California Autos Examiner

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Troy Clarke: The Hatch Question

While attending the NAIAS, a group of us bloggers had a quick sit down with GM North America President Troy Clarke. The question I posed to Mr. Clark centered around the Saturn Astra. Since the brand is in flux and given the tepid sales pace of the Astra (not entirely the car's fault), what role, if any, does he see for a premium hatch offering in the U.S.? Mr. Clark's answer was more optimistic than I had expected, he said that he thought there was a place at the table for a higher end hatch in GM's U.S. lineup, regardless of Saturn's fortunes. Frankly, I think that the Astra is a great car, hobbled by the exchange rate and some odd European touches that Americans just can't get into. Take for example the turn signal, when you flip it there isn't that familiar click, rather it is a micro switch that actuates the signal. Apparently this drives owners nuts as do the small cup holders and a number of other minor items.

My theory is that by simply tweaking the next generation Astra so that it is more in line with American tastes, GM could have a more competitive offering. Making the car in Mexico would solve the profitability issue. The only real question is, where could the Astra or similar offering fit in the lineup if the worst befalls Saturn? A premium hatch would bump heads with the Vibe at Pontiac. I don't really consider the Vibe to be premium, but I think that consumers would be confused to see two such vehicles on the same lot. Chevrolet would probably be the most logical choice, but I don't know if the car would click with Chevy customers.

There are no guarantees in life, but I'm happy to hear a lot of support for the Astra hatch from within GM. Of course, many inside GM loved the Malibu Maxx and we all know how that ended up. Hopefully a solution can be found for Saturn and it will live on to fight another day. If Saturn's dealers do buy the brand, or some similar arrangement, it would seem likely that the Astra hatch could live to see another generation here in the States.

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