Now auto industry mogul Roger Penske will try to realize General Motors' elusive vision for Saturn as an entrepreneurial little car company.
Penske has no choice.
On Friday, June 5, the megadealer said his Penske Automotive Group will acquire the Saturn brand from GM in the next three months, keeping all 350 dealers.
To make this work, Penske will have to do what GM struggled to do for two decades: make Saturn "a different kind of car company."
His success will depend on his ability to make deals for designs, vehicles, technologies, components and partners from around the world. He doesn't have the resources, engineering centers or factories to do it himself.
GM opened a can of worms when it created Saturn in the 1980s. GM believed it could create a separate subsidiary that gave managers and workers the entrepreneurial liberation to create and market cars free from GM's ponderous bureaucracy.
So GM invested billions to give Saturn independence. Saturn ran its own factory, employed its own engineers and made its own engines and transmissions.
But the economies of scale never materialized. GM needed to sell half a million or more Saturns a year for this to all pencil out. In 1994, sales peaked at 286,000 cars.
So Saturn instead began cherry-picking -- an engine from Honda, a transmission from Aisin, a chassis from Opel...
As happens sometimes in entrepreneurial circles, GM finally gave up. Penske will begin with a virtually clean slate. He doesn't own factories or employ floors of car engineers or have engine lines to keep running.
His challenge: He doesn't own factories or employ floors of car engineers or have engine lines to keep running.
Penske said he is already in talks with "a number of worldwide manufacturers" about Saturn's product line.
For Saturn, reaching outside was an option. For Penske, it will be mandatory.