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An Outsider's Vue

I've got a real problem with Saturn's new cross-over SUV.

I've got a real problem with Saturn's new cross-over SUV. The vehicle looks like a potential winner. Except…

Except that one of the features Saturn de-cided to promote in its original press release was the fact that the center console could easily carry a woman's purse. A purse!

I'm not trying to be sexist here. I'm just trying to understand. Granted, women drive most of the sport utilities I see on the road. These are the “soccer moms” made famous in the 1996 presidential election. Yet I can't help but be reminded of that episode of “The Simpsons” where Homer comes home with a hulking new SUV, only to realize he bought the“F-Series”. It wasn't a Ford per se, though the animators did do a nice job of aping the look of the then-new Expedition. The “F” in this case stood for “feminine”. Marge loved it. Homer wouldn't be caught dead in it.

I wonder if the same thing won't happen to the Saturn.

It wouldn't be out of character for GM's planetary division. This is the company that finally gets the funds for a new car and brings out the L Series. Here was the perfect chance to set a new tone and direction for Saturn, and they end up with a non-descript car aimed at Honda Accord and Toyota Camry buyers. It's almost as if the folks in charge at the time didn't have a clue what a Saturn was, and attempted to distill an identity from the little that had gone before. All they came up with were plastic panels and a lower body “swoosh”. It's nice to see the “A” team was on the job that day.

I certainly expected more, and—judging from the sales performance thus far—so did the buying public. This was the division that Roger Smith said was going to go head-to-head with the imports, and could teach GM a thing or two about building cars and customer relationships.

Saturn certainly got the customer side of the equation right, but the General's money troubles in the 1990s meant there was no money to expand the lineup. And so Saturn slugged it out in the compact segment with reasonable but not exciting cars that were long in the tooth. They did surprisingly well for a longer period than anyone had a right to expect, but eventually the lack of new and exciting product began to take its toll.

Which takes us back to the SUV. This new and potentially exciting product comes out of the chute early (to build customer understanding and expectation, something the marketing folks say the L Series lacked) saddled with an Oldsmobile nose and a purse-sized center console! Who is going to remember the good stuff like the available CVT, large interior, small footprint, car-based platform and the like? Not many if Saturn's marketing mavens keep pushing that purse portal.

And then there's the name: Vue. I'm certain the folks at Saturn have great plans for building an image around this name (Mountain Vue, Scenic Vue, etc.), but I can't get past the similarity to the name of that daytime television program aimed at women. It's called “The View”. Just like Saturn's new SUV, only the spelling is more conventional.

Maybe I'm wrong, and Saturn will not only overcome this perceived deficit, it will find a way to use it to its advantage. Perhaps Barbara Walters or the other hosts will be pressed into service to promote the vehicle in one of the most successful marketing campaigns of modern times. Somehow I think I have a better chance of winning the lotto.

I hope I'm wrong. Saturn deserves to succeed. Big time. It's just that without the use of the sarcasm Subaru uses so effectively in its Forrester ad campaign, where famous women sports stars extol the vehicle's performance while adding, “But what do I know, I'm just a woman,” Saturn's Vue won't have a chance. You can't cross over when you act as though the river only has one bank.

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