Saturn SUV offers 3-D Vue

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General motors corp.'s Saturn is getting a running start for the fall launch of its first sport-utility vehicle, the Vue.

Saturn Corp. recently sent the first in a series of direct mailings to prospects. The drop went to about 60,000 consumers who had requested information about the Vue either via saturn.com; postcards from the South Florida International Auto Show in Miami Beach; or Saturn's toll-free call center at 1-800-522-5000, a Saturn spokesman said.

Consumers on the original mailing list will continue to get the next four follow-up pieces with more information. The list is growing by a couple hundred people weekly, the spokesman said.

Carlson Marketing Group, Troy, Mich., is handling the direct campaign. Using the piece's pair of 3-D glasses similar to those used for movies, recipients see the name of the SUV floating in a nature setting. A letter to prospects outlines several Vue features that differentiate it from others in the segment, including Saturn's dent-resistant "durable polymer body side panels and ... available head curtain air bags."

The SUV's name was picked after extensive research because it portrayed a positive image and didn't constrain prospects' perceptions of the vehicle.

DRAWBACK OF `OUTDOOR' NAME

"A name that already had a specific meaning might limit people's understanding of just how versatile the Saturn Vue is," said Jill Lajdziak, VP-sales, service and marketing at Saturn. "For example, an outdoor name might shortchange the vehicle's flexible interior, its responsive on-road performance or its versatility around town."

Saturn expects to sell 50,000 Vues in its full calendar year of 2002, the spokesman said.

The SUV will compete against American Honda Motor Co.'s CR-V, Toyota Motor Sales USA's RAV4, Ford Motor Co.'s Ford Escape and sibling SUV, the Tribute from Mazda North American Operations.

Saturn will target the same audience as the rest of the segment: consumers with a median age of between 40 and 45; evenly split between men and women; 65% to 70% of whom are married; 60% to 65% college graduates; with a median annual household income of $75,000.

Bob Schnorbus, a director at consultancy J.D. Power & Associates, said Saturn needs the SUV in its lineup, but the carmaker is late to the segment. "Differentiating it will be tricky," he added.

The Vue is only Saturn's third major product since GM introduced the brand in 1990. GM starved Saturn for new products for nearly a decade. The brand basically encompassed the same small S-Series line since Saturn's '90 debut, though the sedan, wagon and coupe have had upgrades over the years. In 1999, Saturn introduced its L-Series midsize line. GM currently is investing $1.5 billion in Saturn to develop four new products, including the Vue.

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