PHILADELPHIA – Already an auto industry icon for customer service, Saturn Corp. launches a test-it-at-home program that will bring its vehicles to the driveways of prospective buyers for free tryouts.

Saturn General Manager Jill Lajdziak tells Ward’s at the auto show here the new test program takes the brand’s dealer service up another notch.

The length of the test drives will be up to individual dealers to determine, Lajdziak says. But she believes the new marketing tool will bring in buyers who have never visited a Saturn store.

Saturn is pulling out all the stops to top last year’s sales.

While Lajdziak characterizes this year as promising despite a January decline, she refuses to make any forecasts, predicting only that the brand will top its 2006 sales. Saturn was one of the few brands to post a volume gain last year.

“It’s rewarding to see we’re bringing in conquest buyers,” she says. “We are one of the leading brands in conquest sales.”

The Sky convertible is enjoying a scintillating debut, selling out its first year’s production and helping to shift perceptions of Saturn as a utilitarian brand to one with aspirational vehicles.

“The Sky’s success is an indicator of our future,” Lajdziak says.

Some 82% of Sky buyers are conquest sales. About 75% have household incomes of $75,000, and 54% are above $100,000, proof Saturn has the ability to pull in more affluent customers.

“We anticipate by year end that over 44% of (all) our buyers will have household incomes over $75,000,” Lajdziak says.

Saturn is achieving this success without any compromise of its no-haggle price policy and fewer sales to daily rental fleets, she adds.

However, Lajdziak admits Saturn has low-cost loan programs it uses as financial tools to assist dealers and support customers, but says such programs complement the brand’s no haggle price policy.

Average transaction prices are running higher than base model sticker prices, the Saturn chief says.

Sales this year will be divided evenly between cars and trucks, Lajdziak predicts. The Vue (including a hybrid version that debuts later this year) will be the top seller on the truck side, while the Aura will lead Saturn car sales, she says.

Saturn is staying true to its DNA despite sharing architecture and manufacturing facilities with other General Motors Corp. brands, Lajdziak contends.

“This brand cannot walk away from its unique DNA,” she says. “We are leveraging GM’s global resources and becoming more cost efficient.”

She points out the Aura, which is giving Saturn a new image in the midsize car segment, was made possible by collaborating with Adam Opel GmbH in Europe.

The Astra, which debuts in Chicago this week, is another model that expands Saturn’s portfolio by cashing in on GM’s global architecture. It is identical to the new Opel Astra that will be sold in Europe.

Saturn’s new take-it-home test drive program also borrows from Opel, which has been allowing prospective European buyers to evaluate vehicles over 3-day test drives.