Monday, November 13, 2006

Saturn sprouts green for Vue hybrid's debut

Friday, October 27, 2006
Saturn sprouts green for Vue hybrid's debut
David Shepardson / Detroit News Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- General Motors Corp.'s Saturn division is going to great lengths to tout its green credentials with the launch of a hybrid version of its Vue SUV.

At 10 p.m. Wednesday, workers began building 27-foot by 10-foot greenhouses at three locations in Washington. By 5 a.m. Thursday, they were open for business.

Through Sunday, Saturn expects to hand out 50 bushels of Virginia-grown Granny Smith green apples adorned with Saturn stickers to visitors to the greenhouses, where the automaker is displaying the Green Line Vue.

The four-day Saturn "Greenhouses" event, marking the launch of the Green Line Vue, is designed to introduce consumers to the idea of "going green." Saturn will give away fruit smoothies and seedlings. There will be lectures about gardening. And the automaker will pass out green flip-flops Sunday to finishers of the Marine Corps Marathon, which Saturn is sponsoring. Every automaker wants to be thought of as eco-friendly. And with today's volatile gas prices, being perceived as a maker of fuel-efficient models is an even bigger plus.

Saturn is introducing the hybrid Vue as part of an aggressive product offensive.

Alicia Turnbull, 47, a college counselor from Kansas City, Mo., in Washington on a business trip, said the Saturn greenhouse outside Union Station caught her eye because she's a gardener.

The owner of a creaky 1989 Toyota, Turnbull is looking for a new car. "I've been leaning toward a Toyota Prius," she said, referring to the Japanese automaker's popular hybrid. But after looking at the Vue parked outside the greenhouse, she said, "I'm going to consider it."

Saturn is calling its effort "Go Green without Going Broke" -- to promote the Green Line Vue as an affordable hybrid option.

The Green Line Vue is a mild hybrid, which means the battery assists the engine, but the SUV cannot run on the battery alone. In a full hybrid, a vehicle can run on battery power alone under some conditions. A mild hybrid is less fuel efficient but also less costly.

The starting price for a Green Line Vue is less than $23,000, making it the lowest-priced hybrid SUV on the market, according to Saturn. It will get 37 miles per gallon in the city and 32 mpg on the highway -- 20 percent better than four-cylinder Vue models.

Saturn General Manager Jill Lajdziak said the company is targeting Honda and Toyota owners. "There's been a sea change in attitudes about the volatility of gasoline prices," Lajdziak said.

Florian Zettelmeyer, a business professor at the University of California, Berkeley who has studied auto marketing, said Saturn's green campaign is a good effort.

He noted that Saturn, unlike other GM nameplates, "never had a hulking gas-guzzler" and has more credibility as an environmentally friendly brand.

He said Saturn was created as a "different" car company, with no-haggle pricing and with customers making trips to Tennessee to see their cars made.

"GM had completely abandoned the brand before it began introducing some very competent vehicles," he said. "This (campaign) is kind of an attempt to reconnect with consumers in an unusual way that goes in part back to the original roots. The question is how much brand equity is left."

You can reach David Shepardson at (202) 662 - 8735 or

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