General Motors Corp.'s newest Saturn model may be turning its back on injection molded body panels, but it has not given up on plastics entirely.
The Sky two-seat sports car, which debuted at the North American International Auto Show, held Jan. 9 in Detroit, uses sheet molding compound for both the front and rear fascia and for a small front quarter panel.
The curvy Sky is intended as part of a product blitz aimed at bringing new attention to Saturn, but it also takes the nameplate away from its roots. Until last year, all Saturns used thermoplastics for the bulk of the car's vertical body panels. Only the midsize L series varied, using steel on a rear quarter panel.
But starting with the 2005 Saturn Relay minivan - a sister vehicle of three other minivans from Detroit-based GM - the brand has mixed its existing Ion car and Vue sport utility vehicle plastic panels with sheet metal.
The issue, GM executives maintain, is that the gap required between the panels to handle thermal shifts leaves the Saturn looking bad in comparison to its competitors.
``That 3 [millimeter] gap isn't much, but customers are very much aware of it,'' said Darren Post, vehicle line executive for the Sky, who also helped lead the creation of the Ion. ``Consumers have grown to see it as a quality issue.''
Saturn is not shutting down its injection molding at its Spring Hill, Tenn., assembly plant. The facility is continuing to turn out panels for the Ion and Vue. The hope is, though, that the high-profile Sky will bring more people into Saturn dealers - people who may drive out with one of the existing models, said Bob Lutz, president of GM North America and vice chairman of product development.
``The Sky is something Saturn has needed, to connect the brand with its customers,'' Lutz said. ``Products like these will help us make our product aspirational again.''