Penske to buy Saturn brand

Roger Penske said that after his deal with General Motors goes through, he expects to offer all existing dealers new franchise agreements, and to retain all employees.

Saturn of Charleston owner and general manager Robert Crews stopped holding his breath Friday.

He and 350 other Saturn dealers across the country let out a collective sigh of relief after learning that Penske Automotive Group would buy the brand that bankrupt General Motors announced earlier this year it planned to either sell or park.

After anxious months of waiting on the fate of his dealership, Crews said he can finally move forward with confidence that Saturn will not end up in the junk yard.

"The 55 families here probably feel a lot better about it," he said. "It brings everybody a lot more comfort."

The angst about the Rivers Avenue dealership's future is gone, Crews added.

"It means business is better than usual," he said. "We will have products to continue. It will be a lot more flexible for the customer and easier to deal with all the way around."

The deal doesn't close for a few months, but once it does Crews said Saturn will emerge as a new company like it was when it started that focuses on the brand and the customer.

The parts and service division will come with the new company as well, he added.

"I think this will lead to increased lending, more availability of the product and growing the future product," he said. "The sky's the limit. Knowing we are going to be here for a long, long time makes things worth celebrating."

A Columbia Saturn dealer applauded the deal.

"It's a good thing," said James Engel, general manager at Saturn of Columbia. "It's better than being shut down." Engel said Saturn dealers were excited about the possibility of adding new products to their lineups.

Penske, the race car driver-turned-business mogul, said he signed a memorandum of understanding with GM that would give Penske Automotive

Group the Saturn dealerships, the companies said.

Penske said that he expects to offer all existing dealers new franchise agreements and will retain all 13,000 Saturn employees for now.

"I would expect that the model that we're putting together, the distribution model, will be profitable day one," Penske said. "We'll have less costs. We'll not be in the manufacturing side."

Neither Penske nor GM would say how much Penske is paying for the brand. Penske said he expects the deal to close in the third quarter.

Initially, GM will continue to produce on a contract basis the Saturn Aura sedan as well as the Vue and Outlook sport utility vehicles. Penske said he is in talks with global car manufacturers about building Saturn cars in the future.

The sale marks a new chapter for Saturn, which GM had been trying to sell since earlier this year as part of its turnaround plan.

Saturn began selling cars in 1990, and has sold more than 4 million vehicles. More than 80 percent of those automobiles are still in operation today, according to data from R.L. Polk.