Saturn Corp. keeps selling more cars, but is it making any money "We'll achieve our financial targets this year," President Donald W. Hudler tells WAW, a rather nebulous way of saying Saturn is meeting its budgets.
That said, Mr. Hudler projects 305,000 sales for 1995, up from 286,000 last year, and confidently predicts 320,000-plus deliveries in 1996. Right now Saturn, which launched the revamped 1996-model sedans with barely a hiccup last summer, has very few cars to sell: Roughly a 20-day supply, or a tiny third of the industry norm. Put another way, only a tiny 1.6% of the '95 run -- some 5,000 cars -- were carried over into the new model year compared to close to 10% for the overall industry, he says.
Interviewed at the Tokyo Motor Show, Mr. Hudler says the fact that Saturn won't launch a revamped coupe until next fall as a '97 model hasn't hurt. "Coupe sales are increasing, even though that segment has declined," he says. The hiatus is designed to spread the workload and assure targeted quality, he says.
Right-hand-drive (RHD) versions of all Saturn models will be introduced during the first quarter of 1997, with exports to Japan following later in the year.
Mr. Hudler says prices likely will range between 1.7 million [yen] and 2 million [yen], or from $17, 000 to $20,000, based on the current yen/dollar exchange rate. "You get me Toyota's 1997 prices and I'll come a little closer," he chuckles.
Saturns will be distributed in Japan by Yanase & Co., which also handles other GM lines. Mr. Hudler expects to start with between 15 and 25 outlets.
"We plan to have single-line showrooms, but share used-car, service, parts and other facilities because of the high cost structure in Japan," he says.
Saturns headed for Japan will be engineered for buyers in that market, he says.
Besides RHD -- Saturn's already testing these models -- the pedals are designed to accomodate the generally smaller, shorter Japanese stature, he says. The heating/air conditioning system is designed for 100% cabin recirculation in the Japanese tradition, rather than the U.S. practice of recirculating only 10% from the outside. "And don't forget, coin holders are essential here (in Japan) where toll roads are numerous. "We also are putting the (steering column) stalks on the same sides as the Japanese manufacturers put them," he says.
These tweaks come in part from listening to a long line of Japanese automaker representatives who've visited Saturn, apparently intrigued by its special brand of marketing and distribution, he says.
Mr. Hudler won't reveal his first-year sales target in Japan, other than to say he's hopeful "it will be several thousands." But he admits it'll be an uphill fight against some very popular cars, including the Toyota Carina, Nissan Bluebird (Sentra) and Honda Civic. "They'll outspend us in advertising by three to four times, plus they're 15 to 20 years ahead of us (in establishing brand identity)."
Although Saturn will compete in basically the same price categoy as the Toyota Cavalier supplied by General Motors Corp., which is now being launched in Japan, Mr. Hudler hews the GM corporate line by underscoring that the two cars -- and their marketing and distribution techniques -- are sufficiently unique to attract different customers.