Saturn Astra Shuffling Over to Buick? Really?

May 6, 2009

GM's multi-billion-dollar Saturn experiment hasn't paid off--and in its latest iteration, even a raft of pretty good Opel derivatives couldn't move the needle for the hug-happy, haggle-free division.

So while GM considers spinning off Saturn to Roger Penske, or maybe Renault, what happens to the nearly-new Astra hatchbacks? Introduced just two years ago, the slow-selling pair were supposed to give Saturn the perfect small cars to complement the Vue crossover and Aura sedan.

The cars arrived--and we've ranked them fairly well here at TheCarConnection, giving the Astra twins an overall score of 7.8 out of 10. But consumers have stayed away in droves, and critics of the badge-engineered duo rightfully point out there's nothing uniquely Saturn about the cars. Our contention: GM's done little to no advertising to spread the good word.

So, what to make of the latest reports and rumors that suggest the Astra will live on in the U.S., moving to the Buick lineup in 2011? With GM in turmoil as it shrinks to four U.S. brands, it's impossible to say for sure if the small Astra will shift brands and shore up Buick's small-car offerings. Then again, the demise of Pontiac makes it even more important for the Buick-GMC channel to add some small cars.

Complicating everything: Fiat's purported interest in taking a majority stake in or full control of GM's Opel division, which manufactures the Astra in Europe. GM could retool a plant to build the Astra stateside, but its lack of sales success makes that seem a long shot. And GM may not be able to hang on to any of Opel, if it descends into a Chapter 11 filing like its crosstown cousin Chrysler.

As a consumer, all you need to know is President Obama says all warranties will be honored. That, and it's a hell of a time to pick up a good car very cheaply, if you're not so much into resale value.

Car fans? Stay tuned--the end of May brings GM's government-mandated deadline to come up with a comprehensive comeback strategy. And we're betting, more drama.

[worldcarfans]

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