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CHICAGO –Saturn Corp.’s 6% sales growth in 2006 can be sustained and exceeded this year, the head of General Motors Corp.’s North America operations says.

But the newest member of the lineup seems unlikely to contribute to future profits.

GM North America President Troy Clarke says bringing the German-engineered and Belgian-built Opel Astra into the lineup makes sense, if not dollars. Saturn revealed the 3- and 5-door Astra today at the auto show here.

“It is not the optimal circumstance, (but) it does (add up) for us from a business sense. And since it did, we said, ‘Let’s do it,’” Clarke says, confirming there is “a thought” to build the car in the U.S.

“As a global company, you go to your global portfolio, see what you can mix and match. And voila, we have Saturn,” he says.

Without revealing production numbers for the Astra, Clarke says volumes will be less than those of the current Ion. Sales of that car grew 1.1% to 102,042 units in 2006, from 100,891 a year earlier, Ward’s data shows.

Astra’s Global Compact Vehicle Architecture (Delta) also will underpin the next-generation Chevrolet Cobalt.

Saturn also formally announces it will begin extended test drives. Dealers soon will start delivering vehicles to prospective buyers’ homes and offices. Clarke is confident Saturn dealers aren’t going to be overwhelmed.

“A lot of dealers already do that,” he says. “The significance of the announcement is all dealers will now do that.”

scanderson@wardsauto.com