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Saturn dealers to offer Camry, Accord drives to Aura shoppers

The reinvigorated Saturn is one of the best things GM's got going right now. May 2007 sales were up 68% over the previous year (what a difference appealing product makes), and overall, it's up 30% YTD versus 2006.

Now comes word from Bloomberg News that starting tomorrow, June 11, all but 5 of the 430 Saturn dealers in the US will offer prospective Aura shoppers comparison test drives in the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. According to Saturn's Lisa Hutchinson, its participating dealers are buying the imports that'll be used for the program, which runs through July 31. GM's showing a lot of confidence in its new products -- remember, Chevy dealers will have Camrys on the floor to compare to the new Malibu when it arrives, too. This is all good, and it could probably be even better. Follow the jump for a bit of editorializing.

[Source: Bloomberg News]
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Showing the competition to customers who've already found their way into the Saturn showroom is one thing. Getting even more people aware of the good new stuff in the Saturn showroom to begin with is another story. Saturn sales are decidedly up -- this is an inarguable fact -- but one has to wonder if it could (and should) be an even better story for GM. Just last night, after dinner with some friends, I pointed out an Aura XR leaving the restaurant to one of our companions as it drove by. We were actually chatting about cars at the time, and pleasantly surprised, he gave the "that's a Saturn?" reaction seen in the TV spots the automaker trotted out last year. That kind of response from the public is all well and good at new-model launch, but now, several months into sales, it struck me as being a bit of a problem. Similarly, last week, a friend who was over for a visit asked of the Aura Green Line in my garage, "Why don't I see more about this car?" Why, indeed.

Yes, it's just two people and its purely anecdotal -- I know this. But it makes me think that there are still plenty of people out there who simply aren't aware of the Aura and can't identify it when they do see it -- even if they like it. And make no mistake: both of the friends I refer to above would have no trouble identifying an Accord or Camry. The overall Saturn story right now is a a very good thing, but I'm beginning to wonder if there's even greater upside to be had. It boils down to awareness. GM is right to be proud of its new products and smart to serve up the competition in a side-by-side test for customers -- it communicates confidence, and that's compelling. The trick is to go out and get even more shoppers into stores to take that test in the first place. It seems like there's still untapped potential in that regard.

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