Saturn: GM's Biggest Mistake

Brand was an unsustainable distraction from the start
By Nick McMaster,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 2, 2009 5:39 PM CDT
A torn Saturn flag is shown at a Saturn dealership in San Jose, Calif., Thursday, Oct. 1, 2009.   (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)
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(Newser) – As General Motors’ Saturn experiment ends with a whimper, it’s important to understand that the brand was a failure from the start. Some obituaries blame GM for not providing a fuller roster of vehicles to build customer loyalty—but if anything, the automaker gave Saturn too much, writes Mark Ritson. Saturn was created in the mid-'80s to compete with cheap Japanese imports. But in order to compete, Saturns had to be cheap, too, making the brand unprofitable from the start.

"An even bigger cost for GM was the time it lost building a brand it believed could fight off its Japanese rivals," Ritson argues. The firm should’ve spent the past 24 years making the strategic shifts it has only recently been forced into, he writes for the Harvard Business Review. "The notion that another brand, rather than fewer brands, was the way forward turned out to be a colossal distraction."