: Something to think about in regards to GM's former brand engineering practices



I~LUV~Caddys8792
12-03-10, 05:23 PM
We've spent much time on here over the years, discussing how GM mismanaged their different brands throughout the years, and I was thinking about this yesterday while on the road, and it occurred to me that there was an especially bad example of this practice going on from about 1990-95, when there were two brands occupying practically the exact same space, and for absolutely no purpose in the long term.

It's not something many people (care to) remember nowadays, but I thought it was kind of interesting. From 1990-95, GM was offering Geo and Saturn together. They were both entry level, compact, fuel efficient cars. The ironic thing is that Saturn was thought up in 1982 by Roger Smith (arguably one of the worst american CEOs of all time), it was designed to fight all the newly popular compact cars from Honda, Toyota and Datsun, BUT, it was fighting competition internally from Geo, who was selling cars designed and built by Toyota and Suzuki. What's also funny is that Smith is the one who headed the push to have GM form strategic joint ventures with Korean and Japanese automakers, which in turn made Geo.

In the long run of things, both brands were a waste of time and money. Geo lasted 10 years officially (1988-98), but the Tracker was still sold as a Chevrolet up until '04. Saturn lasted 25 years, 20 of which were while they were producing automobiles. Geo's models never sold as well as the models they were spun off of (Suzuki Swift, Toyota Corolla, Isuzu Impulse, etc) and Saturn never turned a profit in 25 years.

They should have widened their Chevrolet or Pontiac brands by putting these cars into there and saved all the money on marketing, developing and licencing the new brands. Oh well, hindsight is 20/20.

hueterm
12-03-10, 05:39 PM
I think that part of Saturn's problem also, was that it was launched in a historically terrible time for small cars. Gas was cheap, SUVs were the "thing" (to me they're still up there, but I digress)....

And then the uniqueness of the original "original" models wore off, and then they started with the me too drug of cross platform sharing. Seriously...who needs a Saturn "Acadia" or "Aura".... I don't know what they're small car alternatives were then...Ion maybe...

If they'd kept original platforms they might have made it from a sales volume perspective, but would still probably be losing money....

orconn
12-03-10, 05:53 PM
The big gimmick for Saturn, when it came out was "no haggle pricing." You could not get any price reduction at the dealership, whatever the sticker said that was the price you paid. The original Saturns had a much more European feel in the way they drove than their Oriental competitors which many people liked. But mostly it was the attraction of not having to haggle with the dealer that was considered something "new" in the way the cars were marketed. Oh, yeah, there were the non-metal composite body panels that were unique to the car when they came out. Friends of mine had Saturn beaters well past the turn of the century, and I was amazed how well those composite fenders,doors and panels held up and didn't get dented or damaged by commuter parking lots!

Jesda
12-03-10, 06:07 PM
That whole Geo experiment was just bizarre. I know it was an outlet for cars built by GM's Asian partners, but I didn't see the purpose.

I~LUV~Caddys8792
12-03-10, 06:11 PM
A friend of mine had an '01 Saturn L200 back in high school, and we always joked that the body panels may not ding, dent or rust, but they would melt if it got too hot out!

I never liked Saturns. They were too small, they looked goofy and they weren't anything to write home about in terms of performance or desirability. The Aura was the first Saturn I thought was a decent car, but then that was nothing more than a face lifted Malibu, so that wasn't exclusive at all. I liked the Astra, and thought it was sweet little econocar, but due to importing costs and the dollar v. the euro, it was too expensive and priced it's self out of it's segment and never sold what it should have.

orconn
12-03-10, 06:15 PM
A friend of mine had an '01 Saturn L200 back in high school, and we always joked that the body panels may not ding, dent or rust, but they would melt if it got too hot out!

I never liked Saturns. They were too small, they looked goofy and they weren't anything to write home about in terms of performance or desirability. The Aura was the first Saturn I thought was a decent car, but then that was nothing more than a face lifted Malibu, so that wasn't exclusive at all. I liked the Astra, and thought it was sweet little econocar, but due to importing costs and the dollar v. the euro, it was too expensive and priced it's self out of it's segment and never sold what it should have.

I thought the Aura was a re-badged Opel, not much effort at disguising it from its' German parentage.

hueterm
12-03-10, 06:40 PM
It was an Opel and a Vauxhall, I think....not sure if Holden used it...

Jesda
12-03-10, 07:11 PM
The last L-series was one of the first cars in America built on Epsilon. That cheap bland-looking little car handled shockingly well.

orconn
12-03-10, 07:20 PM
The last L-series was one of the first cars in America built on Epsilon. That cheap bland-looking little car handled shockingly well.

