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Saturn Sky Red Line – Corvette Light or Extra-Strength Miata?

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Having me review a 2 seat open top roadster is like having Ed Begley talk about the virtues of an electric vehicle. Objectivity may be a stretch. I’m already a choir member. I just have too many fond memories of riding with my big brother in his Datsun 1600. Cars were invented to have their roofs removed, and their gears selected by the driver. It’s no surprise that I like this vehicle. A lot.
The Look
Talk about a head turner. This vehicle got more attention than grenade in a wedding cake. I probably didn’t hurt that our vehicle was bright red, but I think this vehicle would draw a crowd in any color. I answered more questions from strangers than any other vehicle in recent memory. From geriatrics to kids on skateboards, I received nothing but rave reviews on its exterior styling. My favorite? “It’s a Saturn? But it’s so pretty?”
EDITOR’S NOTE
At first, several of us at AutoPacific were critical of the Saturn Sky. Without driving it, we could critique the substandard interior materials and the truly abysmal cupholder, the lack of storage and on-the-ground sitting position. Appreciating the Sky Red Line is to drive it… hard. Luckily, part ot my commute is through a canyon with dramatic climbs, dips, variously aggressive curves, little traffic even at rush hour. This is where the car really comes into its own. The 260-horsepower provides punch whenever you want it and the wide track shod with sticky tires kept the Sky where you planted it.
On the other hand, Sky’s styling goes into the toilet when the convertible top is up. Also, with the top up, the car is almost impossible to get into or out of. For those of us who are a bit width challenged, a couple of more inches of shoulder room would be nice. But even with these niggling complaints, why doesn’t Sky sell better. Is its success, or lack of success, proof that the market for small 2-seaters is really saturated when Miata, Solstice and Sky are all available at under $25,000.


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Playboy Awards 2007 Cars of the Year

You could tell from the smiles on the faces of the suits from Cadillac that they had just come from something special. The Cadillac Escalade had just won the Playboy 2007 Car of the Year Award. Jim Taylor, Cadillac General Manager was lugging around a golden trophy with a totally blinged-out Playboy bunny glued to it and a discreet plaque proclaiming Escalade’s win.

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Playboy Magazine has just named their 2007 Cars of the Year. Included in this year’s list were:
Playboy 2007 Car of the Year – BMW Z4 M
Best SUV – Cadillac Escalade
Best Sports Coupe – Porsche 911 Carrera
Best Bang for the Buck – Ford Mustang Shelby GT 500
The Al Gore Special – Lexus GS450h
Best Two-Way Player – Volkswagen Eos
Best Pickup – Toyota Tundra
Best Cross Dresser – Mazda CX-7
Best Roadster – Saturn Sky Red Line
Oh yeah, about the presentations. Apparently, a hostess Playmate gave the executives a tour around the Playboy Mansion. A former Playmate, the young lady was extremely well spoken, knew her stuff and presented Playboy in a very favorable light. What I’m saying is that she wasn’t the airhead blonde bimbette that may have been expected at Playboy.


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Saturn Aura Wins 2007 North American Car of the Year Award

At a press conference on January 7, 2007 kicking off the North American International Auto Show, the Saturn Aura was named the North American Car of the Year. The award is presented annually by a jury of 49 prominent automotive journalists from throughout the United States and Canada.
The Aura had some stiff competition like the all new Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima and Lincoln MKZ (if you call the MKZ really “new”) in its class. After driving an Aura, VehicleVoice and AutoPacific staffers have to agree it is a fine mid-size sedan European in ambiance, handling and performance. Nice piece.

