SANTA BARBARA, CA – Europe’s growing influence on Saturn Corp.’s design cues soon could extend to its powertrains, as well.

The reenergized brand would be a “natural” to deploy the latest clean diesels, Saturn General Manager Jill Lajdziak tells Ward's at a media event here to unveil Saturn’s new Aura midsize sedan.

“We think that’s something we have to look at,” she says. “If we talk about being environmentally friendly, then we’ve got to be open to (diesels).”

However, Saturn and parent General Motors Corp. have not reached a decision to add a diesel variant to the line, Lajdziak cautions. “We (GM) do a lot of diesels in the States, so it’s not like we don’t know the technology. We certainly think there’s an opportunity.”

Clean diesel is one of many energy-efficient powertrain technologies GM is adding to some of its brands. Others include a two-mode hybrid system to appear on all ’08 fullsize trucks and SUVs and E85 flex-fuel vehicles that run on 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline.

Saturn’s close ties to GM’s Adam Opel GmbH German subsidiary, which heavily influenced the design of the Aura and Sky roadster, also could play a role in bringing popular European diesels to the U.S.

A GM source confirms plans to replace Saturn’s Ion with the Opel Astra and says GM is interested in adding the Opel Vectra midsize wagon to the U.S. lineup, as well.

Lajdziak acknowledges Saturn’s European connection lends distinction to the brand’s personality and helps set it apart from other GM divisions.

However, Saturn isn’t interested in exporting its brand outside of the U.S. and Canada, she says. Opel will sell the Sky-based roadster, built in Wilmington DE, in Europe as the new Opel GT starting next year.

Earlier this month, Gary White, GM vehicle line executive-fullsize trucks, told Ward's GM was working on a diesel version of its new light-duty trucks – effectively joining the race to deliver the segment’s first diesel application since the 1980s.

GM’s heavy-duty GMC Sierra and Chevrolet Silverado pickups already are powered by an optional 6.6L Duramax turbodiesel engine.

Also in diesel’s favor, for the first time in the U.S., diesel-powered vehicles will have access to a fueling infrastructure, as retail gas stations must have the new clean diesel available by Oct. 15.

Meanwhile, Lajdziak says Saturn plans to emulate Honda Motor Co. Ltd. and Toyota Motor Corp. in simplifying the customer purchasing process by limiting the number of vehicle options packages. The auto maker also will continue with its trademark no-haggle pricing.

“Our role for the company is not changing, it’s all about conquest sales,” she says. “We’re not going to be like some other brands and forget who we are.”

sanderson@wardsauto.com