In this overview of the Saturn automotive brand, we examine Saturn's history as a maker of cars and SUVs like the Ion, Relay and Vue.
The Saturn brand, which was part of General Motors, has been discontinued as of the 2009 model year. Though popular in its early years, Saturn suffered from poor sales and was shuttered as part of GM's bankruptcy reorganization.
Despite its sad end, Saturn started with a bright future. After losing market share to Japanese imports during the '80s, General Motors launched Saturn, a new division that began selling small, low-priced cars in 1990. The division promoted itself as "different," with Saturn dealers offering no-haggle pricing and friendly customer service.
Saturn made its debut with the S Series line of vehicles. Available in sedan, coupe and wagon configurations, these Saturns differentiated themselves from other GM products with all-new platforms and flexible plastic panels meant to resist denting. Additionally, the brand was granted its own plant, with all Saturns being built at a dedicated facility in Spring Hill, Tennessee. These first Saturns weren't exactly built to burn rubber; they were powered by engines that offered from 85-124 horsepower. The payoff, though, was that these were among the most fuel-efficient vehicles of their day, offering up to 40 miles per gallon (when equipped with a manual transmission).
Just after the brand's conception, GM boasted that Saturn vehicles would benefit from rapid evolution, but in the early years, this wasn't the case. The brand's vehicles saw only one redesign in their first decade of existence. The revamp took place in the mid-'90s, and for the most part, it was only skin deep. Exteriors were spruced up and interior room saw a slight increase.
The Saturn brand enjoyed some success in its earliest years, fueled by buyers who were in love with its unique approach to customer relations that included "no-haggle" pricing. By the turn of the century, though, the novelty had worn off. With dated platforms and a limited range of products, the marque was neglected by GM, and disappointing sales figures showed that buyers had taken note and chosen to spend their dollars elsewhere.
GM responded by ramping up its commitment to the Saturn brand. In 2000, it rolled out the L Series; sharing a platform and an engine with the Opel Vectra (one of GM's European products) the sedan was the opening salvo in GM's ultimately futile fight to resuscitate the struggling brand. An SUV, the Vue, was unveiled, as was a minivan, the Relay. The S Series was replaced by the lamentable Ion, which was available as a sedan and a coupe. GM also added a hybrid to the lineup, with the introduction of the Saturn Vue Green Line.
Later, Saturn included the sporty Sky roadster, the midsize Aura sedan, the compact second-generation Vue crossover and the full-size Outlook crossover. For a brief period, there was also the European-sourced Astra compact hatchback.
Despite the increase in product quality, however, the Saturn brand effectively collapsed in 2009. As part of GM's bankruptcy proceedings, Saturn was offered up for sale. Initially, it was believed that the Penske Corporation would take over Saturn. But the deal fell through at the last minute, thereby spelling the final end for GM's import-fighting experiment.