Before leaving office early this year, former Saturn chairman Don Hudler predicted that the automaker would double its sales in two to three years.
His successor, Cynthia Trudell, finds herself presiding over the introduction of a mid-size car, the revision of its original small car and orchestrating plans to update its three-door coupe and bring on a sport-utility by 2001.
Saturn retailers have coveted a mid-size model for many years. They needed a model for customers who are moving up from the original small-car line.
Now they have a substantially revised version of the Opel Vectra, manufactured in Wilmington, DE. And while some Saturn purists dislike the idea that the vehicle wasn't engineered by Saturn and that it's not built in Spring Hill, retailers are delighted by the response it's getting.
Ronald J. MacEachern and Robert Miles, general managers of Saturn of Troy (MI) and Saturn of Cool Springs (TN), respectively, each report several early sales of the new L-Series models.
Saturn Corp. showed off the new models at Saturn Homcoming '99 which attracted thousands of owners who drove to Spring Hill, TN, for the summer event.
But local dealerships sponsored their own events to show off the new cars.
For instance, customers at Saturn of Troy and four other Michigan Saturn dealerships attended a special unveiling of the automaker's new L-Series sedan.
The customer events, which took place simultaneously at Saturn of Troy, Saturn of Grand Rapids, Saturn of Holland, Saturn of Kalamazoo and Saturn of Southgate (all owned by David Fischer), are examples of why Saturn customers are so loyal, says Mr. MacEachern.
"We try very hard to offer a different ownership experience," he says amid customers munching on finger food and listening to live piano music following the unveiling.
Invitations went out to about 7,000 customers. Up to 800 attended.
One customer, who already had purchased six Saturns, was given the honor of the first test drive of the L- Series sedan. He drove it out of the showroom and onto the street.
The L-Series is available in sedan and wagon configurations. A base LS, with a 4-cyl. engine and a Saab- built manual transmission will retail for $15,450 (including a $440 transportation charge). A fully equipped LS2, with a V6 and an automatic gearbox, will sell for $23,860. Wagons range from $19,275 and $24,135.
An all-new, Saturn-exclusive 137-hp, 2.2-liter, 4.cyl. engine is standard on the LS, LS1 and LW1 models. The LS2 and LW2s offer a 182-hp, 3-liter V6 built in Ellesmere Port, England.
Saturn also updated its original, S-Series models for 2000. The refreshed small Saturn sedans will start at $11,125 (including $440 transportation charge) for an SL model with a manual transmission. Pricing ranged to $19,265 for a fully equipped wagon and $20,170 for a loaded SL2.
"This redesign of our bread-and-butter car line is probably the most significant in our history," says Ken Wasmer, leader of the Saturn vehicle development team.
He adds that Saturn's three-door coupe will get a new look inside and out early next year.
Saturn officials say the most notable changes in the S-Series are inside.
"Our goal was to make (the interiors) much more integrated and finished, and less modular in appearance," says Mr. Wasmer.