Saturday, February 17, 2007

2008 Saturn Astra XR 3-door

Sunday, February 04, 2007
2008 Saturn Astra XR 3-door
Saturn revamp continues with Astra
Sharon Terlep / The Detroit News

LAS VEGAS - Saturn's smallest new vehicle debuts this week at the Chicago Auto Show, where General Motors Corp. will showcase efforts to reinvent the brand it started nearly 17 years ago.

GM is so eager to start selling the Saturn Astra in North America that the automaker will initially ship the cars into the U.S. from Belgium, where the virtually identical Opel Astra is already being built.

The automaker today released details on the vehicle, which is set to hit showrooms late this year.

"The Astra rounds out our portfolio with a smart-driving, well-equipped small car that shares the European designs evident in all our new vehicles," said Jill Lajdziak, Saturn general manager.

The once-feisty Saturn brand is making a comeback after nearly a decade of losing money and customers and getting virtually no new products.

The Astra is part of GM's strategy to share engineering and design resources between the Saturn and Opel brands - an approach designed to save money as well as create vehicles popular in both Europe and North America.

"This is a dramatic renaissance for Saturn and the Astra really does fit with where they're headed as a brand,"said Joseph Phillippi of AutoTrends Consulting in Short Hills, N.J.

The Astra will be available as a three-door or five-door hatchback

Electronic stability control system with traction control is standard on all three-door Astras and available on five-door models. A 1.8 liter, four-cylinder engine will deliver 140 horsepower.

Safety features include six standard air bags, active head restraints and collapsible pedals that help protect occupants in a front-end collision.

Optional features include a large, two-panel sunroof available on five-door only, heated cloth or leather seats and seven-speaker sound system

The Opel Astra, not available in the United States, is a strong seller around the world, with sales of about 400,000 units annually.

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.

The Astra, which will replace the Ion, will be the fifth new product out of Saturn recent years. Once it comes out, no Saturn will have been in the market more than 20 months.

The revamping of Saturn began with the Sky roadster in March 2006 and continued with the Aura sedan, Outlook crossover and a redesigned Vue sport utility vehicle. Saturn also will debut hybrid and performance versions on the Vue in Chicago.

Saturn was the only one of GM's eight brands to post an increase in sales last year. Saturn sales were up 6 percent from 2005, to 226,375 from 213,657.

Saturn needed a complete overhaul to survive, Phillippi said, and is well-positioned to compete even in the crowded compact and mid-size car segments.

"The products they had before were not very good, they were just different," he said. "They're no longer these inexpensive, kind of quirky cars with the plastic panels."

GM's North American Chief Troy Clarke said GM picked Chicago for the Astra's debut in part because the vehicle is expected to be popular among Midwesterners.

© Copyright 2007 The Detroit News. All rights reserved.


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