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Lajdziak - VUE
plug-in coming in '2009-ish', 'Full access' to Opel lineup; Diesels a
potential in near-future
Date: Sept 13,
Plug-in and Go
Date: Sept 13,
FRANKFURT, Germany -- Saturn will put General Motors Corp.'s first
plug-in hybrid -- a Vue compact SUV that can run up to 10 miles
solely on electricity and switch to an engine for longer trips -- on
the road "very quickly," brand general manager Jill Lajdziak said
"In 2009-ish," Lajdziak said.
Saturn showed its latest production model, the European engineered,
designed and built Astra compact to journalists Wednesday near the
Frankfurt Auto Show.
Other automakers are working on plug-ins, but that timetable gives
Saturn at least a fighting chance to give GM the high ground in the
battle for environmental leadership and the huge PR benefits that go
It also would be a major win in GM's fight to reclaim the mantle of
technical leadership it held for decades.
The Vue plug-in will become the third hybrid version of the popular Vue
SUV. It will combine lithium-ion batteries and GM's innovative two-mode
hybrid system with the ability to recharge from 110-volt household
Saturn already sells what it calls a mild hybrid version of the Vue that
uses electric power to reduce fuel consumption.
The Vue plug-in will use different technology from the electric drive
powertrain GM is developing for the Chevrolet Volt.
Another hybrid using the first generation of GM's powerful two-mode
system is to go on sale in the second quarter of 2008. The two-mode
system debuts later this fall in the Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon SUVs.
The stylish and sporty Astra compact hatchback is to go on sale in the
United States and Canada late this year.
"It's so appropriate the first phase of our revitalization comes with
the kind of car Saturn first built," Lajdziak said of the brand GM
created to win small-car buyers away from foreign brands. "We are
finally fulfilling the promise of Saturn, marrying beautiful products to
a great dealership experience."
The brand will have grown to an unprecedented five models when the Astra
arrives, and it has access to every model coming from GM's German
Opel brand, Lajdziak said.
The engineering link with Opel means Saturn might boost its
environmental credentials further by offering the new generation of
fuel-efficient European diesel engines in the United States,
"It's a natural for us to consider diesel," she said of the
engines, which typically use 30% less fuel and produce 30% less carbon
dioxide than gasoline engines. Diesels account for more than half of new
car sales in Europe, and Opel builds a wide range of them, including
several used in the Astra.
Saturn is conducting research to see if its target buyers want
diesels. Beyond that, the decision will come down to evaluating the
cost of technology to meet stringent U.S. emissions standards.
Saturn is also in the midst of remodeling its 500-odd sales outlets
in the United States and Canada. Saturn of Warren is the first to sport
the face-lift, which was designed to help the brand with the upscale
customers new models like the Sky roadster and Outlook SUV are drawing.
"Our retailers know we have to raise the brand's image, and they're
working with us," Lajdziak said. "If somebody's not interested in
expanding with us, they've got to make other plans."
The moves sit well with Joe Serra, president of Serra Automotive, which
includes Saturn of Southfield and Saturn of Clarkston.
"Many of us retailers need to adjust, improve, increase the size of our
facilities to properly service and sell" Saturn's "current product
portfolio," Serra said. "The picture we built to years back has changed,
and fortunately for us Saturn retailers, it has changed in a positive
way; thus we need to change-improve our facilities."
If everything goes really well, the picture will be as pretty as the
Astra I drove through the rolling wine country surrounding Frankfurt. It
is virtually identical to the car that won my heart in a long test in
Germany, Switzerland and Austria earlier this year. The new body-color
bumpers meet U.S. crash standards without weakening the muscular
design's appeal, and the addition of a dove gray headliner and matte
chrome trim make the interior a brighter and more welcoming space.
The crisp steering and road-hugging suspension still have their European
Úlan, and the addition of a single cupholder in a less than ideal spot
is the sole obvious adaptation to the Astra's new environment in the
land of Starbucks and the home of the Big Gulp.
I wish the powerful and fuel-efficient turbo diesel that powered the
Astra I tested earlier this year were coming to the United States,
but for the moment we'll have to make do with a 138-horsepower 1.8-liter
four-cylinder gasoline engine. That powerplant should at least match
the fuel economy of cars like the Honda Civic and Nissan Sentra.
Excluding destination charges, prices for the 2008 Saturn Astra
hatchback will start at $15,375 for the four-door model. The even more
attractive two-door will carry a base price of $17,875.