Saturn apparently will wait until the 2000 model year to get a new, larger car - delayed in part because of the decision to stick with plastic body panels. General Motors Corp. had planned to start producing the car, code-named the Innovate, at its assembly plant in Wilmington, Del., for the 1999 model year.
But GM and union sources said Wilmington now is scheduled to start assembling the Innovate for the 2000 model year. Production would start in summer 1999, two sources said.
GM has told its Wilmington employees that the plant will build Chevrolet Malibus for the 1999 model year. Malibu production had been scheduled to end in the 1998 model year.
Despite the uncertainties, the project still has a high priority and is not in danger of being canceled, a GM source said. It has not received final approval from the board of directors, and it is not unusual for projects of this magnitude to be rescheduled.
The proposed larger car is a wider, longer version of the Opel Vectra. A team of GM engineers from Opel in Europe and North American Operations is working on the modifications.
Two sources said the Innovate's current design is not stacking up as well as GM would like against key import competitors in customer clinics.
The project is complex because it involves a large team of North American and European engineers working together to modify the design and its tooling for North American production.
One expensive item will be the production of plastic body panels. The Vectra has steel panels, but Saturn owners prefer plastic.
Saturn spokesman Greg Martin declined to comment on the matter, citing the company's policy against discussing future products.
Saturn's single current model, from which it builds a coupe, sedan and wagon, is small and is not retaining aging customers who want a bigger car. Saturn's lone assembly plant in Spring Hill, Tenn., is running at capacity.