Saturn's extraordinary approach to customer care drew derisive comments from competing dealers, but it worked. With the Spring Hill factory managing only 48,629 units the first model year, dealers sold every one they could get. Most customers were ecstatic. Some even volunteered to help sell Saturns on their days off.
Another key part of Saturn's sales strategy was giving dealers broad "market areas" so they would compete with other brands instead of each other. Thus, a metropolitan region like Chicago might have more than 60 Chevrolet stores but only nine or 10 Saturn dealers. Limiting the number of retail outlets helped Saturn become the industry leader in sales per dealer, and Saturn franchises quickly became both profitable and sought-after.
This new way of doing business got an immediate endorsement in the form of J.D. Power and Associates' 1991 surveys of new-car owners. Respondents ranked Saturn third in both customer satisfaction and sales satisfaction. In its very first year, the "different kind of car company" leapfrogged Honda, Toyota, Nissan, and other rivals in two key measurements: how well customers liked their cars and how well they were treated by dealers. Only Lexus and Infiniti, the new Japanese luxury brands whose cars sold for three and four times as much, ranked higher.
And this was no first-year fluke. Saturn again ranked No. 3 in both Power surveys for the '92 and '93 model years, and was No. 1 in sales satisfaction and third in customer satisfaction for '94 and '95. More impressive still, Saturn would remain tops in sales satisfaction each model year through 2001 except for 1999, when it tied for sixth with Lexus and Germany's BMW at a mere four points behind first-place Cadillac and Jaguar.
These and other accolades buoyed values of used Saturns, which retained a higher percentage of their original price than other cars in their class. Saturn's own research showed that fully 50 percent of its customers bought primarily for the positive shopping experience, versus 25 percent for the product itself. This led one Saturn executive to remark, "We're not trying to sell people a car. We're helping them buy a car."
Other brands scrambled to "Saturnize," hoping to boost their customer satisfaction and sales with it. Struggling Oldsmobile, in fact, soon implemented many of Saturn's policies in the "Oldsmobile Edge" program. Some other dealers switched to "one-price" and "no-haggle" appeals, but many of those also selling other brands eventually returned to high-pressure tactics.
As Saturn President Richard G. "Skip" LeFauve observed, Saturn's success stemmed from many factors, including being true to its mission statement. "You can't just tell your retailers to be nice to people," he said.
For more information on Saturn cars, see:
- Saturn New Car Reviews and Prices
- Saturn Used Car Reviews and Prices