Monday, December 11, 2006

Saturn Astra debuts next year

Friday, December 08, 2006
Saturn Astra debuts next year
U.S. version of German Opel model part of GM's strategy to develop cars using global resources. Scott Burgess / The Detroit News

The Saturn Astra, a U.S. version of the Opel Astra from General Motors Corp.'s German subsidiary, will hit American showrooms next fall, GM said Thursday.

The 2008 Saturn Astra, which will be nearly identical to the 2007 Opel Astra unveiled this week at an auto show in Italy, is part of GM's strategy to share engineering and design resources between the brands to develop vehicles that will appeal to buyers in Europe and North America.

"The Astra is a great fit for Saturn, with its European style and driving dynamics," Saturn General Manager Jill Lajdziak said in a statement. "It also signals our efforts to get new vehicles to market quickly and reinvent the entire Saturn product lineup with unprecedented speed."

The Astra is a strong seller around the world, with sales of about 400,000 units annually.

GM is importing it to the United States as part of broader collaboration between the Opel and Saturn brands as the automaker globalizes product development to save money as well as bring vehicles to market faster.

Other examples of Opel-Saturn sharing include the Saturn Sky roadster and its sister vehicle, the upcoming Opel GT, and the Opel Antara and 2008 Saturn Vue sport utility vehicle.

"Opel and Astra complement each other nicely over most of the product range," GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz said Thursday.

"Since Saturn buyers are basically 'import intenders' who would have bought a foreign nameplate if not Saturn, we asked ourselves 'Why not let GM Europe design and engineer the Saturn line?'"

Lutz noted a few exceptions, though, such as the Sky and the Outlook crossover, which did not come out of Europe.

"What the Saturn buyer will find appealing is European style, inside and out; Germanic precision in exterior and interior materials and fits; and uncompromisingly sporting (but comfortable) ride, handling and steering," he said.

The Astra will be made in Antwerp, Belgium, where the Opel version is built.

It will be available as a three-door or five-door hatchback. More details will be available when Saturn introduces the Astra at the Chicago Auto Show in February, but Saturn spokesman Brian Brockman said the car will come with an improved powertrain and remain moderately priced.

"We're going to have a lot of focus on value pricing," he said.

The Astra will replace the Saturn Ion, which ends production in March in Tennessee.

Pete Hastings, an auto industry corporate bonds analyst with Morgan Keegan & Co. Inc. in Memphis, Tenn., said building the Astra for sale globally will save GM valuable capital.

"The cars coming out of the GM Design Center, they've got their act together," he said.

"They've got the right idea in going forward with the global platform for the cost savings and taking the best from around the world and putting them into these offerings."

Saturn is in the midst of a product renaissance that began with the Sky and continued with the Aura, Outlook crossover and a redesigned Vue, as well as hybrid versions the Vue and Aura.

With the 2008 Astra, no Saturn will have been in the market more than 20 months, GM said.

The Associated Press contributed. You can reach Scott Burgess at (313) 223-3217 or

© Copyright 2006 The Detroit News. All rights reserved.


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