In 25 Years, He Never Saw Penske Crack a Joke

I remember a story that a cook told me when I used to work out on Nantucket. “One time Roger Penske was here on the island with the chairman of Toyota,” he said. “He couldn’t speak any English but he liked the lobster I made for them.” My friend said Penske has a big spread on the island and that he liked to bring famous guests with him when he came out on his jet.

Penske is in the news again with his purchase of Saturn. A profile of the famous former race car driver didn’t make him sound like somebody I’d ever want to meet. “Gossage has known Penske 25 years. And in all that time, he can’t recall them ever sharing a laugh together. “You don’t joke with him,” he said, “it’s all business, no small talk.”

Anyone with a rep like that doesn’t sound like somebody you’d want to have a beer with nor a lobster. But I am impressed with the man’s Smart Car franchise, selling Daimler’s tiny two-seater so well that there’s a waiting list. Saturn, though, will be a lot tougher, since the brand has never made any money nor clearly defined what exactly it is. The marketing has been all about what it’s not, they nearly hid GM’s ownership to try and capture Toyota and Nissan customers.

But with Penske’s existing network of dealerships, the 2nd largest auto retail chain by sales, maybe he can turn Saturn into a profitable brand.