Dying brands: Dealers see past Saturn, Hummer, Saab

The Saturn Vue, like other Saturn models, will be discontinued after the 2011 model.

First came soaring gas prices; then came economic collapse. Now, news that GM is killing the Saturn brand, scaling back Pontiac, and mulling the fate of both Saab and Hummer. All this has Central Virginia GM dealerships reeling.

"Everybody's feeling this," says Haywood "Huddy" Hyman, owner of two Saturn dealerships, one in Richmond and one in Newport News. "It's the toughest I've seen."

Even before GM’s announcement, Hyman says, business was slow, forcing the longtime dealer to slash overhead, cancel newspaper advertising, and close a second Richmond Saturn dealership on Broad Street.

Calls to the Harrisonburg Saturn dealership– the closest to Charlottesville– were not returned, but Hyman says Saturn dealerships were taken by surprise by GM's decision, announced February 17 in a restructuring submitted to the federal government.

"I don't think this has been as transparent as it should have been," says Hyman. "I don't think we know the whole plan."

GM officials have indicated the company plans to continue making Saturns through 2011, so Hyman says he's considering his options, including acquiring rights to another brand so that his Saturn dealerships–- which employ a total of 75 people–- can survive.

For Carter Myers, owner of six dealerships in Charlottesville and Richmond, including the multi-branded Colonial Auto Center on 29N, GM's announcement stings somewhat less. Colonial sells Pontiac, he says, but that brand makes up only a small percentage of the dealership's total sales.

Myers says unless GM finds a buyer for Hummer, he believes GM will shut down that gas-guzzling, high sticker-price brand. "I can't imagine there's any market for it," he says.

And as for Saab, which is handled by the Brown Automotive Group in Charlottesville, Myers blames GM for squandering the brand identity.

"At one point, the Saab customer was close to Volvo, and a little like Subaru," says Myers–- whose daughter Liza Borches owns the Volvo dealership. "Some way or another, [GM] lost all of that," says Myers. "They didn't cultivate it."

Now, hopes for the salvation of Saab, which was founded in Sweden, rest on the chance the Swedish government steps in with funding, something Myers doubts will happen.

As for Saturn, Myers believes it's possible that China could purchase that brand, but he doesn't know if that would be a long-term plus for GM. "Then what GM has done," he explains, "is created another competitor for itself."

Regardless of the fate of GM's brands, Myers says owners of discontinued makes and models shouldn't worry about service or warranties, both of which will continue to be honored through GM dealerships. And for all the slow sales and gloomy prognosticating, another Central Virginia dealer says he's seeing hopeful signs.

"We have seen some traffic pick up in last 30 days," says Bobby May, general manager of Dick Myers Chevrolet-Pontiac In Elkton. "Lenders are starting to loosen up a little bit as well." However, May also notes that sales are "not back to what we used to be by any means."


I currently own a 1991 SAAB 9000 turbo with nee 350,000 miles and am more than willing to drive it anywhere without worries of problems and it remains a daily driver that gets near 30 Mpg on the freeway or go 140+ Mph if required, safe in a collision, able to maneuver out of a possible collision with good traction in heavy rain and driven snow. They don’t have rust or corrosion problems either. Yes, it has been properly maintained and cared for, regardless, what vast majority passive SAAB owners do not see or ever understand it the real and proper engineering and design that went into pre-GM SAABs. SAAB's best partner was Lancia/Alfa Romeo/FIAT which resulted in the SAAB 9000 and SAAB 600 (Sweden only)/Lancia Intergrale.

What GM did to SAAB was short of criminal, the de-contented these cars to a HUGE degree and turned SAAB into marketing name with no substance. I got this message from the SAAB 95, which was based on a German Opel(GM) chassis with less content. Then we had the engine sludge fiasco, which cased total engine failures on cars with nee 50,000 miles. A friends owns a GM_Opel based 900 with the GM V6, the engine had to be replaced due to a timing belt failure at the dealer and this GM engine continues to be a problem to this day while the rest of the 900 has been fine. Then we had the SAAB 92, which was nothing more than a SAAB nameplate on a Subaru. When GM took over SAAB, they fired most of their highly experienced engineers and designers and installed GM ideology. This turned SAAB into a GM marketing shell of a company with no substance. You could not GIVE ME a GM based SAAB for free, these are horrid cars today. It is the same reason why GM is in such economic problems, they did to SAAB what they did to themselves which put them to the brink of going belly up.

Wow I had a 87' 900 turbo bought her used around 94-95' I fell in love with her instantly. She had leather, sunroof, handled like a dream with good acceleration. Then the problems started exhaust manifold had to be replaced then the rack and pinion steering column also had to be replaced. The turbo blew oil all over the engine and also needed to be replaced. I use a very reputable foreign auto mechanic his first words to me after he looked at the car were "sell this car". Followed by "your transmission is next" I was heartbroken but my wallet was also broken so I sold her. Wish I had a better experience I was in love what can I say. These days my supercharged Mini Coop blows by saabs like they are standing still off the line and on the interstate. Two years later and 50k on the dash with no problems my latest love affair is going strong.

GM has made a mess of Saturn. I have two, my son one, and my parents were looking at one last month. They were looking for the dent resistant doors. GM killed them. They were also looking for American made putting their neighbors to work. GM has half the lineup from outside the US. I will not be buying another. My 31mpg VUE is now made in Mexico (remember the Ford Taurus transmission fiasco?) so I have no interest. GM wouldn't let Saturn be Saturn and turned them into just another failing GM badged car. For my next car I may have to consider Ford.

All I look for is a safe, simple, few frills, highest MPG possible vehicle. A car is one step up from the horse and wagon and only gets one from point A to point B. To have it cost more is simply feeding the bad guys.

What about the SAAB suv, a re-badged Chevy TrailBoner.

Saturn's only hope is the new Uranus sport-coupe aimed at the Scion urban/ metro-sexual crowd.