At a GM function Autoblog attended Wednesday night, Mark LaNeve, in his remarks to the assembled media, mentioned the Astra by name when responding to a question about Saturn. That was the first time we'd heard anyone from GM refer to the forthcoming Ion replacement by its Opel moniker in a Saturn context, and given LaNeve's stature, we took notice. We caught up with him later on and asked if "Saturn Astra" was indeed the official name, and he responded that it was being "heavily considered."
Well, he certainly wasn't kidding, as Thursday brought the official announcement that the new hatch will retain the Astra branding. When you consider that the name was kept for both the Holden and Vauxhall versions, this isn't really a big surprise. With the Ion being the the stylistic horror show that it was (this writer maintains that the Dodge Caliber looks like a Lamborghini Miura by comparison), saddling its replacement with the old name would have been the marketing equivalent of draping an albatross around its neck right out of the gate.
More commentary, plus GM's official announcement after the jump. Read on!
So -- crisis averted, and the US gets its first look at the Saturn Astra at the Chicago Auto Show, where both 3- and 5-door versions will be on hand. In Europe, Astra is also available as a wagon, a notchback sedan, a C+C, and an extraordinarily spiffy glass-roofed Panoramic model.
We asked LaNeve if GM would consider the introduction of additional bodystyles to supplement the hatch. His response was yes, over time. "Over time" is intentionally vague, of course. GM is obviously going to wait and see what kind of marketplace traction it gets with Astra before it commits resources to expanding the model's North American lineup. Still, color us enthused. Astra is, after all, a fully-developed product and well-known commodity in other markets. If it's a success, it shouldn't be that difficult to introduce existing variants here. We'll gleefully speculate on which ones at a later date. Right now, we're content to know that both hatchbacks are headed our way for the model's launch. We thought we'd wind up with the sedan, which would have been such the "old GM" thing to do.
We don't miss the old GM. Nor will we miss one of its poster children, the Saturn Ion, to whom we say, "Good riddance." Close that door behind you, okay?
Saturn Astra To Join Lineup In Late 2007
New small car to complete turnover of vehicle lineup in less than two years
DETROIT - Saturn confirmed today that it will add the Astra compact car to its lineup late in 2007, marking an important stage in its product revitalization plan. When the 2008 Astra joins the Sky, Aura, Outlook and all-new Vue, no Saturn will have been in the market more than 20 months, giving the brand one of the freshest product lineups in the industry.
"The Astra is a great fit for Saturn, with its European style and driving dynamics," said Jill Lajdziak, Saturn general manager. "It also signals our efforts to get new vehicles to market quickly and reinvent the entire Saturn product lineup with unprecedented speed."
The Saturn Astra will be nearly identical to the 2007.5 Opel Astra, unveiled this week at the Bologna Motor Show in Italy. It will be sold in the United States and Canada in three-door and five-door configurations.
The Astra is part of the larger collaboration between Saturn and Opel. By sharing resources from throughout GM's global network of design and engineering centers, the two brands can develop strong, broad product lineups that will attract buyers to the brands both in North America and Europe. Early examples of this collaboration include the Saturn Sky and upcoming Opel GT, as well as the Opel Antara and 2008 Saturn Vue.
"The Astra enables Saturn to occupy a unique position in the marketplace and to strategically broaden its appeal with consumers who usually have import brands on their shopping lists," said Lajdziak. "Saturn's partnership with Opel is a natural way to expand our lineup with relevant products that will attract new buyers into our showrooms."
More information will be available when Saturn unveils the 2008 Astra at the Chicago Auto Show in February 2007.