Saturn Orbits the Drain
Now, sadly, body parts of all three car makers lie strewn about the economy. Oldsmobile is gone. Plymouth is poof. And all of American Motors brands, save Jeep, were buried long ago. Apparently, the next major brand with its head on the block is Saturn, which is too bad, because General Motors had long been touting it as "a different kind of car...a different kind of car company."
As it turns out, Saturn was anything but a different kind of anything, subject to the same kinds of denial and bloat that are bringing the Not So Big Three down to their knees. And that's really too bad, considering that Saturn could have been -- should have been -- the hallmark of a new era for GM. The country had been waiting for a new kind of American car since 1973 -- longer than most of you reading this have been alive. Even at that time, the Japanese knew what was up. Prior to 1973, Datsun (now Nissan), Toyota, Mazda, Subaru and others were barely a blip on the automotive radar.
Now, they own the radar.
I might add that the Japanese didn't succeed primarily because they made better machines. Look back and you'll find plenty of Mazdas that averaged 10 miles per gallon and Toyotas whose transmissions dropped out. No, the real reason why Japan succeeded is that American automobiles failed, becoming progressively worse in quality and responsiveness to the public's wants and needs.
In other words, more whistling past the junkyard.
Saturn was supposed to change all that. But it didn't, mainly because GM treated its "new" concept with its "business as usual" attitude. In case you're wondering how such highly paid incompetents could mismanage billions of dollars over decades, you have to look long and hard at the one thing they don't like to look at: reality.
The reality of the situation is that the chief executives of these companies are no smarter than you or me. In fact, they're not terribly bright at all. Oh, they look smart in their expensive suits and such. But believe me, there's not a lot of horsepower in those engines. Secluded in their old white boy networks, they reinforce each others' psychoses, assuring each other that there simply has to be more fat in the land on which they can live. Don't believe me? Then ask yourself how anyone in his right mind could hire Robert Nardelli as CEO of Chrysler.
Nardelli, as I've written here previously, is the clown prince of mismanagement, gaining just about all of his employment through the old boy favor network. Never one to leave a company better than he found it, it was Nardelli who nearly drove a once hugely-profitable Home Depot into the ground -- and then left with a $210 million severance package.
Just how dumb are these managers? Well, the firm that privatized Chrylser (itself a dubious decision) brought Nardelli aboard to "turn Chrysler around." Amazing. That's like hiring Osama bin Laden to conduct Yom Kippur services. Chrysler got what it paid for, though. And there's Nardelli, sitting in a crater across from Congressional bean counters, begging for money.
So Saturn, the brand that should have -- and could have -- gotten the American auto market back on the road, will likely get its plug pulled, while the guys whose plugs should have been pulled will live to see another day. Probably at another American company who can't get enough of that good old American Old Boy Ineptitude.