My friend who had one that he used as a beater thought they handled really quite well. He had had a series of European modified (as in Abarth) cars and knew something about how Euro cars should handle. I drove one back around 1996 and thought they felt much more European than the Japanese counterparts.

drewsdeville
12-03-10, 07:21 PM
I think that part of Saturn's problem also, was that it was launched in a historically terrible time for small cars. Gas was cheap, SUVs were the "thing" (to me they're still up there, but I digress)....



I actually agree with this.

For what they were, I think Saturn cars were excellent. It just wasn't the right time do do something like that. Sure, SAturns might have been small and undesirable, but that's not surprising since it was made to be GM's "small car" division. They were pretty good at what they were made to do. Comparing my old Ford Escort, the old Corollas and Cavaliers to the early 90's Saturns, I think the Saturns had it all over the competition in styling, road manners, interior design, quality and options. And, :flame suit on: I STILL think the plastic body panels were an awesome idea in every way, even though no one else wanted to look outside the box. I can't think of anything to offset the pros: rustless/dentless body panels were a pretty sweet idea when you look at how poorly the Escorts and Cavaliers aged (especially with the poor '90's paint that was being used).

hueterm
12-03-10, 07:25 PM
:shocked:

Doesn't that SMART clown car use plastic panels too? I always did like the cladding on my Avalanches, even though it wasn't removable. It was much more durable than painted metal...

Jesda
12-03-10, 07:26 PM
I prefer the Ford interiors to the Saturn interiors. The Saturns weren't shockingly cheap inside like the Cavalier, but some of the panels were installed in a shockingly sloppy way. To Saturn's credit, few of those plastics broke, cracked, or came off. They were just a bit unpleasant with gaps you could stick your foot in.

I~LUV~Caddys8792
12-03-10, 07:31 PM
The Civics were about the only compact car from the '90s that actually held up well over time. I'd actually go so far as to say that the Civic in the '90s was the only compact car of any real quality. Nowadays, the competitor's compact cars have grown so much in terms of quality and desirability, you can't really go wrong with any of them.

jedhead
12-03-10, 07:34 PM
I think one of Saturn's problems was that the plastic panels then the metal framework necessary to support the panels made the car more heavy than an equivalent car, thus reducing fuel economy and negatively impacting performance.

Bob

drewsdeville
12-03-10, 07:35 PM
Yeah, I agree with the panel gaps. But I suppose you get what you pay for... larger panel gaps really shouldn't be a dealbreaker on a low-cost econ car.


That said, I hear a lot from you guys about 2000's vintage Sevilles and their horrible panel gaps...and those were $50k cars with steel body panels.

jedhead
12-03-10, 07:36 PM
The Civics were about the only compact car from the '90s that actually held up well over time. I'd actually go so far as to say that the Civic in the '90s was the only compact car of any real quality. Nowadays, the competitor's compact cars have grown so much in terms of quality and desirability, you can't really go wrong with any of them.

Here in Southern California, 1990 Honda Civics and Accords go for 3,500 for a worn out one with 350,000 miles. They are very popular with the kids and modding.

Bob

MauiV
12-03-10, 07:54 PM
I had a 94 Saturn SC2. That car took a BEATING, from 5k clutch dumps to running over armadillos to drunk friends destroying the interior but I NEVER had the first problem with it at all. It spent the majority of its life at redline and always was there for me.

BTW Saturns downfall was when the UAW got their paws involved.

And the Aura is still available, just now its called a Regal.

Jesda
12-03-10, 07:58 PM
That said, I hear a lot from you guys about 2000's vintage Sevilles and their horrible panel gaps...and those were $50k cars with steel body panels.

Indeed, but those are bad panel gaps for the luxury class. Saturn's interiors were bad for the economy class.

And I agree with Chad, Honda really did it right in the 90s.

billc83
12-03-10, 08:54 PM
Saturn was a great IDEA. The initial Saturn launch was good, even though the original idea in 1982 was less practical and redundant when the '90s rolled in. Bear in mind, when Saturn was announced, GM hadn't been reorganized under Smith and NUMMI wasn't around.

Saturn's biggest problem was that the other GM divisions HATED the brand; they saw it as taking funds away from their projects and often would do everything possible to undermine it. Another issue was the lack of new models - rehashed versions of the SL/SC/SW cars were all you could get until the Ion came out nearly a DECADE after Saturn launched.

Sadly, at least some of Saturn's initial success was due to it not being associated with GM.

