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Q&A: Saturn General Manager Jill Lajdziak

What Penske can do that GM couldn't.

by on Jun.05, 2009

Saturn General Manager Jill Lajdziak accepts the award for the midsize Aura, named North American Car of the Year at the 2007 Detroit Auto Show.

Saturn General Manager Jill Lajdziak accepts the award for the midsize Aura, named North American Car of the Year at the 2007 Detroit Auto Show.

It likes to bill itself “a different kind of car company,” and that’s likely to be even more true in the future, now that Roger Penske has signed an agreement that will likely make him the new owner of General Motors’ Saturn division by the end of the year.

The once-promising brand showed significant momentum in its early years, but GM admittedly starved Saturn of product until it was too late, and while it has recently expanded the line-up, to much praise, the ailing automaker has decided it needs to pare back to just four key brands if it’s to survive its bankruptcy.

What happens now?  TheDetroitBureau.com turns to Jill Lajdziak, the constantly-moving dynamo who has been serving as general manager of the Saturn division since March 1999, and has been with General Motors since 1980.  The brand’s greatest strength is its 192 dealers and 358 “rooftops,” she is quick to assert.  But it will, as she admits, take more than stores to make Saturn work, post-GM.

Q: As recently as January, GM was still looking to find a way to keep Saturn in its line-up. What happened since then?

Lajdziak: When we sat down, in January, we were looking at lots of other opportunities within GM.  (But) GM figured out it could only afford to support four core brands, both from a marketing and manufacturing standpoint.  From my vantage point, that was great and set up every (surviving) brand to be successful long-term.  That’s important for both General Motors and for the country.  But there wasn’t any room for Saturn. (more…)