- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 30, 2009

It may have been a different kind of company making a different kind of car, but it is screeching to a familiar halt.

Saturn — one of General Motors’ most ambitious attempts to appeal to foreign-car buyers — instead will share the ash heap with ghosts of GM’s past such as Oldsmobile and Pontiac, the company said late Wednesday.

GM said it would shut down the brand and phase out its dealerships after Penske Automotive Group pulled out of an agreement to distribute Saturns.

“This is very disappointing news and comes after months of hard work by hundreds of dedicated employees and Saturn retailers who tried to make the new Saturn a reality,” GM Chief Executive Officer Fritz Henderson said.

The move surprised Saturn dealers and analysts, who expected an agreement with Penske to be signed imminently.

“It came as quite a shock, and it certainly is a shock to retailers,” said Michelle Krebs, an analyst with the auto site Edmunds.com.

“They had a meeting scheduled next week with Roger Penske to lay out what the game plan was, and we fully expected a deal to be consummated tomorrow,” she said.

Mr. Penske, a car-racing legend and business magnate, had hoped eventually to sell Saturns made by an unnamed foreign manufacturer — thought to be France’s Renault — after a planned manufacturing agreement with GM ended.

But the board of that company rejected the deal, Edmunds.com analysts said.

The Saturn dealership network represented a unique opportunity for Penske, said Jeremy Anwyl, chief executive of Edmunds.com. The risk was sourcing product, and that proved to be too much to overcome to complete the deal.

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