- The Washington Times - Friday, January 5, 2001

PRICE-AS-TESTED: undetermined
MILEAGE: undetermined

DETROIT Like a latecomer to a crowded party, the first sport utility vehicle from the Saturn division of General Motors Corp. will have to work hard to get noticed when it goes on sale next fall.
Saturn executives are giving themselves almost a year to build up interest in the vehicle and to convince Saturn's fairly loyal customers that the company can build something beyond small economy cars a goal it is still trying to meet with its L-Series sedans.
"The reason why we are introducing the Saturn SUV … a year or so earlier is so people know we are coming with an SUV," said Cynthia Trudell, Saturn's chairman and president.
With the L-Series launch, "I think what we've really learned is how the public and consumers have known us as a small-car company for a number of years."
The Saturn SUV named VUE will be plopped into a market already filled with competitors from Ford, Mazda, Honda, Toyota and Hyundai. The Saturn VUE will be a little longer and wider than its competition, and it will offer a few unique features.
But the main goal will be the one that all the models share deliver some of the space and traction of an SUV in a vehicle that rides and turns like a car.
The VUE will come with two engine options: a 138-horsepower four-cylinder and a 181-horsepower V-6 shared with the L-Series sedans and wagons. It will also offer either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive.
The four-cylinder version will be the first SUV to use a new kind of gearless automatic transmission. Called a continuously variable transmission, it uses pulleys connected by metal bands instead of gears to transfer power from the engine to the wheels.
Jim Ulrich, vice president of engineering for Saturn, said the CVT should provide a seamless flow of power from the engine and improve fuel economy by 5 to 10 percent over a traditional automatic. While Saturn hasn't determined final mileage numbers, the SUV will likely improve GM's corporate average fuel economy allowing it more room to sell larger, thirstier SUVs.
Saturn will outfit the VUE with plastic side body panels, like its passenger cars have, that resist dents and don't rust. It will also offer a head-curtain side air bag system.
The VUE is the first shot from GM aimed at reviving the promise Saturn once held for the company. Saturn was warmly received by customers after it was launched in 1991, thanks to a carefully screened network of dealers and a lineup of small cars that competed well in price and quality with import makes. It even drew back import customers that other GM divisions could not attract.
But after its launch, Saturn was starved for money for new products, in part through squabbling between other GM divisions worried about losing sales. As a result, Saturn's small cars have not received a major revamp since 1991 and are struggling against newer competitors such as the Ford Focus and Honda Civic.
Saturn's newest model, the L-Series sedan and wagon, has not lived up to expectations. Saturn redid its advertising and says it will sell 100,000 copies this year but had to cut back on production.
Miss Trudell said Saturn hopes to sell about 50,000 SUVs a year, with prices starting below $20,000 for the base model. It will be built in Spring Hill, Tenn.

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