Aura Concept Unveiled to Workers at Fairfax Plant

Even though production of Saturn Aura sedan isn't scheduled to start until the summer of 2006, the company unveiled a concept version of the car to UAW workers at General Motors' Fairfax, Kansas assembly plant yesterday. Reaction to the new model was very positive. "We're excited about it," Dave Peterson, president of United Auto Workers Local 31, told the Associated Press. "As long as they stay close to the concept car, we think it's a winner. We think it will ensure our long-term viability."

The Aura is part of a new strategy designed to broaden the brand's appeal by offering sleek, sophisticated, European-styled models with Japanese-like quality. The midsize sedan is one of three all-new Saturn vehicles slated to debut within the next 20 months. "That's a lot of growth in a short period of time, but the full portfolio allows us to be in a much better position to compete," said Saturn general manager Jill Lajdziak told the Kansas City Star. "These are cars that people will want to touch and feel." The vehicle will replace Saturn's slow-selling - and now discontinued - L-Series model. It will be positioned to compete with midsize sedans from Volkswagen, Honda, and Nissan.

The Associated Press reported that GM's midsize vehicle line director, Gary Kovacic, said that "engineers are still focused on the Aura's design and won't have details on the vehicle's fuel efficiency, options or sticker price until this fall when production models are available." However, it was noted that the vehicle will feature optional Z-rated performance tires, which are capable of speeds up to 150 mph. "Not that we expect anyone to be driving that speed," he said. "That would be against the law."

Sources tell that many of the Aura concept's features will be available on the production model, including:

  • 250-hp, 3.6L V6 with 6-speed automatic transmission
  • Side-impact and head-level air bags
  • 19-inch alloy wheels with Z-rated tires good for up to 150 mph
  • Nine exterior colors and three interior colors
  • Available French-stitched, etched rustica leather interior
  • Rear elevated seating to allow passengers a better view forward
  • Four-panel panoramic sunroof

Kansas City Star said that Prudential Equity Group LLC analyst Michael Bruynesteyn wrote in a January 11 report that "the Aura is, in our opinion, much more appealing than its Malibu cousin. If GM can pull off this vehicle at a price Saturn buyers can afford, we will be impressed." The Fairfax, Kansas plant currently employs 2,600 workers who build the Chevrolet Malibu and Malibu Maxx. GM is reportedly investing $200 million to expand the plant to build the Aura. An additional 300 workers are expected to be needed to help build the new Saturn.

"Research has shown that 50 percent of Saturn customers would have gone to an import had a Saturn not been available," said Saturn general manager Jill Lajdziak. Saturn's betting that its new flagship model will help bring raise that number even higher.

Source: Kansas City Star, Detroit News, Associated Press

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