Saturn Corp. says the addition of its new L-Series midsize model will double its sales potential and give it a good shot at retaining many of the Saturn owners defecting to other brands.

“Midsize cars account for 24% of the car market in the U.S., so the L-Series more than doubles our market potential,” says Saturn President Cynthia Trudell. “When you add the redesigned S-Series (due this fall), which are in the small and sporty segment, Saturn will compete in 41% of the (car) market — with brand-new products.”

Saturn boasts one of the highest brand loyalties around. “But we lose 50% of the people, (and) 50% of these people either go into a midsize car — typically Asian — or they go into an SUV (sport/utility vehicle),” says Gene Stefanyshyn, Saturn vehicle line executive. “That's why we think we can conquest from Asians. Saturn people go to Asians because they really don't have an alternative. But what we're going to do, is we're going to keep 'em.” To that end, Saturn will be holding invitation-only previews of the LS for current Saturn owners July 8 at all its dealers nationwide.

Plenty of borrowing went on inside General Motors Corp. — the Saturn team likes to call it leveraging — to get the L-Series project on stream. For starters, the pair of front-drive midsizers — a sedan and wagon — is based on the European-market Opel Vectra, but features unique plastic body panels, interior and powertrains.

Entry level (LS, LS1 and LW1) models get an all-new 2.2L 4-cyl. designed by Saturn and built at the revamped Tonawanda, NY, engine plant. Saturn retains the lost-foam casting manufacturing technique for this aluminum powerplant, which will see life in plenty of other GM and Adam Opel AG models in the future. The 3L V-6 offered in uplevel (LS2 and LW2) cars comes from Ellesmere Port, England, and currently is used in the Opel Omega, Cadillac Catera and Saab 9-5.

Transmissions also are shared with other vehicles. A 5-speed manual is borrowed from Saab Automobile, and the automatics — built in Windsor, Ont. — are shared with several GM models.

Initial plans are to build about 50% of the L-Series with the 4-cyl. but that likely will climb to about 70% next year, says Mr. Stefanyshyn.

The new L-Series will be priced competitively, with the base sedan starting at $15,540, the LS1 at $17,190 and the V-6-equipped LS2 at $20,575. Wagons start at $19,275 and hit $21,800 with a V-6.

Initial output at Wilmington is pegged at about 200,000 units annually with a comfortable starting line rate of 52 units an hour, says Ken Wasmer, co-chairman of the Saturn development team. With added manning, the top end is “probably 300,000 cars.” And the initial mix of sedans and wagons will be 85% sedan, he adds. Saturn says it already has 2,000 retail orders for the LS.