Established on Jan. 7, 1985, as a subsidiary of General Motors, the Saturn Corporation was formed to produce American-made vehicles to counter the rising success of Japanese imports. Calling itself "A Different Kind of Car Company," Saturn operated out of a semi-independent assembly plant in Spring Hill, Tenn., producing unique small car models and maintaining a separate retailer network from parent company GM. Due to financial difficulties, General Motors halted new Saturn production on Oct. 1, 2009.
1990: The first Saturn rolls out
GM Chairman Roger Smith and United Auto Workers President Owen Bieber drove the first Saturn car off the Spring Hill assembly line in July 1990. Excitement was high, but maintaining buzz as a "different" kind of automaker proved to be a challenge. The Wall Street Journal deemed Saturn's scope "too ambitious," attempting to make everything new, from the car to the plant, the workforce to the dealer network and even the manufacturing process.
While initial Saturn models proved popular with consumers, sales targets proved to be too optimistic, in large part because of the 1990 recession. Considering that 41 percent of Saturn buyers already had a GM car, sales were somewhat counterproductive. However, consumers enjoyed the automaker's "no haggle" prices.
Producing Saturns by the million
Models like the S-Series, Carla and Jasper helped Saturn reach 1 million vehicles produced by May 1995. The following year, a small number of GM EV1 electric cars were produced. Most were reclaimed and destroyed by GM by 2005, due to reasons outlined in the documentary film "Who Killed the Electric Car?"
Two years after the initial production of the EV1, Saturn entered the Japanese market. Two years after that, the company produced its 2 millionth car.
Expanding the brand
From 2000 to 2008, Saturn made significant efforts to expand into other vehicle types beyond standard four-door sedans. Its first compact crossover SUV, the Vue, hit the streets in 2002. In 2005, the Relay minivan, which was based on a GM model minivan, went on sale. The following two years featured models of Saturn's Sky roadster, and in 2008, the Opel Flextreme concept vehicle wowed crowds at the North American International Auto Show.
Specter of the Great Recession
The 2008 automotive industry bailouts forced America's Big Three to make difficult decisions. For General Motors, who had pulled Saturn back into the fold once Saturn's UAW contract expired in 2004 and the Spring Hill plant closed, that meant narrowing its production focus. GM chose Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick and GMC as its core brands, necessitating the sale, consolidation or closure of Saturn.
Talks with Penske to purchase Saturn fell through on Sept. 30, 2009, which led to GM shuttering the Saturn brand until 2011, when it would reportedly be picked up by a Renault-Nissan alliance. As of October 2011, production of the Saturn brand had not yet resumed.