Ion Replacement to be Imported

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Automotive News reported early this morning that General Motors plans to import the Opel Astra from Europe to replace the current Saturn Ion sedan and quad coupe late next year. While speculation about this plan has long been rumored, unnamed sources within both GM and Opel reportedly have recently confirmed it to Automotive News. The periodical says that Saturn's version of the car, which will likely retain the Astra name, will "probably" be built at a soon-to-be underutilized Opel plant in Antwerp, Belgium and then shipped to the United States.

GM was quick to issue a statement saying that no official decision had been made. Shortly after the Automotive News story was published this morning, Reuters reported that GM had made "no final decision had been made on whether to scale back production at its British carmaking plant but it was planning for an expected slowdown in sales of its Opel Astra model."

The issue of scaling back Astra production comes as GM Europe looks to cut 12,000 jobs - or about one-fifth of its workforce. The third shift at Opel's Belgium plant is reportedly under review. "At this point there is no final decision, but we do need to look forward into the future," a GM Europe spokesman told Reuters earlier today. "Astra production has wildly exceeded expectations in its first couple of years, and we just don't expect it to continue to be at that level of market demand as it goes through its product life cycle."

If GM does move forward with the plan, the car will only be imported for about two or three years, as the Saturn version of the next generation Astra is expected to be built in North America. The imported Astra will "sticker at about $16,000 - approximately $3,500 above that of the 2006 Saturn Ion 2 sedan." While Saturn sold more than 100,000 Ions last year, the magazine says that sales targets for the imported car will be "considerably lower, ranging from 20,000 to 40,000 units."

It was previously announced that production of current Ion will end in December of this year, leaving Saturn without a small car for almost a year. Sources have told SaturnFans.com, that discussions are underway to possibly extend production of the current model through mid-2007 to make sure retailers have a sufficient supply of Ions until the Astra arrives. Another option would be for Saturn build a surplus of Ion vehicles prior to the line's closing in December that could supply retailers with cars for eight-to-twelve months.

The Astra is GM's best-selling vehicle in Europe, with around 534,000 units sold last year. Click here for photos of the Astra.

Source: Automotive News, Reuters

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