NEW YORK - Saturn Corp. has signed up its first 11 dealers in Japan, and expects to have 20 by the end of this year, said Chairman Don Hudler.
'We were told when we went over there, we would not be able to do it,' Hudler told the International Motor Press Association here last week. Saturn hopes to have up to 60 dealers in Japan in the next two years, he said.
Instead of teaming up with an independent distributor or another auto company, as other U.S. companies have done, Saturn will be the 'importer of record,' he said. Saturn's first Japanese dealership broke ground in November 1996.
As in America, 'We control the price; we control the marketing and advertising. In short, we control the brand,' Hudler said.
Saturn will stick to its low-pressure selling style, even though it breaks conventions in Japan, he said.
For example, he reiterated that Saturn intends to ignore door-to-door selling, a staple in Japan.
A recent article in Japan found that 85 percent of the consumers polled don't like having salespeople call at home, Hudler said. Part of the reason is that both spouses work, especially young couples, and they don't have time to spare. The other reason is more cultural, he said.
'There is a certain 'time obligation' aspect to it that we wouldn't expect,' he said. 'If someone makes three or four trips to your home and goes to all that trouble - they try and make you feel obligated to buy, and people don't like that.
'We really believe it's on the way out in Japan, and we will be doing very little of that. If somebody insists on a product demonstration at their home, or something like that, obviously, we'll do it.'
Hudler said that Hiroshi Oku-da, president of Toyota Motor Corp., was quoted recently as saying that if any American company can make it in Japan, it is Saturn.
Hudler added: 'We're not sure if that's like being (jinxed by being) on the cover of Sports Illustrated, or whether we should smile.'