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The text of Saturn’s press release follows:
“We’re extremely pleased that the Aura has been named the North American Car of the Year,” said Jill Lajdziak, general manager for Saturn. “The Aura is an important step in our ongoing product revitalization plan, and this award is proof that our efforts are paying off.”
The Aura features the design found on all new Saturn vehicles, with a bold chrome-bar grille and sharp lines with flowing surfaces. It also exhibits the brand’s new attention to detail on the interior as well, with tight gaps and improved materials over past Saturn vehicles.
The uplevel Saturn Aura XR marks the first use of the new HydraMatic 6T70 transmission, the first six-speed automatic in a front-wheel-drive vehicle from GM. This transmission is mated to the 3.6L dual overhead cam V6, producing 252 peak horsepower for a sporty driving experience.
In addition to its design and driving character, the panel recognized Aura for its overall value. The Aura XE starts at just $20,995, and comes with a long list of standard features that includes a 224-horsepower 3.5L V6 engine, six airbags, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and GM’s OnStar Safety and Security system.
With its long list of standard safety equipment, the Aura’s safety credentials rate among the best in the industry. It earned five stars – the highest rating possible – in all four metrics from the federal government’s new car assessment program.
In addition to the powertrain upgrade, the XR adds standard StabiliTrak electronic stability control, 18-inch alloy wheels, heated front seats and remote vehicle ignition. The XR starts at $24,995.
Saturn will add a Green Line model this spring, featuring a 2.4L, four-cylinder engine mated to an electric motor generator. This affordable hybrid will start at under $23,000, and will get a 25% improvement in fuel economy over the Aura XE.
The Aura went on sale at Saturn retailers in August 2006. Saturn sold more than 5,800 Auras in December 2006.


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2007 Chicago Auto Show: Saturn Astra

General Motors’ German Division Helps Out Their Domestic Import-Fighter
Saturn has been working with Opel to develop its latest products. This collaboration is helping to revive the Saturn brand with fresh styling and provide products with a strong, sophisticated personality. The Vue Crossover SUV, which was introduced at the 2007 Detroit show, is an Opel Antara wearing a Saturn badge. And Saturn’s replacement for the much-maligned Ion is an Opel Astra with a Saturn badge. Saturn’s Astra takes different front and rear bumpers, to meet North American bumper standards, but there is little else different between the two cars.
Partly because of this collaboration and the launch of the large Saturn Crossover SUV the Outlook, Saturn has one of the strongest growth prospects among “American” brands for the latter half of the decade.

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The Saturn Astra launches late in 2007, by which time the oldest vehicle in Saturn’s lineup will be the Sky. In a mere twenty months, Saturn will have revamped its entire range, all for the better. The division that had long been starved for product finally has a competitive, modern stable.
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Saturn is taking a bit of a risk with Astra, however, in that it is offered in only three- and five-door hatchback versions. There will be no sedan or quad coupe this time around, but as U.S. consumers have become more accepting of hatchbacks over the past couple of years the danger is less than it would have been earlier this century. The five-door will be offered in two trim levels, XE and XR, with the three-door only in XR trim and geared toward a more “enthusiastic” driver. Astra’s launch powertrain is a 140HP 1.8L four-cylinder, which gets a standard five-speed manual transmission and optional four-speed automatic. This powertrain is nothing special, but should hold its own among other compact cars.
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The Astra gets a terrific interior to go along with its stylish exterior. We got the chance to quickly get in and check out the car immediately after the reveal, and the feel and finish of the switchgear is very satisfying and a clear cut above Astra’s segment. As we’ve noted in other reviews, GM’s interior work and development is finally reaching customers. Saturn’s Astra looks, from our view, poised to be a star.
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SUVs are NOT Dead

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SUVs are NOT DEAD – Sport Utility Vehicles Remain Top Considered Vehicle Segment
For as long as I can remember, the New York Times and eastern media have been taking SUVs to task. While many of the people writing these stories don’t own a vehicle or even drive a car or truck, they have decided that the Sport Utility Vehicle is the poster child for social irresponsibility. No matter what they say, folks continue to gravitate to SUVs. We have the data.
For the past thirteen years, Sport Utility Vehicles have been the product segment that is most considered by American driving public. 2006 was a traumatic year for SUVs. High fuel prices dampened demand for large truck-based SUVs, but in 2006 as for more than a decade, demand for SUVs was highest among AutoPacific’s seven macro product segments. When consideration for contemporary SUVs – Crossover Sport Utility Vehicles or XSUVs – is included, consideration goes even higher.

