In November 2008, Pat Thomas took a flier on Saturn. He knew that the brand was in trouble and that General Motors was under severe financial strain.
But, for the cost of a few specialized tools, the general manager of Fladeboe Automotive Group was able to get a Saturn franchise for the group. GM was purchasing or shutting the four other Orange County dealerships and, thus, was basically offering the territory to Fladeboe.
That Saturn eventually failed wasn't a giant financial hit to Fladeboe, which includes Buick-GMC, Honda and Volkswagen stores. But it was a disappointment.
"We never had a fighting chance because the economy turned when we opened our doors," he says. "Over the past three years, they threw a lot of good product out there, and it was widely accepted. But it was too little too late."
Compared with Thomas' 150 new Hondas sold a month, the Saturn store sold a dozen or so at the beginning but eventually climbed to 30 a month.
"We saw growth each and every month," he says. "We noticed the loyalty the most. They reminded me of my Honda and VW owners. People are pretty disappointed they can't buy another Saturn."
Soon after the deal to sell Saturn to Roger Penske collapsed Sept. 30, Thomas shut the doors on the Saturn store. He was able to unload all his new vehicles to customers. He rotated personnel to other dealerships so no layoffs occurred. And GM granted Thomas the contract to house a Saturn certified service center in the Buick-GMC dealership.
"The one thing about a Saturn owner is they become part of your family," Thomas says. "My service techs have gotten pies and Christmas gifts, and I haven't seen that with other franchises."
Thomas hopes he can convert those customers to Hondas and Volkswagens.
"We know they are going to be a valuable customer," Thomas says. "We never would have given up on Saturn. We really thought they had a future."