Investor Group May Buy GM's Saturn Brand

Group of Saturn dealers and a private equity firm said that it would get vehicles from GM initially but it expects to sell smaller, fuel-efficient vehicles from other manufacturers.

DETROIT (AP) -- An Oklahoma City private equity firm has teamed with a group of Saturn dealers in an effort to buy the money-losing brand from General Motors Corp.

The proposal from a group led by Black Oak Partners LLC is among several that GM has received for the brand, said GM spokesman Mike Morrissey.

"We are working with all those groups," Morrissey said. "It's too early to speculate as to what the ultimate outcome is going to be."

Jennifer Threet, a spokeswoman for the Black Oak group, said it delivered a proposal to GM last week and is awaiting a formal meeting.

The group said in a statement issued Wednesday that it would get vehicles from GM initially, but it expects to sell smaller, fuel-efficient vehicles from other global manufacturers.

GM put the Saturn brand up for review and possible sale last year. The company must shed Saturn and other brands as part of its restructuring plan to justify billions in government loans that it needs to stay in business.

Carl F. Galeana, who owns two Saturn dealerships north of Detroit, said the interest shows that the Saturn brand is worth something despite GM's willingness to part with it.

"There's people out there that realize that Saturn is a valuable brand. It's telling our customers that Saturn is going to be there in the long run," he said.

Morrissey would not disclose the other potential buyers, saying that most are covered by nondisclosure clauses in their contracts.

GM said in a restructuring plan submitted to the government in February that it will only keep Saturn running through the 2011 model year, but it's open to the possibility of spinning off the brand to retailers or investors. It had placed the brand under review for possible sale in December.

Saturn's 440 U.S. and Canadian dealers, with laid-back salesmen and no-haggle pricing, often match luxury brands' scores in independent customer satisfaction surveys. Their locations could be a ready retail network for a foreign automaker to come to the U.S.

In a statement, the Black Oak group said it would form a new Saturn Distribution Co. that would keep a vehicle design function but will not manufacture vehicles. Designers would help other automakers tailor their products to Saturn's style and customer needs, the statement said.

The new Saturn would offer vehicles from global manufacturers that would be sold in most cases under the Saturn brand, the statement said.

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