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Saturn was a company created to change the way America thinks about cars and car buying. It was going to be a company to build small, fuel-efficient, long-lasting vehicles in the small town of Spring Hill, Tennessee. On paper, it seemed like the perfect company; American-built small cars in America for Americans, what could go wrong?

Saturn failed to become a “different kind of car company”

A red Saturn Vue parked indoors.
Saturn Vue | Getty Images

Ever since its corporate inception, Saturn’s tagline was “a different kind of car company.” In many ways, this was true. As their cars hit dealer lots for the 1991 model year, Saturn didn’t saturate their manufacturers with a huge lineup of cars.

Instead, Saturn focused on two vehicles, the Saturn SC sports coupe, and the Saturn SL sedan. Saturn’s dealer network was vastly different as well, opting out of the typical haggle-heavy dealership experience for a “haggle-free” system where consumers just paid the price on the sticker with no other obligations.

While Saturn was incredibly successful at the start, turning a profit by its third full year of production according to MotorTrend, it failed to retain its “different” identity. Per the timeline compiled by Autotrends, it seems like Saturn panicked as sales slowed.

The Saturn S-Series of vehicles were great, but it took GM nearly 10 years to release the second Saturn model; the Saturn L-Series, which was just a reworked Opel Vectra. Yes, the car company that claimed it was going to change the automotive landscape was slipping into doing what GM brands always do; rebadge and resell.

A silver lining in Saturn’s rebadged lineup

While Saturn’s lineup started to fill up with rebadged vehicles from overseas, there was one vehicle that stood out among the rest. This original vehicle was so influential that its vision can be seen in most vehicles on the road today. This underappreciated hero is the Saturn Vue, one of the world’s first crossover SUVs. The Saturn Vue was released for the 2002 model year as the first vehicle to be produced using the GM Theta platform, which became the basis for 10 GM crossover SUVs and compact SUVs.

The Vue was an affordable compact SUV that was released way ahead of its time. This was not a boring crossover SUV either, with automatic or manual transmission options as well as a four-cylinder and a V6 engine. Both front-wheel drive and four-wheel drive could be had, and some features including OnStar connectivity and cruise control became standard features well before they were commonplace.

The Saturn Vue also offered a performance package in the Saturn Vue Red Line, which used a Honda V6 engine. If performance was not a priority for you, the Vue came in a Green Line model, which used hybrid technology to improve fuel economy to around 27.7 mpg combined.

The Vue almost outlived Saturn

As GM received a government bailout in 2009, it was understood that GM would restructure its brands, cutting out some of the less profitable companies. Pontiac and Saturn would, unfortunately, close their doors on October 31st, 2010 despite steady sales. However, the Saturn Vue remained successful with goodcarbadcar reporting sales of over 80,000 units every year from 2003 through 2008, with 2009 being the only model year with a significant drop in sales due to the looming GM bankruptcy.

Saturn as a company was almost sold to Penske, according to Power Nation. But this deal fell through when a deal between Penske and Nissan-Renault to supply parts and vehicles to Saturn fell through. The remaining 2010 model year Saturn vehicles were sold directly to rental car companies, leaving the 2009 model year as the final new Saturn vehicles sold to the public.

The Saturn Vue was a vehicle that was so influential that its crossover SUV influence can be seen today over twenty years later. As vehicles like the Porsche Macan takes the crossover SUV to new heights as a performance vehicle, one can only think of the Saturn Vue Red Line and how successful it would be today with its high-revving Honda V6 engine. The Saturn Vue was a great vehicle that was just a little too far ahead of its time.


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