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Saturns from Renault? C’est possible

Lindsay Chappell

Automotive News | July 30, 2009 – 3:27 pm EST


Saturns from Renault? C’est possible

French automaker Renault SA could become a source for Saturn vehicles and parts for the brand’s proposed new owner, U.S. auto magnate Roger Penske.

Renault confirms that it has been approached by Penske, chairman of Penske Automotive Group, about a deal to supply vehicles and parts. Frederique LeGreves, spokeswoman for Renault in Paris, declined to elaborate on the proposal.

But she said today that any agreement between Renault and Penske would be uniquely a Renault deal — meaning it would not involve Renault’s global partner, Nissan Motor Co.

The distinction is significant for Saturn and Nissan dealers in North America.

Renault does not sell its vehicles in the U.S. market. But the Nissan and Saturn brands compete head-on in the United States.

General Motors created the Saturn brand in 1985 specifically to reclaim American consumers who were shifting to Japanese brands such as Nissan and Honda.

Previous reports

There already has been speculation about a Penske-Saturn-Renault hookup.

On May 25, Automotive News reported that Penske wants to import Renault Samsung Motors vehicles built in South Korea to be sold in the United States through the Saturn dealer network. Renault owns 80.1 percent of Renault Samsung; South Korean credit card issuer Samsung Card owns the rest.

Penske is in the final days of formalizing his plan to acquire Saturn from the former GM organization. He said Wednesday he hopes to complete the deal by the end of September.

His acquisition does not include any manufacturing resources, and he must now strike up vehicle and parts supply arrangements from other auto companies.

Tony Pordon, a Penske Automotive spokesman, declined to discuss any Renault proposal. “We’re talking with lots of different manufacturers about producing vehicles and-or parts,” he said.

The tentative agreement calls for GM to continue supplying vehicles to Penske for two years. Pordon said that Penske’s acquisition of Saturn is not contingent on Penske’s success in signing supply agreements with other automakers.

Renault’s role

LeGreves said Renault’s proposed role would be simply as a vehicle supplier “in a purely OEM deal.”

The phrase “OEM deal” is one that Renault and Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn have used to describe selling cars to competitors with no long-term strings attached. OEM deals are different from Renault and Nissan’s larger strategy of merging their global vehicle platforms, components and technologies to achieve better economies of scale.

Renault has such an OEM deal to supply light-commercial vehicles to GM and Fiat. Nissan has an OEM deal in North America to provide Chrysler with its Tiida small car to sell in South America.

Nissan also has an OEM deal in the works to provide Chrysler with an all-new vehicle for sale in the United States. But that plan and a deal for Chrysler to build Nissan’s next Titan pickup are on hold as Chrysler and Nissan sort out the past year’s upheaval in the U.S. auto market.


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