A new third door on the Saturn coupe has given the company a rare treat: a monthly sales increase.
The company is not uncorking the champagne. But the brand's 6 percent December sales gain ranks as one of the few positive sales developments for the small-car line in recent months.
The increase - due mainly to a spurt in coupe sales - was the first month-over-month gain Saturn has posted since April. Since May 1996, the line has had only two other month-over-month sales gains.
Saturn sold 231,786 cars last calendar year - its fourth straight year of falling sales.
The idea of adding a door to the coupe without altering the vehicle's shape appears to have stimulated sales of the coupe. Coupe sales were 2,900 in December 1998, up 18 percent from the 2,400 coupes sold in December 1997, Saturn says. Most of the coupes sold last month were the new three-door models, the company says. Production of the 1999 two-door coupes ended in early October.
The coupe typically accounts for less than 20 percent of Saturn's sales. Because the rest of the line was flat, the coupe gains translated to a 6.3 percent increase for the entire Saturn line.
Saturn introduced the third door on the coupe in November. Dealers were not well stocked with the car until late December, Saturn spokesman Greg Martin says, and so its December sales performance is not a true measure of what the model will do on the market.
Martin said the company will be looking for an entire quarter of sales results before passing judgment on the three-door coupe.
Saturn added the third door in hopes of broadening the car's appeal. Small-car sales across the industry are sluggish in general, and small-coupe sales particularly so.
Saturn believes a third door simply makes the coupe more useful to drivers, without detracting from the sporty identity of a two-door car.