Apparently, selling plastic-clad vehicles at no-haggle prices can not, by itself, sustain a brand. Try as it might, Saturn has been unable to carry the initial momentum generated by the S-Series. Yet, with the release of two exciting concept cars at the 2005 North American International Auto Show, Saturn looks like it may officially be changing directions.
While the number of product offerings has (very) slowly grown to three over the past several years, little has been done to draw any significant attention to the newest of GM's divisions. But the SKY two-seater convertible and the AURA sedan indicate somebody's been stoking the fire at GM. In fact, Saturn will double its portfolio to six vehicles over the next few years, while also updating its existing models. That may not sound like a lot, but for a brand that has been withering on the vine for years, it's big and welcome news. As noted by Gary Cowger, President of GM North America, there is now an emphasis on retaining the positive buying experience that Saturn customers have enjoyed, while extending the range of products from which those shoppers (and others) can choose.
Of the two vehicles unveiled in Detroit (the other being the Saturn AURA sedan), the Saturn SKY concept garnered much more attention. Sharing its front engine/rear-wheel-drive architecture with the Pontiac Solstice concept car, this two-seater might be the last thing most people would expect from the folks who brought us the L-Series. And, in a way, it's not. According to GM, seven of GM's eleven worldwide design studios have had their hands in Saturn's new look. What those collective minds have come up with is a sleek, well-proportioned roadster. The goal, say GM officials, is to put a face on Saturn that presents a "contemporary and upscale image". Inside, leather seats sit low in a cockpit that closely resembles that of the Honda S2000, which along with the Mazda Miata LS and the Toyota MR2, served as a reference for the SKY's designers. The Saturn SKY also comes equipped with a manual soft top, a clamshell hood, 18-inch polished alloy wheels wearing Goodyear Eagle tires, and piano lacquer inserts.
Propelling this fine looking ride is a 2.4-liter, 170-horsepower four-cylinder under the hood that's responsible for carrying around 2,860 pounds of curb weight. Torque is rated at 162 lb.-ft, and power is managed by either a five-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission. Short and long arm suspension in front and back controls the ride and braking is courtesy of a four-wheel, anti lock setup.
Available starting in the first half of 2006, the Saturn SKY will be built at the Wilmington, Delaware plant. Expect pricing to start in the low 20's, with an anticipated volume of 10-12,000 units per year.
By Thom Blackett
Photos by Erik Hanson