Saturn sales officially began on October 25, 1990. Advertising never mentioned a GM connection -- arguably wise, considering GM's sullied reputation among the targeted buyers, though also appropriate for Saturn's freewheeling status.
The Saturn plant at Spring Hill, Tenn., was still moving slowly on a single shift to assure the highest possible assembly quality, now a must for even entry-level cars. The first Saturns were sold by some 30 dealers in Tennessee and neighboring states as well as on the West Coast, long an import stronghold. Dealers opened in other areas as production ramped up. By the following spring, Saturn counted 130 "retailers" in 33 states, most of them in 70 major urban markets.
It was in the retail area that Project Saturn had its greatest impact. Saturn carefully selected dealers who agreed to build separate showrooms and service facilities and to operate under strict guidelines for customer treatment. Sales personnel were trained in "consultative selling" to replace hard-sell tactics. A "retail associate" would sit down with customers, discuss their needs, explain their options, and arrange a test drive.
Pricing would be just as buyer-friendly. Federal laws on price-fixing prohibit car companies from forcing dealers to sell at a set price. That's why window stickers carry the legend "manufacturer's suggested retail price." But Saturn strongly urged its dealers to avoid the usual haggling, saying no customer should ever wonder about paying too much. Dealers agreed, and Saturns sold at full retail price -- no more, no less.
With production slowed to solve nagging quality problems, demand quickly exceeded supply during the 1991 model year. A good thing, then, that dealers obeyed another Saturn commandment: Thou shall not gouge. Buyers used to seeing "added dealer profit" signs on popular cars were pleasantly surprised by Saturn's "no ups, no extras" policy.
The red-carpet treatment didn't end there. Buyers were given a tour of their dealer's service area and met the mechanics who would work on their cars. Before driving off, new owners were photographed in their Saturns amid rousing cheers from dealership employees.
Almost all dealers invited owners in for weekend service clinics and even a free lunch. They also followed up with customers on a regular basis after the sale. If for any reason an owner was unhappy with a Saturn, the car could be returned within the first 30 days or 1500 miles for a full refund, no questions asked.
When Saturn announced its first recall in February 1991, dealer technicians drove to where the owners were just to replace a seatback bracket on about 1200 cars. A few months later, Saturn learned a supplier had provided a batch of improperly formulated antifreeze that might cause engine damage. Instead of replacing the antifreeze, Saturn replaced more than 1100 cars.
For more information on Saturn cars, see:
- Saturn New Car Reviews and Prices
- Saturn Used Car Reviews and Prices