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Sales of Full Size SUVs Like Ford Expedition Have Fallen

Clearly America’s love affair for this Swiss Army Knife of vehicles has not waned, nor has demand by Americans for a vehicle type that can do many different things. We used to say that people bought SUVs because they can go anywhere, go anytime, go with anything, go with anybody… an SUV could do it all. Meeting these criteria – especially the go anywhere aspect of the equation yielded SUVs that were too capable. They could go off-road over rough terrain through tough climate conditions. Even though most buyers never used them for what they were capable of, they were designed to have off-road credibility.

Let it be XSUV:
Let’s officially coin our term for Crossover SUVs. These are not simply “crossovers”, after all, you could have a crossover of almost any two products. We don’t want to call them CUVs – Crossover Utility Vehicles – because that dilutes what they really are supposed to be. The right term is Crossover SUV. This clearly defines that this is an SUV based on a car platform – something not quite as capable as body-on-frame traditional SUVs. So, for now on, it’s XSUVs.
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2008 Buick Enclave – New Generation XSUV Responds to Buyers Demands

Carmakers Responded to Buyers with Crossover SUVs: By the end of the ‘90s, manufacturers began to respond to buyers’ demand for slightly softer product characteristics. For awhile terms like “soft-roaders”, “cute-utes” were used to describe vehicles like the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V and even the Lexus RX300. Inside the car companies engineers and designers were referring to these types of vehicles as Crossovers. And while the buyer rarely refers to his Ford Escape, Chevrolet Equinox, or Honda Pilot as a Crossover SUV, that is what they are. They are not designed for off-roading, but they are designed to provide comfortable, maneuverable, efficient transportation in the suburbs and on vacation.
VehicleVoice internet survey panel members and respondents to AutoPacific’s annual Future Vehicle Survey have responded about what type of transportation they will consider next time they buy. Selected details are below the fold.


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A Three-Row Triple From GM: 2007 Saturn Outlook, 2007 GMC Acadia, 2008 Buick Enclave

General Motors is rolling out three new crossover SUVs that share an all-new, purpose-built platform. GM has called this platform Lambda for internal purposes. The Saturn Outlook and GMC Acadia are on sale now and the Buick Enclave arrives in summer 2007 as a 2008MY vehicle. These crossover SUVs are taking on not only traditional and crossover mid-size SUVs but also full-size SUVs and minivans due to their large size and dimensions (they are nearly as large as the Chevrolet Tahoe). They do not have the towing capability of truck-based SUVs, but do have the other attributes for which buyers go to SUVs, or minivans. They have high seating positions, available AWD, and interiors big enough to hold seven passengers or lots of stuff.
Following the roll-out of the Lambda crossover SUVs, General Motors will kill their conventional minivans (similar to Ford’s strategy of killing the Monterey and Freestar minivans). The Pontiac Montana SV6 is already history and its demise will be followed by the Chevrolet Uplander, Saturn Relay and Buick Terraza. Oh, yeah, Chevrolet will get a Lambda Crossover SUV in the next year or so as well.
AutoPacific and VehicleVoice analysts have been included in the reviews of these critically important General Motors vehicles.

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General Motors describes their current state as an interior renaissance, and these products are examples of smart interior thinking. They include a level of interior detail not before seen from the General. As these products were developed with a clean slate, new platform, new interiors, new powertrain, GM took the opportunity to make sure they will be easy to live with.
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The second- and third-row folding operations are simple and easy to use and the overall package is terrific. One could buy any one of these vehicles and spend the life of the vehicle discovering all the little things that will add up to a product that enhances and eases daily life. It’s taken GM a very long time to get to such a solid package design, but they have finally succeeded.