I~LUV~Caddys8792
12-03-10, 09:08 PM
Yeah, as a kid, growing up with Saturn around, I always thought it was odd that a 1999 Saturn wasn't much different than a 1991 Saturn, aside from a facelift or something. They never really introduced any new models until the L Series came out in '00. When Saturn went away, they had their best lineup: Ion, Ion Redline, Vue, Vue Redline, Aura, Aura Hybrid, Sky and Sky Redline. That Sky was one sexy little car too!

Aron9000
12-03-10, 10:15 PM
As somebody who lived less than 10 miles from the Saturn plant in Spring Hill, these things were all over the place here. I sadly don't see nearly as many of the original 90's cars as I used to 5 years ago. Overall they were pretty decent cheap transportation when they came out in 1990, but GM just killed any equity the brand had by keeping the same model around for 10 freaking years. Now the factory makes ecotec engines and employs half as many people, Spring Hill is really hurting.

GM was also too little, too late when it came to launching bigger and more expensive models. 1995-96 would have been a great time to launch the L series line and Saturn Vue. People would be looking to trade in their small S-series for something bigger and would have loved to buy another Saturn if they weren't selling the same damn car they bought 5 years ago.


Anyways, the whole Saturn thing would've made a freaking awesome Pontiac IMO. European handling, sharp styling, cheap price, well it would've been a hell of a lot better than a Sunfire. And GM could have made the whole "no haggle pricing" thing apply to Pontiac exclusively. Plus Pontiac already sold larger cars for those looking to upgrade when they traded in their small cars.

Playdrv4me
12-03-10, 11:11 PM
That whole "one simple price" gimmick was just that. I think people soon realized that all this was was a less than creative way for GM to sell cars at full markup with no opportunity for negotiation. That said, the first two Saturn generations were really attractive cars for their time. The second gen SL was even one of the best LOOKING compact cars with its rounded C pillar and very nice proportions. NVH levels in Gen 2 also improved dramatically. But when the UAW got involved and platform sharing became commonplace, the brand lost its identity and therefore, its purpose.

I've thought about the Saturn/Geo conundrum in the past as well, and really still can't come up with a legitimate reason for why Geo ever existed. Best I can figure, Geo was GM's way of quashing the ill sentiment from Chevrolet dealers on the existence of Saturn.

By the way, one of the major dealer groups here in San Antonio (Gunn) still practices that "One Simple Price" nonsense and has since about the time Saturn was doing it. Carmax has STRICTLY stuck to this practice since their inception, to the point that even a serious cash offer will not be accepted on a Carmax vehicle if it is even 1 penny less than the sticker price.

I~LUV~Caddys8792
12-03-10, 11:14 PM
A few of the big dealer groups up here do the "our best price, no negotiating/haggling" strategy. That's the sort of crap I had to go through to get my Regal GS for their "best price of $8995", but what was I to do? Nice, low mileage GS's are hard to come by and they were willing to play with me.

orconn
12-03-10, 11:56 PM
Speaking of the desirability of the composite panels on the Saturn. Our 1993 Sevilles STS was sold with 14 years and 93,000 miles under its' belt and the whole body, including the composite lower body cladding looked great! I personally have not objection to the composite panels and believe that they could be installed to achieve "luxury class" panel gaps.

ryannel2003
12-04-10, 12:29 AM
That said, I hear a lot from you guys about 2000's vintage Sevilles and their horrible panel gaps...and those were $50k cars with steel body panels.

Mine does. It also squeaks, groans, and in general makes more noises than my old $25k, 2000 Camry did. I can't think of anything else I'd rather drive though...

77CDV
12-04-10, 12:53 AM
A few of the big dealer groups up here do the "our best price, no negotiating/haggling" strategy. That's the sort of crap I had to go through to get my Regal GS for their "best price of $8995", but what was I to do? Nice, low mileage GS's are hard to come by and they were willing to play with me.

At least you knew the price going in.

Interesting you brought this subject up. I had completely forgotten about the Geo (GM was hoping the rest of you would, too). Actually, when I first started readin the thread, I thought you were going to talk about Olds and Buick. During the 70s, 80s, and 90s, GM really blurred those two divisions together they could almost be forgiven for seeing Olds as redundant.

As for composite body panels, I loved the composite front fenders on my 89 Fleetwood 60S. I think your 92 SDV had them, too.

Aron9000
12-04-10, 03:40 PM
I thought you were going to talk about Olds and Buick. During the 70s, 80s, and 90s, GM really blurred those two divisions together they could almost be forgiven for seeing Olds as redundant.


Don't get me started ranting on Oldsmobile. GM really pissed in their customers cheerios when the whole line went to FWD and they axed the rocket V8.

