Utah auto dealer Rick Warner began forging the last link in his two-block Auto Plaza Friday with the groundbreaking for the state's first Saturn franchise at 800 South and West Temple.
In September, Warner was named the exclusive Utah dealer for General Motor's new Saturn line of cars.Construction of the $2 million dealership - located just south of the Rick Warner Ford facility - should be completed by August, said Warner. To be named Saturn of Salt Lake, the facility will comprise 15,500 square feet on two acres. The entire Auto Plaza complex covers the two blocks in the area of 700 to 800 South streets and Main to West Temple.
Satellite Rick Warner Saturn dealerships also are planned for the south end of the Salt Lake Valley, Provo and Ogden, he said.
Warner is among an initial group of 130 Saturn dealers expected to be operational in 33 states by the end of the year.
At Friday's groundbreaking, guests got a close-up look at a new Saturn car fresh from the Spring Hill, Tenn., factory.
The Saturn project was first announced by GM in 1983 as an attempt to beat the Japanese at what was then their only game: producing low-cost, fuel-efficient, small cars.
Today, eight years and $3 billion in investment later, the first Saturn cars now are rolling off the assembly lines and into a marketplace that has become much more crowded than when the proj-ect first was conceived by former GM Chairman Roger Smith.
Richard G. LeFauve, Saturn Division president, said it will take one thing to make the gamble pay off: quality. "We won't have a second chance" to establish Saturn in what has become a hotly competitive car market, LeFauve said.
But Warner is confident Saturn will be a success. Last July, he was invited with a group of other prospective dealers to test-drive pre-production Saturn cars at GM's Desert Proving Ground near Mesa, Ariz. Warner and the others also were allowed to drive a group of "the competition's" cars in order to evaluate them head-to-head.
"They (the Saturns) were terrific," said Warner. "I thought their performance was exciting and a real advantage over their competitors. They also had an advantage in styling and especially in quality."
A sedan and a sporty 2+2 coupe were the first Saturn models to go on sale in November at prices in the $8,000 to $12,000 range - head-on competition for such successful small cars as the Honda Civic and the Toyota Corolla.
The first Saturns debuted in Southern California, considered the nation's toughest car market. Other dealerships are opening through the year.
On hand for Friday's groundbreaking, including local dignitaries, were Rick Thompson, Saturn field executive-Los Angeles; Paul Johnson, Saturn area manager-West; Nanette Wiatr, corporate communications-Los Angeles; Les Waliszewski, work unit modular adviser for Saturn interiors.
Architect for the new dealership is Smith and Layton; general contractor is McCullough Engineering and Contracting Co., both of Salt Lake City.