The Automotive Amanojaku

This is where you'll find news, random car-related thoughts and personal views from a rabid car nut. "Amanojaku" is Japanese slang that means "person who is deliberately contradictory". I've always found myself drawn to the less appreciated car makes - the "underdogs" if you will. Suzuki, Pontiac, GM Daewoo and Holden, are among my favorite brands to watch and comment on. Let me hear your thoughts!

Monday, January 01, 2007

Lutz's Saturn: Looks great & is Good for Opel, too!

Why "recreate" Saturn, the Import Fighter in Detroit, when Opel's got the styling goods already?
Editorial by Ming

The new Saturn Aura and Sky were recently unveiled, and I really like the look of them. It seems so far that the general consensus is that this is a big step up for Saturn, and I fully agree. There is also talk that compares the reinvigoration of the brand with GM's infusion of styling at Cadillac. But is the Renaissance at Saturn just for Saturn's benefit? It seems to me that using Opel design on Saturns may be another way of cutting costs for the struggling German arm of GM, Adam Opel AG. Instead of splitting GM cash on some styling-disaster of a new Saturn model and only using the Opel platform, it makes monetary and common sense to just use a common basic design with Opel, change only a few styling cues here and there, and in effect "bring Opel product" to the US, as many people have clamored for over the years. Maybe even give Saturn product like the Sky before or at around the same time as the Opel version is introduced in Europe.

The Benefit to Opel, of course, is that GM can now make a global product "for Saturn", and deliver something to Opel or Vauxhall that Opel alone might not have been able to justify the cost of, like the development of a roadster like the Vauxhall Lightning concept, perhaps embodied in the Sky.

The Aura and Sky are not complete styling copies of existing Opel product - they may require more work than the kind of badging done on Vauxhalls and Holden versions of Opel product - but the intent in the direction of the styling (the headlights and grille on the Aura, for instance) seems clear. Saturn is moving towards Opel design and away from its own unique hit-and-miss styling.

It seems to me to be a good thing for Saturn, making the product much more attractive with design like this:

Opel Astra:

As opposed to this weird styling that ends up pleasing very few people:

Saturn's design, while sometimes attractive, always struck me as something that some designer who is unfamiliar with European design was asked to do. "Now here, we'd like you to try to make something that LOOKS like an Import."

Then they turn loose some design school graduate who shoots for "different" and gets some kind of American-Import hybrid design mixed in with a heavy dose of The Jetsons.

Hard-core, long-time Saturn fans might disagree. They might see this new styling trend as a way in which Saturn is losing its individuality.

But look at the interior of the Pontiac GTO. We don't get the Holden Monaro or Commodore in the US, so you can't say its a "rebadged" interior - so uniqueness in that sense is not a factor. And I'm relatively sure that very few Pontiac fans would complain that the interior of the Pontiac GTO isn't "Pontiac enough". In fact, it was called the "best GM interior ever" by several media sources.

Same goes for Saturn and Opel. GM has had great styling over in Europe, even if the business management, labor costs, and market missteps have hurt the Opel brand. It makes sense to utilize this often drooled-over styling rather than trying to "re-create" the Import Fighter by using Detroit designers for Saturn who often didn't get what Import/European design was all about.

The styling is of course one thing - what will be important to watch will be the powertrain choices for these upcoming Saturns. Will we see the same kind of modern tech like transmissions with more than 4 speeds and turbocharged engines offered from Opel's goodie basket? Or will we get a collection of "value" parts from other GM North America brands? I'm afraid that the devil will be in the details for the success of Saturn. To be taken seriously as an import fighter, they will need to combine styling with excellent engines and transmissions. I for one am looking forward to seeing what is to come.

Bravo, Mr. Lutz! This Saturn is one that may not be so "different", but in this case that's a good thing.


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