Future Models Will Give Saturn a 'Boost'

Saturn says it expects about a 10% increase in U.S. sales next year from the total expected for 2002, thanks to an updated and expanded lineup. Jill Lajdziak, vice president of Saturn Sales, Service, and Marketing, told reporters at a media preview for the new Ion line of small cars that Saturn is on track to set a new sales record this year, with sales of between 285,000 and 300,000 vehicles. Next year, with full availability of the Ion, as well as the Vue sport-utility and upgraded L-Series, Saturn expects to sell between 310,000 and 330,000 vehicles.

GM Vice Chairman Robert Lutz said he hopes Saturn can expand its annual sales volume to about 500,000 vehicles over the next few years by adding new models. GM officials declined to specify what additional vehicles they are considering, noting only that they are likely to be in entry-level segments.

To help generate excitement around its lineup, Saturn is planning performance and other enhancements to its vehicles to be sold as special packages. The Ion coupe, which hits the market early next year, will be available in a performance version about a year later with improved suspension and a supercharged engine expected to generate more than 200 horsepower, outperforming rivals. Lajdziak said U.S. sales of the performance coupe could be about 10,000 units annually. The Ion's base engine generates 140 horsepower.

Other variants and additional Saturn vehicles are planned, which will eventually put the division into profitability, Lajdziak said. "We're on a path to profitability," she said. "We're doing a number of things to position us." Saturn's growth is part of GM's efforts to grow its market share in the entry-level vehicle category, Lutz said. GM currently has about a 12 percent share of the entry-level segment, far below its 28.5 percent share of the overall U.S. market.

"We definitely have share growth plans there," Lutz said. "We will definitely not be satisfied until we have at least the same market share in that segment," as GM's overall U.S. market share, he added.

The Ion won't be the only Saturn line to get special focus. Saturn will offer an optional premium appearance package on its newly redesigned L-Series. In addition, the Vue will get an optional appearance package on the version offered with the 3.5L V6 engine GM is buying from Honda. That engine will be available in the Vue next year. It will produce 240 horsepower, making it one of the most powerful in a small SUVs on the road.

Source: Reuters, Dow Jones Business News

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