In the mid-1980s, released the Saturn Concept Car. The car, which resembled the first , was not originally meant to start up a brand, however, GM planned to release the Saturn car under one of its brands, which, at the time, were , , , , , and . In the late 1980s, GM changed their plan and founded Saturn as its own brand, with its first cars being the and . Production of both Saturn vehicles started in 1990 as early 1991 vehicles. The was later added for 1992. GM had plans for a , a , a , and even a ; however, Saturn's first , the , did not appear until the 2002 .
Results at Saturn, however, were more doubtful than positive. According to , the project was too ambitious, as "everything at Saturn is new: the car, the plant, the workforce, the dealer network and the manufacturing process. Not even , a highly successful and experienced automaker, tackles more than two new items on any single project." While Saturn cars proved very popular with buyers, actual sales never met the optimistic projected targets, in part because of a recession in 1990. It also proved cannibalistic as 41% of Saturn buyers already owned a GM car. Its separation from the rest of its GM parent, plus the fact that it drained $5 billion from other car projects, stirred anger and resentment within GM's other divisions. Also, Saturn opened at considerably higher cost than the Japanese transplants (factories that Japanese automakers established in the United States).
The first Saturn cars, the S-series, used a spaceframe design that allowed plastics to be used for body panels since they bore no load. The platform was designed almost entirely in house. Available in a coupe, four-door sedan, or wagon arrangements, this line was updated in 1996 and 2000. Production ended in 2002 with the replacement Ion. The Ion shared a GM corporate platform and ran from 2003 to 2007.