't be room for all those models. It would be a shame to lose the Corsa since I'm not a fan of the Chevy grill they're slapping on the Cruze.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I have heard that this Saturn Vue 2-mode costs A LOT more then the current Vue hybrid. Will the MPG warrant the price increase? I understand the use of the two-mode system on big vehicles like the Escalade, but wasn't GM better off simply running with two separate hybrid systems?

      • 6 Years Ago
      I know a great deal about Saturn, I have been around Saturn for a long time. The 2 mode is a great vehicle, I recently drove one. All hybrids are currently in trouble, the value of a current model Prius with low miles is $10,000 less than just 4 months ago and the new ones are piled on Toyota lots. That is the issue with all products, comsumers sediment changes quickly, Ford is adding shifts to the F150 plants. BTW, I know our business this year looks like this through Nov., Aura +31%, Vue +9%, Outlook +5%, Sky -18%, Astra/Ion -89%. Saturn needs a compact sedan, not a 5 and 3 door. Astra is a solid car, people do not think it is too expensive, they want a sedan.
      • 6 Years Ago
      All these different fragmented GM hybrid systems cost a lot of development dollars and have to be customized heavily for each model/class. For the small/mid-size GM cars, forget the 2-mode system and the plug-in system and just wait until e-Flex is ready! Yes it costs a lot, but they have to ship the Volt first and make the system (including batteries) cheaper in the process... when e-Flex is ready for other models, the modular nature of the system means development cost will be shared with the Volt. Sharing development cost across models (and all countries of sale) is one of the things GM needs right now (the only other option within their budget is to kill off lots of models).
      • 6 Years Ago
      This car is known overseas as Chevrolet Captiva. What is more important - in my opinion GM must be granted any sum for keeping these fuel-saving models. Congress must provide money for keeping R&D of hybrid technology and not for gas-thirsty behemots. Also a 7-8 seater hybrid MPV must be built and mass-produced.
      • 6 Years Ago
      "Yes there are a few who will believe that a GMC is built better then a Chevy, even if they come out of the same factory."

      Not only that, there are even suckers that buy Escalades thinking they are not Tahoes/Suburbans with different grills (that is all they are, with a $30,000 premium). A recent radio celebrity ad for the Tahoe Hybrid exclaimed, "And it's almost as big as my Escalade!" Yeah, almost. D'oh!

      I say call it the Equinox (killing the current design) and call it a day.
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