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2007 Frankfurt Auto Show: Eric Interviews Saturn General Manager Jill Lajdziak

Date: Sept 13, 2007

Source: Edmunds Inside Line

Author: Eric Tingwall

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2007 Frankfurt Auto Show: Eric Interviews Saturn General Manager Jill Lajdziak

Over the course of the past three days, I had the opportunity to sit down with Saturn General Manager Jill Lajdziak several times. Our conversations focused on the immense change in Saturn's products, hitting on Red Line, green technologies, a Saturn subcompact and the Saturn/Opel relationship. Here's what I learned.

Opel's OPC performance badge graces nearly every model the company offers in Europe, boosting both performance and go-fast looks. In the European Astra, that means a turbo four making 240 horsepower. But Saturn's brand pillars focus on safety, environmental consciousness and the no-haggle dealer experience. Unfortunately, that means Red Line models are a low priority, requiring a business case much more dependable than the halo-car reasoning. So Red Line models will still appear, but only where reasonable volumes can be sold. For example, Saturn's hot-rod roadster, the Sky Red Line, currently accounts for about 70 percent of all Sky sales and has cemented the role of the performance variant in that model line. But in cars like the Astra, a performance model isn't a shoo-in and will require a full business plan - or maybe a little nudge from Lutz - to get the project green-lighted.

Flip the coin and start talking about Green Line, and things look a bit more promising. Saturn's still unsure of how to utilize the Green Line tag as a marketing tool. Next year, GM will begin offering the Vue hybrid in two different forms: One will use the current belt-alternator system and the other, a more efficient two-mode system. Saturn is dealing with how to brand and market the two technologies, debating if two very different powertrains can share the same Green Line name. With a plug-in hybrid Vue set for 2010, things get even more complicated. There's also the question of whether the Green Line label can be expanded to other fuel-efficient and environmentally friendly options, like FlexFuel or diesel engines. If GM can establish a common company approach for meeting U.S. emissions standards, a diesel Astra has a decent chance to make it to America since Europe has already done the engineering.

Lajdziak wouldn't guarantee any plans to bring over the Opel Corsa subcompact, but her enthusiastic response contained several hints, including the comment, "We know we need one." Her answer suggests that we're not far off from an announcement, perhaps during the 2008 auto show season.

Saturn's Sky was pulled into Europe as the Opel GT, but that will likely be the only time you see an American product cross the pond in the Opel/Saturn relationship. From now on, cars will only flow the other way. As next-generation Opels are being developed, Saturn will play a key role in defining engineering targets and standards that will ensure European cars meet the packaging expectations of Americans. Saturn will still maintain a few models not offered by Opel, like the Outlook, but those products will still share a platform and powertrains with other GM models. -- Eric Tingwall, Inside Line Contest Winner and Citizen Journalist


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