I'm convinced Olds would still be around if they had put out a decent full size RWD 88 and 98 in 1985. Keep the rocket engines, hell put a TPI type system like the Corvette has, how cool would a 350 Olds TPI rocket motor with 240-250hp been in 1985. The FWD 1988 Cutlass Supreme was the death nail for that division IMO.

drewsdeville
12-04-10, 03:56 PM
Both my fathers and mothers families had been diehard Oldsmobile since the '30's. It's pretty much all they owned, which is how I came to inherit the '84 and '88 Delta 88's when it came time to get my DL.

Anyway, this doesn't exactly say a whole lot, but they all actually preferred the FWD variants of the fullsizers, being the 88 and 98. The 1986 Delta 88 was actually faster, more efficient, handled well in WI winters, and despite it's smaller exterior size, had comparable interior space. There was no sacrifice when moving to the FWD models. None of my family, including myself, miss that slug carbureted 307 and the turd Metric 200 trans. They were fairly reliable, but weren't good at anything else. The FWD 3800 (not to be confused with the earlier 3.8L) arrived just in time, if not already a little too late and it was well received...the '86-'91 88's and 98's were excellent sellers and were adored by their owners.

The Cutlass Supreme I kind of agree on however. Unlike the 88 and 98 which still served it's genre's purpose well, the '88 Cutlass Supreme almost seemed to switch target audiences and really wasn't well recieved.

Jesda
12-04-10, 03:57 PM
Its the Cutlass Ciera that marked the end of Olds. 83-96... 14 years of pure mediocrity.

Aron9000
12-05-10, 01:10 AM
Its the Cutlass Ciera that marked the end of Olds. 83-96... 14 years of pure mediocrity.

WOW!!!! I didn't realize that model(and I guess the Buick Century twin) was in production for THAT long. I thought they introduced those around 89 or 90.

I also don't understand why Oldsmobile back in the 80's had to call everything a Cutlass. We had:
Cutlass Supreme
Cutlass Cruiser(wagon)
Cutlass Ciera
Cutlass Calais

All of which were very different cars.

I~LUV~Caddys8792
12-05-10, 07:59 AM
Yeah, the Cutlass Ciera/ Century/Celebrity and 6000 were all introduced for the 1982 model year. They were pretty ahead of their time in '82, but 14 years is really too long to wait for a major restyling/ reengineering. They were great as commuter cars though, fairly roomy inside, decently comfortable, CHEAP and reliable to own. I think they were always pretty rock solid cars, but nothing that was ever especially desirable or fun to own. Nowadays, they make for great winter beaters.

Craig brought up the Buick/Oldsmobile similarities and how that killed Oldsmobile. Well guess who we have to thank for that....Roger Smith. It was his decision to brand engineer, and keep Buick and Oldsmobile so close together through the '80s, that Oldsmobile became irrelevant and sales began to drop, and by the time they refreshed Oldsmobile from 1995-00, it was too late and the ship had already sunk.

hueterm
12-05-10, 10:08 AM
When I was a kid, I liked the Pontiac 6000 in STE form, as it had a fairly advanced dashboard for the time.

EChas3
12-05-10, 02:10 PM
My wife had an Olds 88 with that 3800 V6. It was a good car.

I fondly remember a friend's parents' circa 1970's 2-door Olds 98. It was a great old boat. That Rocket V8 was aptly named!

I~LUV~Caddys8792
12-05-10, 02:16 PM
I have a soft spot for the 85-90 Ninety Eights/ Electras and 1986-91 Eighty Eight/LeSabres. They're fairly large family sedans/near luxury cars that offer an unusually roomy & comfortable interior for their fairly large exterior size, lots of features and a great reliability. Combine that with the 3800 V-6 in the 1988+ models, and you've got what is essentially the finest domestic "winter beater" ever made if you can find one that's not rusted too badly.

Playdrv4me
12-05-10, 02:57 PM
I agree, there really ought to be a picture of this next to "Winter Beater" in the dictionary:

http://static.cargurus.com/images/site/2009/06/08/22/42/1989-buick-lesabre-pic-49551.jpeg

drewsdeville
12-05-10, 03:05 PM
Damn that's an ugly car - the LeSabres were the worst looking with that bland, flat front fascia. Just like the '80-'85's, the Olds varaints were a night/day difference from the Buicks (though still nothing gorgeous). However, I agree with the above. Great utility vehicle.

hueterm
12-05-10, 03:58 PM
Those things are tanks in the snow.....

drewsdeville
12-05-10, 04:06 PM
While it was better than my '84, my '88 Delta 88 wasn't anything special in the snow. However, I ran it with junk tires - it wasn't worth a new or even used set.

