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DATE News (chronologically)
11/25/09
automotive
Penske magic failed
Somebody got cold feet" at French carmaker Renault, said Tom LaSorda.

And just like that, the Saturn automobile brand was toast, because Renault suddenly nixed a deal Sept. 30 to supply Saturn dealers with vehicles after General Motors stopped.

Even Roger Penske couldn't save the brand GM launched in 1990 to fight imports.

Penske magic fails

When Roger Penske and GM announced that the Saturn talks had collapsed and that 350 Saturn dealers would be closed, many in the auto industry who regard Roger Penske as a miracle worker assumed he would have a Plan B when the Renault option fizzled.

They assumed wrong.

"At the end," LaSorda said, "what do you do? You don't have another backup because, guess what?" Other automakers "are not all lined up to supply you. You can't go to China because nobody's ready, there's too much risk. You can't go to Europe, the euro's at $1.50, so that's devastating," he said, noting that the currency exchange rate makes importing from Europe prohibitive.

"None of the Japanese want to do it," he added, "and there's nobody else."

LaSorda presumably would have had an ongoing role in a Penske-owned Saturn, but he's now off exploring other projects and said he hopes to work with Penske on something else in the future.

"Talk about a legend in his own time," LaSorda said of Penske. "He just called me up and said, 'Hey, I'm looking at buying Saturn, I'd like you to partner with me. You can do the front end, help me find the great product flow.' ... I said sure, so I shook his hand and said I'll be part of it," LaSorda said.

Neither Penske himself nor Renault officials have said much publicly since the terse announcements of Sept. 30.

"We negotiated with them, but we were unable to reach agreement at the end," Patrick Pelata, Renault's chief operating officer, told Bloomberg News.

And Penske, in a conference call Oct. 30, said his company incurred $3.3 million in Saturn-related expenses during the third quarter. Renault Samsung was best able to provide the future vehicles Saturn needed, he said. Without another viable source after GM's supply commitment was to expire, Penske said, the company could not accept the risk of moving forward on a Saturn deal without a source of vehicles.

So that was that for Saturn.

"It'll go down in history as being a great brand that couldn't hold up," LaSorda said. Detroit Free Press

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