A Galaxy Of Lessons From Saturn

Having just read "Saturn" (Cover Story, Aug. 17), I felt compelled to share the following comments. One, I was impressed with the Saturn product, having recently test-driven the one available car at a local dealership. Two, I have no sympathy for the sulking Chevrolet dealer who is upset with the attention provided Saturn by General Motors.

What this dealer fails to realize is that Chevrolet--and GM--brought most of its current problems on itself by building absolutely lousy products during much of the 1980s--and then refusing to respond to customer concerns about product quality. When GM and its dealers refused to accept responsibility for the paint that wouldn't stay on my 1980 Citation or the air conditioner that continually leaked condensation onto the carpet of my 1984 Cavalier, I knew that I would never buy another GM product.

What Chairman Robert Stempel and his colleagues should realize is that Saturn may represent GM's only hope of recapturing the thousands of customers like myself who are totally disillusioned with GM and its products.

Jeff L. MacKinney

Coppell, Tex.

I'am convinced more than ever that GM will find a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory with this dynamo of a car subsidiary. While GM covers its Japanese Geos with an American nameplate and Chevy cries poor-mouth about its inability to carve out any more than its already sizable share of GM's auto sales, home-grown Saturn has achieved success the old-fashioned way: with value, pricing, quality, and customer satisfaction. It would be easy to say that GM should learn its lessons in-house, but that would be expecting too much from such a monolithic bureaucracy. GM President John Smith has the right idea by streamlining the mishmash of makes and models. In the meantime, GM should reinforce success in Spring Hill, Tenn., by increasing the size of the experiment there, because it is obvious that it can't transplant it anywhere else.

David M. Cole

Fort Hood, Tex.

Saturn was my first major purchase out of college, and I couldn't be happier with its performance. However, I was a bit miffed when I read about the head of parts and service in Boston. I believe he needs to teach my Saturn dealership a thing or two when it comes to customer service.

Dealing with my service department has meant:

-- Showing up with an appointment and then Saturn saying it's first come, first served.

-- Saturn telling me to come in for my complimentary detailing--then I go in, and no one knows anything.

-- Saturn telling me I would get a rental car when, upon showing up at my scheduled time, I'm told I should have gotten there sooner, the rental-car agency is closed. Could I come back in the morning?

I never expected much from car service, but I wanted it to be different at Saturn.

Maria Escamilla

San Jose, Calif.

With all of Saturn's recent success, it amazes me that the leadership at GM has failed to take advantage of these innovations and apply them to other divisions. Chairman Stempel's argument that "today's Saturn buyer can graduate to existing GM brands that traditionally cater to older buyers such as Cadillac, Buick, and Oldsmobile" clearly illustrates entrenched bureaucratic thinking and lack of innovative spirit. The Saturn buyer today will want to move up to a car that retains and expands on many of the innovations that Japanese auto makers have brought to the luxury-car market. To ensure that Cadillac, Buick, and Oldsmobile are a part of that market, they will have to redefine themselves in the consumer's mind by producing new, high-tech, high-quality, innovative cars. All of which Saturn offers today. Ignoring the innovations at Saturn today will have the same implications as if Miller Brewing, in the 1970s, had said "you must be joking" to the concept of light beer.

S.H. Hassett

Oak Harbor, Wash.

I found your article to be one of business as usual for the auto industry. When it finally gets something to build on, it doesn't take advantage of it. In the early '80s, when they got their all important tariff legislation against the imports, the most creative thing good old American knowhow could come up with was a matching price hike. Now, they finally have a car do what GM said it would do--compete on a quality basis with small Japanese cars, specifically the Honda Civic--and the most creative thing they can come up with is a no-haggle pricing policy that, while supposedly for the benefit of the consumer, is really just another price hike in disguise.

Ronald P. Neall

Somerville, N.J.

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