My '90 Eldo, on the other hand, is nearly unstoppable for not being a truck. For whatever reason, it even does much better than my '95 Deville. It's a pretty fair comparison as well, since, before I sold it, I swapped the '95's almost-new Michelin Symmetrys onto the '90.

hueterm
12-05-10, 04:43 PM
As it was a similar size, weight, engine and FWD, I was basing that off of my '92 Toronado, which was similar to your Eldo. I always had relatively new all season tires on it, and unless it was so deep that it dragged bottom, I could go through about anything.

Playdrv4me
12-05-10, 05:15 PM
I always wanted one of those Toronado Trofeo models with the complete "glass cockpit" and that awesome 5 inch Sony Trinitron color touch display. SOOOO far ahead of its time... 20 years ahead! There were other GM models that had those displays (Reatta) but the Toronado was the only one with the color Sony screen. Even Cadillacs lagged far behind the Toronado which was really odd.

hueterm
12-05-10, 06:09 PM
Mine was a base model and didn't have the CRT (nor the digital dash) -- but there were about 897 buttons, and it was very cool nonetheless. It was a '92 that I bought in '95 and it had maybe 25K miles on it. I think it was about $12-13K. Looking back, it had very few problems in the 3 1/2 years I had it. A/C compressor and instrument cluster. Probably $2000 total. However given the relatively small amount of money I made at the time, it seemed like a lot.

orconn
12-05-10, 07:47 PM
I always wanted one of those Toronado Trofeo models with the complete "glass cockpit" and that awesome 5 inch Sony Trinitron color touch display. SOOOO far ahead of its time... 20 years ahead! There were other GM models that had those displays (Reatta) but the Toronado was the only one with the color Sony screen. Even Cadillacs lagged far behind the Toronado which was really odd.

Actually in many instances Oldsmobiles served as test beds for innovations which quickly showed up in Cadillacs if they were successful. This was particularly true in the 1940s, '50's and '60's. I also think this may have been the reason that Oldsmobiles were the favored cars of many engineers (of all disciplines) during those years. Of course Cadillacs were really beyond home owning engineers pay grade in those years, not to mention the belief that a Cadillac would cause jealousy on the part of bosses and perhaps be an unwise move career wise.

I~LUV~Caddys8792
12-05-10, 08:06 PM
Funny you mention that Orconn, as many of the early Toronado brochures I have seem to talk about their engineering highlights and how ahead of their time and unique they are.

hueterm
12-06-10, 12:34 PM
I think that color touch screen actually came out in like '88 or 89 in the boxier style, in very limited numbers.... The only redeeming thing about that boxy Toro was its gear shift....

gdwriter
12-06-10, 04:20 PM
The only redeeming thing about that boxy Toro was its gear shift....I liked that, too. A resurrection of the cool horseshoe gearshift from the late 60s Impala SS, Chevelle, Monte Carlo and I believe the Buick GS and Riviera.

YourMainParadox
12-06-10, 08:46 PM
I think one of Saturn's problems was that the plastic panels then the metal framework necessary to support the panels made the car more heavy than an equivalent car, thus reducing fuel economy and negatively impacting performance.
Bob

umm they got better fuel economy than their counterparts. I have a Saturn Vue which is the same as the Torrent and Equinox and one Suzuki (forgot which) and it is rated for better fuel economy than all of them. The same went for the entire Saturn line before they become Opel rebrands. They all are lighter with plastic body panels.

What killed the Saturn brand is the fact that GM created it then just left it stagnant. By the time they realized this it was already too late and then they just rebranded Opels which gave you no reason to buy a Saturn over any other brand they sell. It no longer had the plastic panels and got the same gas mpg and cost the same as all the other models out there. If they had stuck with what they started and actually done something instead of just letting it sit I don't think Saturn would have closed. They had just gotten management in which did not care for that brand and therefor it did not do well.

hueterm
12-06-10, 09:06 PM
Wasn't the Astra a pretty good little car (for a little car, I mean....)? That would have been the way for Saturn to survive, would have been to bring over all of the foreign divisions' designs.

I~LUV~Caddys8792
12-07-10, 12:05 AM
Yes, the Astra was a great little car, the problem with that though is that it priced its self out of the marketplace, because it was built overseas and with the way the euro was in comparison the dollar, it was priced against cars that were either much bigger or had more power, so it was hurting before it ever hit the market. Too bad though, as they drove really nice and were nice to look at inside and out.