NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Though it has sold fewer than 1,000 cars there in its first year, Saturn Corp. remains gung-ho about exporting to Japan.
According to Saturn CEO Don Hudler, the issue isn't just sales volume; it's also a matter of the Spring Hill, Tenn., company's strategy of being a 'global competitor.'
'We cannot limit our focus to just Spring Hill, or the U.S. for that matter,' Hudler said.
Hudler said Saturn's goals for long-term success include adopting international standards of quality and developing other export markets. He spoke last week at the Automotive News Southeast Conference.
'We have a long-term commitment to the Japanese market,' he said.
Hudler also noted that the 1,000-unit figure wasn't so bad when compared with other import start-ups. He said the figure is five times higher than Toyota's first-year sales in the United States and 20 times higher than Nissan's first-year U.S. sales.
'Said another way, we exceeded the combined sales of Honda, Nissan and Toyota for their first year in the U.S. market,' Hudler said. 'And consider that this total was reached with a relatively small number of retail outlets, minimal brand awareness and an economic crisis within Japan and Southeast Asia.'
According to Hudler, more than 85 percent of Saturn's Japanese buyers say they are 'very satisfied' with their purchase - a figure he said is just under Saturn's U.S. satisfaction scores.
'Establishing an entirely new brand in a mature and competitive market like Japan needs time and patience,' Hudler said. 'It takes time for consumers to learn and accept a new brand like Saturn, and to understand what benefits we can offer to them.'
Saturn's reports find that 90 percent of the buyers believe the car was a good value, Hudler said.
'We know we can't simply transfer what we do in the U.S. to Japan,' he said. 'However, we fully intend on creating a unique Saturn ownership experience that will generate customer enthusiasm in Japan.'