For many, the announcement that Saturn will be closing came as a complete surprise. The deal with Penske Automotive Group had been planned and negotiated for months. Suddenly, last week, the deal completely fell apart, and Saturn will be gradually shut down over the course of the next year.
Central Ohio Saturn Car Club vice president Steve Whitman said, “We were caught off guard as much as everyone.” The Clintonville car club was formed in the mid 1990’s not long after Saturn was first introduced. Similar groups of fans who first came together for Pontiac and Oldsmobile experienced the same existential crisis after those brands became a thing of the past. Oldsmobile shut down a few years ago, but Pontiac supporters are going through the trauma right now.
Whitman said they are asking themselves, “What happens now?”
The Saturn Car Club of Central Ohio has roughly 150 members that are active in the community through social and charitable events held throughout the year. They also receive discounts from the local Saturn dealer on service and parts for their cars.
The Penske Automotive deal fell through because of a problem with negotiations between Penske and a third party carmaker that would have produced the vehicles for Penske after 2011. There has been no information about any other buyer in the picture.
Al Clapsaddle, one of the founders of the club, retired from Lucent Technologies in 2001. He then became a salesman at Saturn of Columbus West in Hilliard. For Clapsaddle, the news of the Saturn shutdown was devastating. “Many things go through my mind. First off was anger. I was really mad, and I didn’t know who to be mad at. I wanted to look somebody in the eye and say, ‘What the heck?’”
Some still believe there is a chance that Saturn could be salvaged even without Penske. Tom Carpenter co-owns the three Saturn of Columbus dealerships, and is currently looking at all available options for his stores. He says, “It’s sad, but now we’ve got to figure out where the next steps go.”
Among his options are opening used car operations at the dealerships, or picking up other new car franchises. The latter is the most likely.
The Saturn car club crowd still loves their vehicles. They appreciate the high quality and style of their cars as well as the level of care Saturn always gave to customer relationships. Clapsaddle says that he and his family, including extended family, own more than 40 Saturn vehicles. He can’t imagine selling any other car.