General Motors Corp. is positioning its Saturn brand for a rebirth, and once again relying on plastics to help give the vehicles an edge.
The Saturn Ion, introduced March 27 in New York, features thermoplastic doors and side panels, part of the division's trademark design. But beyond that, the company also will take advantage of the plastic panels and steel body structure to allow buyers to swap some of the interior and exterior trim and create a unique look for their vehicle.
The ``personal accents'' accessories will allow Ion owners to remove the existing roof rail on the car - which sweeps over the doors - and replace it with carbon fiber or up to four alternate colors. Likewise they can change some components in the interior trim, such as in the center console, for either a carbon fiber-accent piece or other colors.
``This feature will help them appeal to young buyers,'' said Jill Lajdziak, vice president of Saturn sales, service and marketing.
That attraction is a major element for the GM division, which has produced more than 2 million of the small S-class Saturns in Spring Hill, Tenn., since its launch in 1990. The midsize L series, which debuted in 1999, failed to catch fire with buyers. The Vue sport utility vehicle, which hit the market full force early this year, is only the third product for the unit.
Saturn has its own in-house injection molding operation at its manufacturing base in Spring Hill, Tenn., where it produces components for its own vehicles and also has offered its capability as a supplier for other plants.
The Ion will replace the aging S series, and is aimed at providing a real boost for the division and GM's ability to compete with small vehicles.
``For the past several years the industry has ridden the wave of trucks and SUVs, and this will likely continue,'' said Bob Lutz, product development and chairman for GM North America.
``The most successful automakers in the future, however, will be the ones who excel on both sides of the equation - cars and trucks.
``The Ion represents the type of flexible architecture that will help us revamp our car line on a global basis,'' he said.
To bring buyers into showrooms, Saturn is featuring not only the exchangeable trim, but also other new looks for the small-car market.
Both the sedan and coupe shift the instrument cluster and gauges from directly above the steering wheel to the center console where, the company claims, a driver has a better view of the road than by looking down at a standard cluster placement.
The coupe, meanwhile, has all four doors opening from the center out.
Saturn calls the rear doors ``rear-access doors,'' or RADS, and said they provide a better reach into the back of the car.
More product introductions will be coming to Saturn, said Gary Cowger, president of GM North America.
``Everyone at GM believes that Saturn has the potential to become an even greater success story,'' he said. ``The momentum is building.''