New car to be sold by 4 dealerships


November 16, 1990|By Ted Shelsby

An article in the Business Section incorrectly reported yesterday the amount General Motors Corp. invested in its new Saturn auto project. The correct amount is $6 billion. Because of an editing error, the article also said that there are expected to be 20,000 GM dealers in the United States by mid-1991. The number represents the total number of all auto dealerships.

The Sun regrets the errors.

Saturn is coming to Maryland.

Not the auto-manufacturing plant that state officials were trying to woo here six years ago, but the products of that plant -- a new line of import-fighting compact cars that General Motors Corp. is betting billions will usher in a new era of automotive sales.

Auto officials gathered in Anne Arundel County yesterday to mark the dedication of Saturn of Glen Burnie, one of the four


dealerships in the state that are scheduled to open early next year. The others will be in Owings Mills, Marlow Heights and Gaithersburg.

Saturn, built by a new division of GM -- its first since the Chevrolet division was formed in 1918 -- marks a change in the way cars are sold in the United States.

There will be no more of the price haggling that has long been a part ofbuying a new car, according to Saturn officials. They say there will be a real price on the car, and shoppers will buy it in the same way they would buy a refrigerator or a sofa.

"Saturn did a lot of studies," said David B. Griffith, a partner in the Glen Burnie dealership that is under construction, "and one of the things they learned is that people didn't like horse-trading," a term used to describe the negotiations between buyer and seller on a final purchase price. "They hated that back-and-forth, adversarial relationship."

With Saturn, he said, the price is "structured so that the dealer makes a fair profit and there is a fair price for the customer."

Prices announced by the Spring Hill, Tenn., company are: Sports Sedan (SL), $7,995; Sports Sedan (SL1), $8,595; Sports Touring Sedan (SL2), $10,295; Sports Coupe (SC), $11,775. There is a transportation change of $275 on each car. Prices include some options, such as AM/FM stereo radio and adjustable steering column, but not air conditioning, for which there is no set price.

The manufacturer's influence on its dealers does not end with setting prices. Dealers selected to sell the cars are required to erect separate showrooms based on plans supplied by the company.

"The entrance to sales and service will be side by side," Mr. Griffith said, pointing to the new structuring rising from the ground adjacent to the family Acura dealership on Ritchie Highway.

"This is to emphasize the importance of service. They're putting a lot of attention on service. The customer will drive under a canopy, and the service representatives will take the car from there."

Saturn dealerships aren't going to just anybody who wants oneJohn J. Orth, GM's s East Coast zone manager, said at yesterday's dedication ceremony. Eight dealerships applied for the two Baltimore-area outlets, he said.

In the typical selection process, he said, company representatives come in and interview the managers of the dealership and its employees. They also ask for a list of customers and interview up to 50 of its customers by phone.

Mr. Orth said GM is looking at more than sales efficiency. It wants to know how "the dealer treats its customers. What's its customer satisfaction rating?"

He said GM expects to have 20,000 auto dealers in the country by mid-1991, and "only 121 of them will be Saturn."

Saturn opened 20 dealerships in the Midwest yesterday, bringing the total number of outlets nationwide to 45.

GM has invested $6 million in its Saturn program, an expensive gamble to draw car buyers back to U.S.-made small cars.

The biggest complaint so far from dealers selling the car -- the closest is in Richmond, Va. -- is that they can't get enough to satisfy customer demand. Mr. Orth attributed the shortage to the company's reluctance to boost the daily output at its factory at the expense of reduced quality.

The Tennessee plant, which is expected to produce about 20,000 cars a month eventually, is building about 2,000 a month now.

Dealers in Maryland are hoping that the assembly line will shift into a higher gear by early February, when their outlets open.

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