Penske May Step Up to the Plate for Saturn

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Hard for me to believe, but Roger Penske is 72 (which puts him in my age bracket), and the man is still larger than life in the automotive world. After a career in everything from Formula 1 racing to buying and selling dealerships, “The Captain,” as he is known, is now fishing for Saturn from The General.

As we reported, GM has put Saturn on the block, along with Hummer and Saab, and if a proposal is made, it must be by June 1. At least two dealer groups have shown interest in the company. But why should Saturn be attractive to the man who has everything, including a very successful Indy car team?

As detailed by Steve Parker, it’s because the way to make money in cars is with independent distributorships, and Penske has the second-largest U.S. dealership group.

Usually the car-makers control the distribution of their cars and trucks to their dealers, but there have been several independent distributorships operating between some import car-makers and their US dealers, left over from the days when the imports couldn’t afford every step of making the cars, shipping them to the US and then getting them to dealerships.

Some of these distributors, including JM Moran, also known as Southeast Toyota Distributorships, still get the cars from the plants, the ports and the parking lots to the dealers and make billions in doing so.

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There’s also talk that Penske may team up with Nissan-Renault, whose U.S. sales are way down (36 percent) this year, to produce cars rebranded as Saturns for sale in Saturn showrooms. On a larger scale, this would be like what he has done with Daimler’s smart fortwo. Penske Automotive has 310 dealerships in the U.S. and U.K.

The Captain, of course, also runs a truck leasing business, understands shipping and logistics, and did a famous turnaround of Detroit Diesel in the ‘80s. Most people think he would be the right guy for the Saturn challenge, since he knows the auto biz better than just about anyone.

Do you think Saturn should survive—either as a standalone brand or a dealer network?

—jgoods

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