DETROIT -- One morning last week a dozen or so vehicles streamed into the service drive at Sellers Buick-GMC in suburban Detroit. They were all Saturns.
It was a sight that would have warmed the heart of General Motors CEO Dan Akerson.
The Buick-GMC store is one of hundreds of dealerships GM had designated as authorized Saturn service providers in 2009, after GM killed the quirky brand with the loyal following. GM killed Pontiac and Hummer at about the same time.
Akerson sees the quest to retain those defunct brands' 2.7 million orphaned customers as a protracted war. Today those authorized service dealerships are on the front lines of GM's battle to keep those customers in the GM family.
There are signs beyond the lined-up Saturns at Sellers Buick-GMC that, after a slow start in 2010, GM is beginning to win the battle.
GM is retaining a higher percentage of Saturn customers now than it did in 2007, when the brand was alive and well, data from Edmunds.com show. Its Pontiac retention rate has dipped only slightly.
Last year 31 percent of Saturn owners who traded in their vehicles bought a GM car or truck. That's up from 23 percent in 2010 and 20 percent in 2007, according to Edmunds.com.
GM fared better with Pontiac owners: 32 percent stuck with GM in 2010, rising to 39 percent in 2011, just a point below 2007's 40 percent.
Still, those numbers mean GM is losing most of those customers to competitors. More Saturn owners who turned in their cars in 2011 bolted to Ford, Toyota or Honda -- 32 percent -- than stayed with GM. One in four Pontiac owners went to one of those brands, the Edmunds data show.
And Hummer owners are fleeing fast. In 2007, 61 percent of consumers who traded in a Hummer stayed with GM. Last year only 37 percent did.