Why doesnt General Motors just hand over the keys to its troubled Saturn brand to its German affiliate, Opel?
GM doesnt have an extra billion or so dollars to buy out Saturn dealers and shutter the brand. And GM could be in legal trouble if it starves Saturn to death. So, the obvious and best thing for GM to do is merge Saturn and Opel.
Heres why it makes sense for Opel and Saturn to be merged:
-- Saturn has a US-wide dealer network with 425 or so stores with the right customer demographics -- younger buyers who often prefer import brands -- for Opels vehicles.
-- GM could transfer all design, engineering and marketing responsibility for Saturn to Opel and wipe a brand off its North American books. Saturn dealers would change to Opel, and the Saturn badge would be retired. But, unlike Oldsmobile, dealers would not go out of business.
-- Chevrolet dealers would be ecstatic. Theyve resented Saturn from the start for draining away resources they thought should have gone to Chevrolet.
-- Saturns old factory in Tennessee could also be transferred to Opel, giving the German brand a plant in the dollar zone that is already cranking out vehicles and could be quickly tooled up to take on Volks-wagens new Chattanooga factory.
-- With Ford revamping its US lineup to include many of its popular European cars, Opel could be the GM brand that best competes with the new Ford Fiesta, next-generation Focus, C-Max, Kuga and others. Opel would also compete with MINI, Smart and Alfa Romeo when it returns.
-- Opel already has a foot in the door at Saturn dealers with the Astra hatchback, which is built in Germany for Saturn. Opel could flesh out its US offerings with European vehicles such as the Corsa and the Insignia.
Opel sold cars in the US through Buick dealers from the late 1950s to the mid 1970s. And for years, it has wanted to come back under its own name.
Taking control of Saturn would be the quickest and least expensive way for Opel to do so with a brand of fuel-efficient, German-engineered cars that would not directly compete on price or image with other GM vehicles.
Despite Opel not selling a car here under its own name, the company knows the US market.
Opels US history dates from the late 1950s, when Buick dealers sold the brand. Opel is probably best known in the US for the classic GT sports coupe, dubbed the poor mans Corvette. That was in the early 1970s.
In the mid 1990s, a rebadged Omega appeared in the US as the Cadillac Catera. That car brought entry-level buyers to Cadillac and helped pave the way for the successful CTS.
Killing Saturn would be a monumental mistake that would alienate many of the most loyal buyers GM has. Id bet Saturn fans would be cool with a transition to Opel.
American roads are going to look more like those in Europe in the coming years as expensive fuel forces US drivers to downsize out of SUVs and big cars. That trend will be accelerated as small, powerful and clean diesel engines find their way back into passenger cars.
Merging Saturn and Opel is a golden opportunity for GM to leverage its global resources and do the right thing financially, legally and morally by its dealers. It also positions GM to grab younger US buyers who think import brands are cool.