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September 29, 2009

US: Saturn sale could close Wednesday – paper

Detroit-based businessman and national dealer chain owner Roger Penske is expected to close a deal to buy General Motors' Saturn division tomorrow (30 September), a local paper reported, adding that an official announcement could be made on Thursday.

Detroit-based businessman and national dealer chain owner Roger Penske is expected to close a deal to buy General Motors’ Saturn division tomorrow (30 September), a local paper reported, adding that an official announcement could be made on Thursday.

GM and Bloomfield Hills-based Penske Automotive Group, the country’s second largest car retailer, have been working to finalise the sales agreement since June when a tentative deal was first announced, the Detroit Free Press said.

Under the original agreement, GM would continue building the Saturn Aura sedan and the Vue and Outlook crossovers for two years. The sale was expected to save 350 US dealerships.

Saturn dealers have told the Free Press they were eager to work with Penske who is also credited with turning around several companies, including Hertz Truck Leasing in the 1980s and Detroit Diesel in the 1990s.

GM earlier this year decided to phase out Saturn if a purchaser couldn’t be found for the brand. In June, the automaker said it was talking to Penske and hoped to close a deal by the end of the third quarter.

A GM spokesman told the paper the two sides “remain hopeful that a deal will be reached in the near future.”

According to the Detroit Free Press, there had been signs suggesting a final deal soon.

Saturn general manager Jill Lajdziak had asked for an early retirement package from GM, an indication that she was leaving, a person familiar with her decision was quoted as saying, and Saturn dealers had been asked to sign new franchise agreements with Penske .

Penske told Reuters back in June he was considering extending the Saturn brand outside North America but would focus first on the US market and possibly Canada. The group also owns dealers in the UK and Europe.

Saturn was originally established as an ‘import fighter’ to compete with the likes of Toyota and Honda and offered ‘haggle-free’ fixed pricing.

Penske said then deals had not been agreed with any replacement suppliers after GM stopped making vehicles for Saturn in 2011. There had been reports he was eyeing Renault-Samsung which already exports both its own models and a crossover built for Renault.

There had also been speculation the Penske group would be an ideal way for a Chinese automaker to access the tough, far-flung US auto market through a well established and respected national dealer network but previous attempts (eg Chrysler ) to launch Chinese vehicles there in volume had faltered.

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