No-haggle pricing is alive and well at Saturn of Fort Wayne, the Kelley Group's charter Saturn store in northeastern Indiana.
“We sold 601 new Saturns last year, 18% above 2006,” says the dealership's general manager, Trent Waybright, who adds that every one went out the door at the suggested list price. “That's the way it has been all along, and it has been a plus for customer satisfaction.”
Waybright, 31, was a teen when GM established the Saturn brand in 1991, with no-haggle pricing a basic plank of negotiating new-car sales.
Dealers accustomed to discounting and negotiating were dubious as to the staying power of fixed prices, viewing no-haggle as a turnoff for shoppers and unsustainable on a track filled with price-juggling competitors.
But the Kelley Group was determined not to undermine the appeal of “no-dicker” sticker pricing for converts to the Saturn brand.
Older salesmen feared fixed prices would reduce their gross-linked commissions. But Waybright says Saturn of Fort Wayne's repeat buyers have adhered to the brand in large measure because they encounter no surprises, “just like shopping at a department store or supermarket.”
Waybright, who recently completed a National Automobile Dealers Assn. Academy management training course, says several fellow attendees, comparing experiences on customer relationships, wished they could turn to one-pricing.
“But it's not easy to make the switch for a Chevrolet or Nissan dealer who's done it the other way,” he says. “Saturn was on board from its beginning. Now, it's what customers have counted on over the years.”
As a growth brand, Saturn now handles the Opel-built Astra hatchback as an entry-level model, replacing the Ion.
The Belgium-built Astra is priced about 10% higher than the Ions, starting at a suggested price of $15,995 for the three-door XE and reaching $20,380 for the fully-equipped XR five-door with leather seats and 18-in. (45.7-cm) alloy wheels.
Saturn is experiencing more clout in the General Motors Corp. family, Waybright says.
“Shoppers are looking to us to meet changing conditions, such as high gas prices,” he says. “We started out offering only the S-series and L-series. Now we have the hybrid Vue SUV, a 4-cyl. Aura, the Sky 2-seater and the Outlook crossover, plus the new Astras.
“GM has given Saturn a fuller line, and we hear there's more to come, like a plug-in hybrid engine.”
Saturn's U.S. dealer count fell to 433 in 2007 from 438 in 2006. Its sales last year climbed 6.1% to 240,091 units from 226,375 in 2006, powered by addition of the Outlook to the Saturn lineup.
Saturn of Fort Wayne, located at the end of the city's dealership-filled Avenue of Autos, has 39 employees, 11 in sales.
The city of Fort Wayne has a Chevrolet/GMC truck plant, accounting for extensive GM and GM-supplier employee business using GMC discounts. But Waybright says Saturn sales have been above expectations to GM owners in the northeast corner of Indiana.
“It's the drawing power of the Kelley Group, which has been in Fort Wayne forever,” says Waybright. “I've been with Kelley for 10 years, and there are plenty of staffers with 20 years or more experience with the Kelley family's chain of stores.
“John Kelley, uncle of our CEO, Tom Kelley, is 76 and has sold cars for us for 43 years,” says Waybright.
“John is next door at the Buick-Pontiac-GMC store. Other Kelleys with us are Chuck, Jim and Kevin. It's a family as close to this community as you'll find anywhere.”
Waybright says inventory management was a prime topic during his course at the NADA Academy. He's trying to keep the Saturn stockpile at a 60-day supply.
In addition to no-haggle pricing, he's keeping in operation Saturn's practice of commemorating purchases by photographing new buyers taking delivery of their vehicles.
“Folks still like to have their pictures taken with their new Saturn,” says Waybright. “Some bring in photos we took 10 or 15 years ago.”