Saturn's Mission: Lassoing those Young 'Uns

DETROIT The Saturn division of General Motors Corp. wants to sell 500,000 vehicles annually by 2005 in large part by introducing fresh products with youth appeal, says Jill Lajdziak, Saturn vice president-sales, service and marketing. Saturn currently is losing money, and Lajdziak won't say if it will become profitable by increasing its sales to 500,000 within three years. The whole key is to run

DETROIT — The Saturn division of General Motors Corp. wants to sell 500,000 vehicles annually by 2005 — in large part by introducing fresh products with youth appeal, says Jill Lajdziak, Saturn vice president-sales, service and marketing.

Saturn currently is losing money, and Lajdziak won't say if it will become profitable by increasing its sales to 500,000 within three years.

“The whole key is to run our business efficiently and take structural costs out,” Lajdziak tell Ward's.

“We've got to grow the portfolio,” she says. “We've got to bring in products that contribute more. So we're not projecting what year (Saturn will become profitable). But in our business, you don't survive if you don't have a plan for profitability — and we do because we're growing the portfolio.”

Saturn's all-new Ion small car is crucial to restoring the division's profits. Since going on sale in late October, Saturn has delivered 3,474 Ions. Outside of appearances at concerts by the rock group, the Goo Goo Dolls, and at college football tailgate events, Ion's early sales have been achieved without widespread marketing efforts.

Full-scale promotional activities are about to get underway, Lajdziak says. Aiming for Gen X and Gen Y buyers, Ion will link up with several reality-based television shows.

Ion will be the official vehicle of Survivor 6, which will begin airing in February. “We'll also reach out to our Ion target audience with promotional efforts connected to the MTV Road Rules Challenge and with a new program on the Game Show Network, called Cram,” Lajdziak reveals.

In addition to running ads on the show, Saturn will showcase its vehicles.

For example, contestants on Cram will study a variety of books and materials for 24 hours before being quizzed on the game show.

During one episode, contestants will study an Ion owner's manual and answer questions about the car. Nabbing 18- to 34-year-olds who might otherwise purchase an import vehicle is Saturn's chief function within GM.

The average age of a Saturn buyer is 43. Lajdziak expects that to dip to 39 with Ion joining the lineup.

“Saturn's primary role within GM remains the same as it always has been — continue bringing in ‘plus business.’ We can't simply take sales away from other GM units,” she says.

“About 79% of Saturn buyers list a non-GM make as their second-choice vehicle. And, more than half say they would have bought an import brand.”

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