SPRING HILL, Tenn. - Saturn's new mid-sized L-series cars give its retailers two things they sorely need: a shot at 250,000 more sales a year, and a new traffic stimulator.
Saturn says the new family sedans and wagons could goose sales of its small-car line, the S-series sedan, wagon and coupe. Its thinking: Consumers will come to Saturn showrooms with the mid-sized car in mind, but will be lured into the small cars by their more affordable prices.
'People shop up but buy down,' asserts Jill Lajdziak, Saturn vice president of sales, service and marketing. She calls the phenomenon 'aspirational buying' - or seeking one level of product but settling on another.
The theory sounds right to Robert Duronio, manager of North American product analysis for AutoPacific Inc. in Southfield, Mich.
'Some people will come in to look at the new car, and for whatever reason, end up buying the smaller car,' Duronio says.
A bigger issue for General Motors may be whether Saturn ends up taking sales from GM's existing mid-sized cars, such as the Oldsmobile Alero, Chevrolet Malibu and Pontiac Grand Am.
But Duronio thinks Saturn's pitch is focused tightly enough on import buyers to minimize such occurrences.
Says Duronio: 'You go to a Saturn store for a different reason than you go to an Oldsmobile or Chevrolet store.'