01 September 2014

Car Stuff: A Cluster of Saturns

It's time for another installment in my "cluster" observations. These are cars that I don't think are especially noteworthy or collectible, that merit a mention primarily because I've noticed them around in significant numbers.
General Motors created the Saturn division in the mid-1980s to try a different approach to building and selling cars. The first models went on sale as 1991 models; after GM's bankruptcy they eliminated several divisions including Saturn, and the last cars were sold as 2010 models. Today I'm focusing on the S-series, which was the first model Saturn offered. Its plastic side body panels were intended to save weight, be resistant to minor dings, and be easier to replace if necessary.
Initially Saturn was marketed as a homegrown alternative to Honda and Toyota, and for a while they were reasonably competitive. Some people were attracted to the styling, which was different enough from that of other imported small cars to be distinctive. The second-generation S-series, in particular, was attractively sleek while the Civic and Corolla were wearing rather bland styling. (The Mrs. owned a second-gen SL2 for a few years.)
GM's first big mistake with Saturn, in my opinion, was letting the second generation of the S-series stay around too long. The first generation had lasted five model years, which is more or less the standard the auto industry follows with product life cycles, but in a cost-saving measure GM opted to keep the second-gen S-series going for seven model years. As the car aged, its competitors introduced updated models.
Then, and worse, when they did finally replace the car for 2003, the new car offered none of the improvements in refinement and quality that typically come with a new generation of a car, plus its styling was exceedingly ugly. GM made other questionable decisions, like giving in to the brief trend of mounting the instrument panel in the center of the dashboard, instead of in front of the driver. Many faithful Saturn owners who had been waiting for the updated model rejected it in disappointment.
When I started taking these pictures back in the winter, I was focused on the second-generation cars like this white one and the two above it, which are approaching 20 years since their introduction. (The wagon on Franklin Street downtown was a nice find, as I always liked those.) But I also noticed a couple of first-gen cars around (the silver and teal cars at the top of the post), some of which are approaching 25 years old.
This red car is frequently parked near where we get our haircuts in Somerville. It's very similar to the one the Mrs. owned—the same rear spoiler, the same alloy wheels—other than the fact that hers was dark green.

No comments: