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Published: Thursday, 10/22/2009

Local Saturn dealer, like those across U.S., ponders next move

BY LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Saturn of Toledo plans to sell used vehicles and provide service after selling its last cars - 34 Aura sedans and 3 Vue crossovers. Saturn of Toledo plans to sell used vehicles and provide service after selling its last cars - 34 Aura sedans and 3 Vue crossovers.
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With production of their entire lineup of vehicles all but ended, Saturn dealers nationwide are working on plans to either stay in business when their new-vehicle supply ceases or turn off the lights and walk away.

For the region's only remaining retailer of what once had been a game-changing General Motors Co. brand, moving forward will mean refocusing on used-car sales, automotive service, and eventually perhaps even a new franchise under which to sell new vehicles.

Frank Kistler Jr., owner of Saturn of Toledo, said Wednesday that he plans "to continue to stay open past the Saturn wind-down."

He said his dealership at 6141 West Central Ave. in Sylvania Township would continue to sell used vehicles and provide service after it sells its remaining inventory of about three dozen new Saturns.

It has 34 Saturn Aura sedans and 3 Saturn Vue crossovers.

"We've got great deals on the current ones," Mr. Kistler said of his remaining new-car inventory.

Mr. Kistler also said he is looking at other automotive franchise opportunities for his dealership, but then he declined to comment further.

Launched in 1985 by GM as an import-fighter, Saturn had a troubled adolescence as it struggled without adequate marketing or product support from GM.

Saturn, once exempt from the GM practice of rebadging the same vehicles across different brands, ultimately morphed into a lineup that mostly competed with other GM brands.

Months of waiting for an automotive white knight to rescue the Saturn brand ended Sept. 30 as Roger Penske pulled out of a proposed deal to buy Saturn from GM.

With no other viable suitors at the doorstep, GM announced it would quickly wind down the brand, its vehicles, and its dealer network.

GM said it would continue to honor the warranties on Saturn-brand vehicles through its remaining dealer network.

Saturn dealers nationwide are continuing to wind down operations with what is a declining inventory of vehicles.

According to the latest monthly figures from Automotive News, an industry trade magazine, an estimated 12,800 unsold Saturn cars and crossovers were on dealer lots as of Oct. 1, the most recent figures available.

That figure will drop as remaining Saturns are sold off and not replaced.

According to Automotive News, the only Saturn-badged vehicles produced in the first half of October were 44 Outlook crossovers, at the GM manufacturing plant outside Lansing.

"Across the country, [Saturn] dealers are trying a little bit of everything" to survive, said Tracy Schneiter, vice president and analyst for IRN Inc., an automotive industry consulting group in Grand Rapids, Mich.

"Some of these guys are just thinking, 'Hey, what's a brand-new business model that I can do with my facility?'•"

"They may be able to shift gears, maybe go to other [auto manufacturers]," Ms. Schneiter said.

Contact Larry P. Vellequette

at: lvellequette@theblade.com

or 419-724-6091.



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