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Saturn Says New Cars Paying Off

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Saturn Says New Cars Paying Off

Astra, Vue will push momentum of brand.

the car connection.com

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In fits and starts, Saturn's revamped lineup of cars and crossovers is beginning to pay off for the long-neglected General Motors division. During an inside look at the second-generation Vue crossover, Saturn General Manager Jill Lajdziak noted that sales surged 20.5 percent during the first quarter of 2007, a solid performance among domestic manufacturers simply struggling to reverse long-running declines. "And we're poised to have a good second quarter," as well, said Saturn's boss.

Better yet, noted Lajdziak, Saturn is "conquesting" customers who'd normally not consider GM products, a core goal for the division. And those new buyers are, on average, more affluent than existing Saturn shoppers. The average household income (HHI) for those purchasing the Sky roadster is over $100,000, compared to an average $63,000 for all Saturn customers. The HHI stood at $79,000 for the new Aura.

Lajdziak acknowledged that the well-received Aura sedan has been struggling a bit more than expected, despite strong reviews. Aura sales "flat-lined" in the final months of 2006 and actually dipped in January, the executive noted, but volumes are trending up since Saturn launched a major new ad campaign - backed by its entire ad budget - focusing on Aura's pick as North American Car of the Year.

The Aura is just one in a wave of new models that will completely revamp the Saturn lineup. Once the Astra arrives, later this year, to replace the aging and largely unloved Ion small car, the Sky will be the oldest product in the Saturn catalogue, and it's not even two years old. But the division will be particularly dependent on the market performance of its '08 Vue, which will complete in the compact crossover segment, the market's fastest-growing niche.

Saturn will launch the Vue with a trio of powertrain packages, ranging from a small, fuel economy-minded four to a 3.6-liter V-6 capable of towing a 3500-pound trailer. Shortly afterwards, a performance-oriented Vue Red Line will join the mix - along with the Green Line, which, like the current model, will offer a relatively low-cost hybrid engine package.

Indeed, the Vue is becoming Saturn's technology showcase. The Green Line is a relatively simple "mild" hybrid system; though it cannot run on battery power alone, it is generally delivering about a 20-percent mileage boost, noted vehicle line director Bob Reuter. The GM division expects to get a 40-percent fuel economy bump when it launches a second Vue hybrid for the 2009 model year. That version will feature the automaker's all-new "two-mode" hybrid, the result of a joint venture with DaimlerChrysler and BMW AG.

Eventually - insiders suggest sometime after 2010 - Saturn also plans to launch a Vue plug-in hybrid, which would be able to charge up a set of oversized batteries by plugging the car into an electric outlet. That would allow the vehicle to go for extended distances on battery alone, perhaps enough to handle many buyers' daily commutes.

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I'd say its paying off. My dealership is almost bare. A couple of Auras and about a dozen IONs out on the lot, then an Aura, Outlook and Sky inside. Thats it. The rest of the lot is used cars, and there are a lot of them. The Acura side, on the other hand, has a nice selection of TLs and TSXs.

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