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Racing Roger looks to acquire Saturn

Up for sale: Saturn's Astra XR could be exchanged for a Nissan-made model under a scenario being thrashed out in the US.

Penske kicks Saturn’s tyres in a deal that could include Nissan and Renault

6 May 2009

AMERICAN auto industry, transport and motor racing tycoon Roger Penske has confirmed that his Penske Automotive Group is looking at acquiring General Motors' Saturn brand.

And the Bloomberg news service in the US claims Nissan Motor Co might form a joint venture with Penske, supplying vehicles for a Penske-owned Saturn distribution chain.

Saturn general Manager Jill Lajdziak would only say that GM was entertaining interest from multiple bidders for Saturn, which GM has said it will sell or close by the end of 2009 under its restructuring program.

Roger Penske, a one-time race driver with massive investments in car dealerships, trucking companies, the VM Motori diesel engine company, Indycar and NASCAR racing and other organisations, said in a conference call with media that he had looked at Saturn, but not made an offer.

“While I confirm that we have an interest in looking at the future opportunities of the Saturn brand, Penske Automotive has not made a proposal to General Motors for this business, and the timeframe is extremely tight,” he said.

“We buy and sell dealerships as part of our normal operations. We have the experience in the distribution business and are constantly looking for opportunities to grow our business and further diversify the operations of Penske Automotive Group.” Bloomberg – whose sources were right on the money in predicting Pontiac’s demise – reported that “two people familiar with the matter” had named Nissan as a possible joint venture partner with Penske in the operation.

“The idea is that Nissan, its affiliate Renault SA or another automaker may make Saturn-brand vehicles for a new venture that could be operated by Penske and distributed through Saturn’s retail network, said the people, who asked not to be named because discussions are private,” Bloomberg said.

Nissan has under-used factories in the US, which Bloomberg speculates could be turned over to produce certain Nissan/Renault models under Saturn badges to replace the GM-built cars, which include Saturn-badged Astras.

Penske, 72, who was born in Ohio but hails from Detroit, already distributes Daimler’s Smart mini cars in the US, as well as owning no fewer than 310 dealerships in the US and the UK.

Penske Automotive is the second biggest publicly-held dealer group in the US behind AutoNation Inc, accounting for more than 171,000 sales a year.

Automotive News in the US said an investor group Telesto Ventures had also expressed an interest in acquiring Saturn.

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