SAN DIEGO - Bringing the redesigned Opel Astra to the American market as a Saturn has saved General Motors about $900 million in development costs, says GM's vice chairman and product czar, Bob Lutz.
"Its adaptation to American requirements cost less than $100 million," Lutz said at the car's North American press introduction here. "In the future," Lutz said, "Opel and Saturn will share about 90 percent of their model portfolios."
The front-drive hatchback goes on sale in the North America in January in three trim levels: a five-door XE priced at $15,995; five-door XR at $17,545; and a sporty three-door XR priced at $18,495.
The Saturn Astra also will help boost capacity utilization at the Opel plant in Antwerp, Belgium, which will build the hatchback for both brands. About 45,000 Saturn versions are expected to be produced there annually.
GM's plant in Gliwice, Poland, will build a notchback version of the Astra for sale in developing markets.
The new hatch is expected to help Saturn continue its growth in the US market. For the 11 months through November, Saturn sales are up 7.9 percent over a year earlier to 221,895 cars and trucks in a market off 2.4 percent.
Established as an import fighter in 1990, Saturn made do for 10 years with just one model sold in three variations. People bought it "only for its price," Saturn General Manager Jill Lajdziak conceded here.
With Astra, the Saturn lineup expands to five. Astra joins the midsize Aura sedan, Vue medium SUV, Sky roadster and Outlook large SUV in the lineup. The Vue and Sky are similar to the Opel Antara and Opel GT, respectively, while the successor to the U.S.-built Aura will be the next Opel Vectra.
Despite the current unfavorable relationship between the euro and the dollar, Lutz stressed that importing the Astra from Europe is still a profitable business case.
"But if exchange rate trends go on the way they have,'' he said, "the Astra will become a GM charity project."
The dollar, which has fallen nearly 40 percent against the euro since 2001, is trading at around $1.45 currently.