Expanding lineup: Saturn has designs on new segments

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Get ready for the new face of Saturn.

The struggling General Motors Corp. brand is entering new vehicle segments in the next 24 months in hopes of strengthening the line and extending its appeal. Saturn plans to have more refined vehicles with better interior and exterior fit and finishes, so pricing will rise generally above Chevrolet, GM's mass-market brand.

Its new product design will be revealed next week at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit when the marketer unveils its Sky two-seat roadster.The automaker turned to its design talent around the world for rear-wheel-drive Sky, said Ed Welburn, VP-design at GM, who described Saturn's "new form vocabulary" as "taut, controlled lines" combined with "harmonious and fluid surfacing to create a technical and dynamic feel." GM projects annual sales of roughly 15,000 units for the Sky roadster.

Saturn is also introducing its first seven-passenger minivan, the Relay crossover sport van, which started trickling into showrooms in November. The marketer calls Relay "a transitional product." Saturn had a yearlong pre-launch for Relay via e-mail, direct mailings, events and sweepstakes. But TV ads for the model from Omnicom Group's Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, don't arrive until later this month.

Jill Lajdziak, general manager of GM's Saturn division, told Advertising Age last month that while Saturn's products will change, the company will stick to its original positioning for delivering superb customer care. As the lineup expands, Saturn will talk more about its products in advertising than the owners that are spotlighted in current ads. Those executions "really work from a brand standpoint and are emotionally engaging," she said.

Money-losing Saturn's vehicle sales through November 2004 skidded by 21% to 198,621 units compared to the year-ago period. Sales of its Vue SUV in the 2004 period rose 8% to 81,255 units, but its L Series sales plummeted by 69% to 18,835 vehicles vs. the prior year. Ms. Lajdziak projected calendar 2007 sales would be roughly 400,000 units, accounting for a full year for the new 2006 models.

Saturn isn't expecting a turnaround right away. The unit ended production of its ill-fated L Series midsize car line a few months ago, which is why it had already anticipated its total calendar 2004 vehicle sales would be down. Ms. Lajdziak said Saturn won't see a big jump in 2005, since Sky arrives in the first quarter of 2006 and a new midsize SUV in the summer of 2006, she said. "The big year for the brand will be calendar 2006."

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