How GM Destroyed Its Saturn Success

Forbes | Mar 08, 2010

General Motors is once again reshuffling its management team—a common occurrence ever since the government took control of the company to save it from bankruptcy last July. One has to keep asking what is so deeply wrong at GM that it can’t escape constant turmoil and ongoing struggle. And what really happened to its Pontiac, Hummer and Saturn brands?

A look at the story of the Saturn Corporation provides some answers. Saturn, a GM company that had great promise in the early 1990s, ultimately failed because senior GM leaders couldn’t see the benefits of new ways of doing things and a new kind of organizational culture.

In the 1980s Roger Smith, then GM’s chief executive, and Donald Ephlin, head of the United Auto Workers for the company, stood together behind the creation of a new kind of American carmaker, but their successors were less committed to breaking with tradition. The initial passion and vision gradually dissipated, and now it is being officially extinguished. Saturn stopped production in October and is expected to close down completely later this year. Apparently GM and the UAW really didn’t want a “different kind of company” or a “different kind of car.”