It is not surprising that General Motors is pulling the plug this year on its four-year effort to sell Saturns in Japan. After all, GM sold only 1,002 of them there last year. It was ill-advised, and GM must learn from it.
It was surprising that GM tried to sell Saturns - or, before that, Chevrolet Cavaliers badged as Toyotas - in Japan. Toyota stopped selling the rebadged Cavaliers last year.
GM took two small cars with dated designs and tried to peddle them to the pickiest auto consumers in the world. The Saturns and Cavaliers never had a chance.
The failures painfully underscore the need for more product expertise among GM's top decision makers, most of whom are known for their financial skills. The decision to sell Saturns and Cavaliers in Japan must have made sense on paper. With minimal investments, GM wanted to find new markets for its products. But the company neglected to weave the product into the equation. A keen eye for autos surely would have killed the notion of selling those two cars in Japan.
GM now is pursuing a wiser strategy in Japan. It has used its financial clout to purchase a stake in Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. (Subaru) and increase its interest in Isuzu Motors Ltd. and Suzuki Motor Corp. in order to grow in the Japanese market.
GM also is working with those affiliates to develop vehicles for North America. In a way, it is outsourcing some product development to overseas partners. This makes sense for a company that clearly needs help getting hot new vehicles to market.
On the other hand, GM's web of overseas partners will put greater strain on GM's product expertise. Coordinating its partners' product strategy to get the right product to market will be tremendously taxing. But GM must make the effort.