Saturn Plans 267 More Dealerships

Saturn wants to increase its dealerships by as much as 60% over the next 10 years, says Jill Lajdziak, vice president of sales, service and marketing for the General Motors Corp. subsidiary. Plans are to boost the number of stores from the current 433 to 650-700. She says Saturn started its retail network from scratch 17 years ago, avoided over-dealering and wants to keep it that way. Accordingly,

Saturn wants to increase its dealerships by as much as 60% over the next 10 years, says Jill Lajdziak, vice president of sales, service and marketing for the General Motors Corp. subsidiary.

Plans are to boost the number of stores from the current 433 to 650-700. She says Saturn started its retail network from scratch 17 years ago, avoided over-dealering and wants to keep it that way.

Accordingly, opening new stores would correspond to projected sales increases. Saturn hopes for 10% more sales in 2003. It anticipates moving 500,000 vehicles a year by 2005.

Impending stores, like existing ones, will operate on Saturn's “market area approach” in which dealers get exclusive sales territories. “That's worked nicely,” says Lajdziak.

She says Saturn dealers' profitability this year will be the highest since 1994 when Saturn led the industry in sales per outlet.

“Retailers helped us create the brand equity we enjoy today,” she says. “Their focus on customer handling leads the industry. They are our competitive advantage in a very crowded marketplace.”

Saturn dealers have complained about gaps in a product lineup that began with variations on a single small car, the S-series. Saturn subsequently introduced the midsize L-Series. But its sales were disappointing, hitting a little more than 50% of projected annual sales of 200,000 units.

Saturn introduced a new and improved '03 L-Series. Other new product debuts this year are the Vue compact SUV and the entry-level Ion. Lajdziak tells the Automotive Press Assn. in Detroit that Saturn is preparing a business case to justify production of the Sky, a 4-seat roadster. She foresees it as the lineup's “halo” car.

She says all of that new product contrasts with “a company that, just a couple of years ago, you may have regarded as — and let's be honest now — predictable.”

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