Penske Auto Group to Buy Saturn

2009 Saturn Outlook XR

GM has been busy ridding itself of what many call the “Bad GM”-namely, Pontiac, Hummer, Saturn, and Saab, brands that won’t be a part of the “new” GM. Pontiac is being phased out, earlier this week Tengzhong announced plans to purchase Hummer, and today, Penske Auto Group announced that it will buy the Saturn brand and its dealer network from GM. Price was not disclosed, but the deal is expected to close in the third quarter. 

Penske gains 350 dealers and other assets attached to Saturn. GM hails the purchase a victory in that the move will preserve 13,000 jobs. When Saturn changes hands, there will still be vehicles to buy: the Aura, Outlook and Vue will be provided on a contract basis from GM. It should be noted that in Penske Auto Group’s press release that this arrangement would only be for “an interim period.”

It is too early to know for sure what cars Saturn will sell in the future, or if Penske will use the existing dealer network to expand the availability of the Smart car (In the US, Penske operates Smart USA). Penske is rumored to be in talks with several manufacturers who are interested in having their cars sold in North America.

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Is There Hope for the Sky & Solstice?

2009 Saturn Sky Red Line

Saturn will be either sold, or shut down. Pontiac has one more production year left, and the story ends there. It’s a pity when perfectly good cars like the Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky are destined to vanish from the automotive landscape. For fans of GM’s two seater sports cars, there is a glimmer of hope. GM CEO Fritz Henderson told Autoweek that the company is open for offers to buy the rights to the cars, and the Wilmington, Delaware factory they are built in. The foreign market Opel GT is also built alongside the Sky and Solstice.

The offer appears similar to Chrysler’s plans for the Dodge Viper. The Viper and the factory it is built in have been up for sale since August, 2008. Rumors have swirled about possible buyers (Saleen, Hennessey?) but no announcement has been made.

These cars are the best small sports cars GM has ever built. They can compete with the Mazda Miata, something the Pontiac Fiero could not do against its rival Toyota MR-2. But who would want them? As halo cars for their respective brands, fat profit margins are unlikely. Obviously, with Saturn dealers anxious to stay alive selling a new line of cars here (Chinese, Indian?) the inclusion of the Sky would be a natural. With GM selling Opel, it is possible the buyer would want to keep the GT as well. 

As GM is rumored to be on the brink of bankruptcy, the pressure is more intense than ever to shed unprofitable lines, and to show the US Government and its taxpayers they are serious about turning the company around. The Saturn Sky, Pontiac Solstice and Opel GT can either become extinct, or stay around, with GM getting at least some money out of selling the design and the plant to an eager buyer.