DETROIT — General Motors Corp. has a tentative deal to sell its Saturn brand to former race car driver and dealership group owner Roger Penske, both companies said Friday.
Penske has signed a memorandum of understanding that would give his dealership chain, Penske Automotive Group, Saturn’s 350 dealerships, the companies said. Penske told reporters that he expects to offer all the dealers new franchise agreements and will keep all 13,000 Saturn employees for the immediate term.
Neither Penske nor GM (NYSE:GM) would say how much Penske is paying for the brand. Penske said he expects the deal to close in the third quarter.
Penske Automotive Group also distributes Daimler AG’s Smart subcompacts in the U.S., but Smart has its own dealership network and Saturn dealers will continue to exclusively distribute Saturn vehicles, Penske said.
Initially, GM will continue to make cars for Saturn for two years, Penske said. But he also said he is in talks with manufacturers around the world about building Saturn cars in the future.
“We will be selling as many GM cars — a many GM-produced cars — under the Saturn brand as possible,” Penske said.
Penske Automotive owns the second-largest U.S. automobile retail chain by sales. It also owns heavy-duty engine manufacturer Detroit Diesel and has race teams in the IndyCar, NASCAR and Grand-Am series.
Carl Galeana, who owns two Saturn dealerships north of Detroit, said Friday he was thrilled that Penske would be the Saturn buyer.
“Roger Penske is an icon in the business world,” Galeana said. “I’ve worked with him personally. Nobody works harder than Roger Penske.”
Penske received wide acclaim for heading Detroit’s successful effort to host the Super Bowl in 2006.
Galeana said the fact that Penske is interested in Saturn means the brand has value.
“It allows Saturn to get back to its original roots, which is to be an independent car company,” he said.
GM, which filed for bankruptcy court protection on Monday, has said it plans to shed its Saturn, Hummer, Pontiac and Saab brands. Earlier this week, GM said it found a buyer for Hummer in China’s Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machinery Co.
However, any such deal would require Chinese Commerce Ministry approval, and reports in state-run newspapers Friday said Sichuan Tengzhong had not yet obtained such an approval.