Oldsmobile's sales will be about 15% lower in 2000, dropping to “the lower 300,000s,” General Manager Karen Francis tells Ward's in an interview.

Olds' sales this year are running at a 350,000 unit annual rate, with every model except the new-for '99 Alero and Silhouette trailing 1998 levels. Moreover, Olds recently discontinued the Cutlass and 88 models, which together contributed 55,010 sales through October.

Olds hopes to recapture some lost ground, however, when the all-new '01 flagship Aurora arrives in dealerships next March. It is forecasting annual Aurora sales to reach the 40,000 to 45,000 level, double that of the '99.

It will take some time for the new Aurora to hit its stride, which is another reason Ms. Francis is projecting lower results for the General Motors Corp. division as it enters the 21st century.

“We'll have lower volume next year, but we'll have five strong remaining models (Alero, Intrigue, Aurora, Bravada and Silhouette) and we'll sell more cars per model,” she says. “It's all part of our plan.”

She also hints the fabled Cutlass brand may not be permanently buried. “We're going to try to not lose the Cutlass name,” she says, underscoring that Olds has no current plans to revive the nameplate.

The '01 Aurora carries over most of the styling cues of the '99 model inside and out, but it is 6 ins. shorter for a tauter, more performance-oriented look. The A-pillars have been narrowed to improve frontal vision, and the rear end has been re-designed to include large taillamps and a set of fog lamps.

Also noticeable: The “Oldsmobile” nameplate on the rear trunk; the Olds name until now had been confined to radio fascias on the Aurora. “We're reintroducing the Oldsmobile brand to today's buyers because we now have relevant products to back that up,” says Ms. Francis. “The Olds name has been a deterrent,” she candidly admits.

Two engines are offered: the 250-hp 4.0L dual-overhead-cam (DOHC) V-8 in the current Aurora and a 215 hp 3.5L DOHC V-6 derived from the V-8. Both are enhanced for the '01 Aurora and operate on regular unleaded fuel. The initial mix is forecast at 50/50, eventually rising to 70/30 tilted to the V-6 side.

Olds hasn't set prices yet, but the V-6 version is estimated at $30,000 to $31,000 and the V-8 in the $34,000-$35,000 range.

Chief targets are the Lincoln LS, Lexus GS300, Acura TL and BMW 5-series. Buyers are expected to be 10 years younger than the Olds average of 58 to 59, with 60% to 65% college graduates with annual incomes of between $115,000 and $120,000.

Only 30% of current Aurora buyers are female, but Olds says research indicates that could leap to 50%.

Olds classifies Aurora as an entry-level luxury car, a segment it says will account for 500,000 U.S. sales this year and rise by 20% within five years.