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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…)

Hummer Sold, Will Saturn Be Next?

GM CFO outlines plans for new company; may initially withhold financial data.

by on Jun.02, 2009

GM CFO Ray Young: 16 bidders for Saturn, 3 for Saab. The post-bankruptcy GM could go public by 2010, but may withhold financial data until then, Young cautioned.

GM CFO Ray Young: 16 bidders for Saturn, 3 for Saab. The post-bankruptcy GM could go public by 2010, but may withhold financial data until then, Young cautioned.

With a buyer apparently chosen for its Hummer division, General Motors is now turning to Saturn, the once-vaunted brand that it also hopes to sell off as part of its effort to slim down through bankruptcy.  According to GM Chief Financial Officer Ray Young, there are now 16 potential buyers interested in Saturn, with another 3 looking at Saab, the Swedish maker GM also hopes to sell.

As part of yesterday’s bankruptcy filing, the ailing U.S. automaker intends to eliminate all but four of its brands, and along with the hoped-for sale of Hummer, Saturn and Saab, GM will also abandon its once-legendary Pontiac brand.  Meanwhile, the automaker will restructure its vast global empire, starting with the planned sale of a controlling interest in its European subsidiary, Opel, to a consortium headed by the Canadian supplier, Magna International.

“We’re still going to be a global company, but how we’re going to operate as a global company will change,” explained Young, during a 90-minute teleconference with automotive analysts and reporters.

Subscribe to TheDetroitBureau.comThe sale of Hummer was announced a few hours before the call, but Young declined to reveal the name of the buyer.  As TheDetroitBureau.com reported, this morning, it appears the new owners will consolidate operations, which would mean some overseas production would be brought back to a Hummer plant in Shreveport, Louisiana, from the current site in South Africa.

How soon an announcement on Saturn and Saab will be made is uncertain.  The decision to sell the latter brand was not unexpected and, in fact, was long called for by industry analysts worried about GM’s deteriorating situation.  But the move to abandon Saturn is another matter entirely. (more…)