It’s been rumored for awhile, but on Dec. 7 General Motors announced it officially. The European-made Opel Astra will join GM’s revamped lineup in late 2007 as the 2008 Saturn Astra. Available as a two- or four-door hatchback, the Astra will be a replacement for the Saturn Ion when it joins the new Vue, as well as the Sky, Aura, and Outlook, in Saturn showrooms. GM points out that when the Astra goes on sale, none of the vehicles in the Saturn lineup will have been on the market for more than 20 months.
That’s certainly a welcome change for Saturn. There was a lot of hope for the GM offshoot company when it began making cars at a new plant in Tennessee in 1990. In fact, just moving the plant out of the Detroit area and adopting a Japanese philosophy and management style were intended to give the mark a fresh start. And for awhile it worked. In its early years, there was a certain mystique about the Saturn, much as there had been with the Volkswagen Beetle when it first appeared in the U.S. And Saturn appropriately nursed that mystique, with its “Different Kind of Car Company” slogan, its no-nonsense (“the price is right on the windshield”) sales approach, and its annual summer events at the Tennessee plant for Saturn owners.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the showroom. The cars just weren’t very good. I owned a Saturn in the mid-1990s, and was kind of excited to get my hands on it. But the car gave me problems the entire time I owned it. Once, when I took it in for service, the mechanic told me part of the engine had been recalled, and they proceeded to replace the “top” part of the engine but not the bottom. Very strange. After that, the car ran okay but it drank a quart of oil a week. I traded it in after a couple of years.
GM hopes that by sharing technology and design with Opel, which was founded in 1863 and taken over by GM in the 1930s, it can cut some costs, consolidate some of its processes, and hopefully build a better brand. GM has hinted that future GM vehicles, including Chevys and Pontiacs as well as Saturns, will share platforms and designs with Opels, and that additional Opel models, such as the Vectra, could be sold in the U.S. under the Saturn badge.
The Saturn Astra will be nearly identical to the 2007 Opel Astra that was recently unveiled at the Bologna Motor Show in Italy, according to GM. The European version will go on sale in February 2007. Both the European and U.S. versions will be built at Opel’s plant in Antwerp, Belgium. The 2008 Saturn Astra will have its official unveiling at the Chicago Auto Show in February 2007.