I’ve had a lot of cars in my lifetime, but I’ve only bought one that was brand new. It was a 1998 Saturn SL2. I loved that car. Not only because it got me from point A to point B, but at the time the Saturn folks were embarked on this radical new philosophy in car sales, and I felt like I was on the cutting edge.
Back then, when you bought a Saturn you were joining a family. The list price was the price. There was no haggling, no pressure, no feeling like you might be getting ripped off. I found that extremely refreshing. And when you signed on the dotted line, every employee in the building stopped what they were doing and they came out and cheered. It made you feel like a rock star. Somewhere I still have a picture of me standing next to my salesman at that moment.
And afterward, you were still considered family. They had parties. Bar-b-cues. Classes. You got cards in the mail. People often went to Tennessee to tour the factory. When you took your car in for periodic maintenance, they knew you by name. They welcomed your dogs in the waiting room, and offered you doughnuts and coffee. When they’d finished working on your car, they would wash it and leave candy or a cut flower on your seat.
I was really proud to be a part of that, and I suspect that if Saturn still existed, I’d be a customer for life, even though the cars themselves weren’t sexy or innovative or award winning. I’m sure that had a lot to do with their downfall. But it’s a moot point. Sadly, Saturn is no more.
I don’t know which came first, their financial decline or their philosophical decline, but I did notice that in their last few years, suddenly there were no more flowers, no more parties, and no one took those factory tours anymore. It made me sad.
You just don’t see that level of customer service anywhere nowadays. Yes, all those little extras take time and cost money, but they are priceless. They are unforgettable.
I’m glad that I got to stand at the very pinnacle of the car buying experience, if only for a brief, shining moment. I’m not ashamed to say that when my Saturn was t-boned beyond repair, I shed more than a few tears. I would probably still be driving that vehicle today if it hadn’t been for that.
When I lost that car, I lost a family too. The fact that no other organization seems to be trying to create that kind of family feeling shows how short-sighted corporate America can be.