Saturn architect Don Hudler has died at 87

Don Hudler, who was instrumental in starting Saturn Corp. and touted the General Motors division as “another kind of automaker,” then went on to become one of the main Saturn dealers as a postscript to his 42-year career with GM, died Thursday at his home in Charlotte , North Carolina He was 87 years old.

Hudler was involved with Saturn from preparation for its launch in 1990 until it closed in 2010 following GM’s exit from bankruptcy. As Saturn’s senior vice president of sales, service and marketing, he is credited with inviting owners of the brand’s plastic-bodied cars to the innovative new plant at Spring Hill in the Tennessee, for “Coming Home” celebrations.

“This grew out of the road rallies and service clinics, picnics and parties that the dealerships sponsored for their customers and all of which had fabulous attendance,” he told the Chicago Tribune during Saturn’s first homecoming in 1994, when nearly 40,000 people converged on the agricultural fields around the factory for tours, a Wynonna Judd concert and fireworks.

Hudler’s marketing acumen helped make Saturn the industry’s premier brand for customer service and loyalty during its early years. He succeeded Skip LeFauve as president of Saturn in 1995 and added the title of president in 1997.

In 1999, Hudler retired to become president of Saturn Retail Enterprises, a subsidiary of GM that has grown to own more than 60 stores. When Texas regulators objected to the automaker holding a stake in dealerships, Hudler sold his inventory to GM so that he could himself buy six stores in the Dallas and Houston areas.

A decade later, when GM’s deal to save Saturn by selling it to Penske Automotive collapsed, Hudler said Automotive News he was shocked that the brand he had helped build had reached the end of its journey.

“I never like to admit that I don’t have a plan,” he said in October 2009. “But I was amazed by it.”

Hudler began his career as a managing director in Cleveland in 1956. He went on to become one of the youngest advertising directors in the company’s history, according to a biography from his alma mater, Ohio Wesleyan University, where he was a varsity track athlete. GM moved him to Madrid in 1980 for a regional marketing position before bringing him back to the United States a few years later to become director of marketing policy and dealer relations.

Hudler was part of Saturn’s planning process and created its product distribution system, which divided the country into geographic territories covered by retailers that employed salaried salespeople and promised prices without haggling.

He is survived by his wife, Dannielle Colliver Hudler, a former GM advertising director.

Comments are closed.