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LA Auto Show – Saturn's Green Line Expands: 2007 Saturn Aura Green Line

Among the alternative fuel production and concept cars making news at the Los Angeles auto show this week was Saturn‘s 2007 Aura and the announcement of the 2008 Vue Green Line along with the standard Vue. Both the Aura and the 2008 Vue use the same hybrid powertrain as the 2007 Vue Green Line. (The Vue Green Line only went on sale in summer 2006, click here for our discussion of the Vue Green Line’s January 2006 introduction.) Saturn’s Green Line vehicles use a mild hybrid, which does not run on full electric power, but Saturn is promising a base price of less than $23,000 for the Aura (about the same cost as the 2007 Vue Green Line). The 2007 Aura Green Line goes on sale in spring 2007, and GM promises a 25 percent fuel-economy improvement over the XE, which uses the 224HP 3.5L V6, at a premium of less than $2500.

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The Aura and Vue use the same hybrid powertrain, a 2.4L DOHC 16v I4, four-speed automatic transmission, and an electric motor/generator. Though the car doesn’t move under electric power, the system saves fuel by shutting off the engine when the car is stopped (and reviving the engine as soon as the brake pedal is released), enabling early fuel shut off in deceleration, and using regenerative braking to capture kinetic energy during deceleration.
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All in all, these are not the most impressive hybrids offered. As mild hybrids, the electric engine only serves as a helper, so fuel savings aren’t as dramatic as those with full hybrid systems (Ford Escape, Toyota Prius, Honda Accord, Toyota Camry). Of course, the full hybrid systems are far more expensive and it isn’t certain if either option would ever really pay for itself. With the Green Line products, you get what you pay for: a little bit of fuel savings for a little bit of extra money.
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LA Auto Show – Opel Anta…errr… 2008 Saturn Vue Launched in Los Angeles

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Saturn’s Stars Finally Align for a Bright Future
Actually, the Opel Antara was introduced in Paris in September, and I’m not really confusing shows. It is a good thing for Saturn there are some solid designs coming out of the Opel/Vauxhall studios, because after having seen both in the tin, we can conclude there is practically nothing different between Opel’s Antara and the Saturn Vue, as was true of the Antara and PreVue concepts. Saturn’s Vue goes on sale in the second quarter of 2007, the fourth all-new Saturn since 2006.

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This is not a surprise for industry watchers, or to vehiclevoice.com readers who caught our May article on the Opel Antara and Vue (click here), but it is still interesting to listen to Saturn talk about their European design. This brand was launched with a specific mission to take on the Japanese imports and find a way to do business differently than GM’s other brands. Instead, Saturn was starved for product and folded back into the mothership. On the bright side, we get the Antara and the Aura (based on the Opel Vectra), and even the Sky has an Opel design relationship, all three good-looking products with the ability to really make Saturn a brand to be reckoned with. These are further supported by the U.S. developed Outlook, and it becomes clear Saturn is gaining steam, regardless of where the products were styled.
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Blowing Off the Lot – the Hot Sellers

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Since we have identified the vehicles that have the longest days supply, we have been asked to show which vehicles have the shortest days supply. Which vehicles are so hot they just blow off the dealer’s lot? As with the slower moving vehicles where we arbitrarily cut off the days supply at 150 days, here we are using 50 days as the cut off point. The details are shown “below the fold”


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Stuck to the Dealer's Floor – Inventory Numbers Tell the Story

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Which cars and trucks are planted to the dealer’s floor? In other words, which vehicles take the longest to sell? Who cars? Why does it matter, anyway?
Well, while it may not seem that important to you, it’s critically important to the industry s a whole… from the manufacturese, component suppliers, dealers and quite a few financial institutions. First, if you know the time it takes to sell a vehicle, you know how much it is dragging on the dealer’s floorplanning costs. Floorplanning is the term for the amount it costs the dealer to finance the a vehicle in inventory waiting to be sold. If a vehicle has been hanging around for weeks, he’ll be more likely to deal aggressively to get rid of it. Also, vehicles that have high days supply may be less popular. From that perspective, they may be the ones you want to stay away from.


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