General Motors launched Saturn into orbit last October, but the idea for creating the new car company began in a planning meeting in 1982.
At that time, General Motors was relying on Japan and South Korea to set the pace for new-car design. The company had even formed a division called Geo to sell Japanese cars in its Chevrolet stores. But General Motors decided to go a step further in meeting the imports.
Saturn managers were given a blank sheet to design not only a new car, but a new way of doing business.
Saturn originally was conceived as a $3 billion subsidiary that would produce 500,000 cars a year. In 1987, the company scaled back those plans and now aims to produce 200,000 to 250,000 cars a year.
The company started by talking with car buyers to find out what they liked and didn't like about cars and the buying process. The company also looked at its assembly process and implemented Japanese-style management techniques.
Preliminary indications are that Saturn is accomplishing its objective to woo foreign car buyers back to an American model. Surveys of Saturn buyers in California showed that 50 percent are replacing their foreign import with a Saturn.
Engineers at the company are working on new models for the coming years. Eventually, the company will add vans, trucks and wagons to its sports coupes and sedans.