Time's running out to buy that new car

If you want to own a new Pontiac or Saturn, you'd better act fast.

You've heard the television commercials blaring about last year's models having to go to make room for the new. This time around, when the Pontiacs and Saturns are gone, they're really gone. For good.

Soon to go the way of the Oldsmobile, the last of the new 2009 Pontiacs and Saturns still on Medford car lots will likely disappear in the days to come, thanks largely to a big push from General Motors.

A Pontiac G6 coupe, a convertible Solstice and G8 muscle car remained on the Skinner Autoplex lot on South Pacific Highway on Wednesday, while three or four Saturns still were parked on Lithia Motor's North Riverside Avenue lot.

"With companies like Kia and Hyundai making cars at the entry level, it cuts into market share," said Tom King, sales manager at Skinner Autoplex. "The pie gets split so many ways, and then it gets cost-prohibitive to keep the plants open or keep a car line going."

General Motors eliminated Pontiac and Saturn, as well as Hummer and Saab, under its government-backed bankruptcy reorganization last summer. That leaves the Detroit automaker with Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC.

General Motors already has been offering Saturn and Pontiac buyers $6,500 discounts, or 0 percent financing on 72-month loans. Unfortunately, the two offers can't be combined with the $7,000-per-vehicle incentive GM is giving dealers.

"The way it works, the dealer buys the car and puts it into rental service," King said. "The dealer has to sell it as a used car even if it doesn't have any miles on it."

The warranty will remain the same, he said.

"The customer may lose a few days (off the warranty), but that's about all they would lose," he said. "Essentially, the dealer is going to absorb the depreciation, because that's about what it is when you drive a new car off the lot. So you're getting a new car for a used car price."

The Skinner dealership was one of hundreds of GM and Chrysler dealers facing possible loss of their franchise when the two manufacturers dramatically cut back their operations, but after the National Auto Dealers Association challenged the closures in court, managers of the 88-year-old Medford dealership remain optimistic it will continue as a GM dealer.

"Basically, each dealer will have their case arbitrated," King said. "We've got a real good shot at it."

Local dealers have far fewer of the 2009s than many dealers, according to industry analysts.

At the start of December, GM dealers had 14,500 new Pontiacs and Saturns on their lots, or about two to three months of inventory, depending on the model, according to Ward's Auto Reports.

Sid DeBoer, chairman and chief executive of Lithia Motors, said the Medford Saturn store sold as many as 400 vehicles during the line's best years and sold about 50 of the 2009 models.

"We stopped taking delivery when they announced they were discontinuing Saturn," DeBoer said.

On the other hand, Saturn had developed a loyal customer base because of the brand's service record.

"If I were running GM, I would have kept Saturn," DeBoer said. "There were 400 profitable dealers who had happy customers. They just needed to give the brand more products; I would have closed down Buick."

Reach Mail Tribube reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com.

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