As we speculated in our coverage of this year's New York Auto Show, Autoweek confirmed Monday that General Motors will fire up the Badge Engineering Works to import the Opel Astra compact to replace the soon-to-be-discontinued Saturn Ion.

The imported Astra will fill the upcoming void in Saturn's lineup left by the cancellation of the "Evoke," a proposed entry-level Saturn based on the Chevrolet Cobalt.

Although Ion production will cease at the Spring Hill, Tennessee plant in December, the Astra will not arrive in U.S. Saturn showrooms before late 2007. General Motors has not said whether the entry-level Saturn would retain the Astra name.

Interestingly, Reuters reported today that GM Europe is considering scaling back production of the Astra ahead of the anticipated slowdown in sales as the car moves into the middle of its product life cycle. The Astra is produced at plants in Belgium, the U.K., and Germany. Opening up a new export market for the car could be a move to keep the European production facilities running at capacity for a while longer.

The Astra will start at about $16,000 in the U.S. The Opel Astra sits in the number two slot in the European sales charts, right behind the top-selling Volkswagen Golf. It will be interesting to see how well it does in the U.S. market.

[Sources: Autoweek, Reuters]