Saturn Marketing General Manager Jill Lajdziak is preparing for the biggest product expansion in the brand's history. She spoke with Staff Reporter Leslie J. Allen about the direction of the brand.
A lot of the things that made Saturn different have faded over time: the unique assembly plant, the one-of-a-kind labor agreement, the feel-good marketing campaign, etc. How can Saturn maintain its identity?
What we're investing in from a Saturn standpoint is this wonderful retail experience. It doesn't happen all by itself. It takes an immense amount of training in sales processes, service and culture of the brand. And we have been tenacious in doing that. The real equity of the brand has been great customer handling.
GM called on Opel's studios to help design the exteriors of the Saturn Sky and Aura. How important is the influence of European design on Saturn?
What's important to us is that the Saturn brand has a very distinctive design character. If we're going to have a role in conquesting import intenders who might not otherwise consider a GM product, it's important that we have a great, unique look and feel to our products. (With design cues) like you see in the Sky and the Aura, we think they will play very well to somebody who is predisposed to an import.
You mentioned Saturn's reputation for excellent customer service. How do you balance that with the new design message, "Look at our jazzy cars"?
We have to let the world know that we've got beautifully designed product and that we're in a lot more segments. But there's a way to do it that's also consistent with the Saturn voice in the marketplace.
Our opportunity is to strike that balance (with the message) that it's all about the product, but, best of all, it's still a Saturn. I frequently get that reaction from (customers about) the Sky: "Wow, look at that beautiful car. It's absolutely gorgeous and sexy, and, boy, it's a Saturn. How great is that?"
Was Saturn ever close to going out of business?
Certainly everything's been evaluated. A lot of changes at Saturn are a reflection that we recognized the business model wasn't working. Now we're going to remain very focused on capitalizing on our marketing position.
Do you have plans to expand the retail network?
Very carefully and very selectively. We will only grow as necessary. We want our retailers to be profitable. We want to put them in the best position to take care of the customers and will put in (stores) very strategically for now. We know the kind of volume that they're capable of doing, and we know we can have more (sales) in our stores.
You may e-mail Leslie J. Allen at [email protected]