Saturn Corp. is keeping its “no-haggle” retail pledge, but the General Motors subsidiary introduced a new gimmick into the incentive-crazed U.S. market.
Saturn gave away a Dell Dimension 2400 home computer system with the purchase or lease of any new '03 Saturn before Sept. 30. That was on top of the usual incentives such as rebates and 0% financing.
“I'm not going to try to con the consumer, but in my opinion it certainly doesn't get down to the haggling and the cash on the hood and ‘we'll give you more money for your used car trade-in’ and all that stuff,” Tony Parrottino, Saturn sales promotion manager, tells Ward's. “Come on in (to the dealership), it's 0.0% (financing) and $1,000 to help you buy the car, and by the way, you get a free computer. Boom — that's it. That's the deal. We don't change the (vehicle) price. It's the exact same for everyone.”
Saturn consistently has ranked among the top retail experiences since its inception in the early 1990s. Its no-haggle approach appealed to consumers who eschewed showroom bargaining.
But as industry use of incentives has grown, budget-minded shoppers often targeted by Saturn increasingly have turned elsewhere. Saturn sold 280,248 vehicles in 2002 vs. a record 286,003 units in 1994, when the auto maker only had one vehicle in its lineup rather than three.
The Ion small car and Vue cross/utility vehicle currently offer $2,000 rebates or 0% financing for up to five years. The L-Series midsize sedan offers the same financing options or $3,000. The Dell computer offer sweetened the incentives pot even more.
“I'd love to say we didn't have to do these things,” says Parrottino. “I'd love to have people waiting outside for the trucks to come in. But it can't be fantasy land forever.”
Parrottino refuses to disclose how many '03 vehicles are at Saturn dealers. Ward's estimates there were 4,800 '03 Saturns in dealer inventory toward the end of September.
Saturn hoped the computer giveaway will attract younger buyers. The average age of Saturn buyer was 43 in 2002.
Saturn considered Hewlett-Packard and Apple computers. But Parrottino says Dell's brand reputation matches up best with Saturn, whose buyers tend to be more computer-savvy than owners of most other nameplates.