Saturn VUE Hybrid To Be Build in Spring Hill, TN Plant
lass=bodytext>General Motors Corp. will build a hybrid version of the Saturn Vue in Spring Hill this year, giving Tennessee two auto plants that produce hybrid vehicles.
Nissan North America plans to build a hybrid version of its Altima sedan this fall at its assembly plant in Smyrna.
The Spring Hill plant has already built several hybrid prototypes, including one that was shown to automotive journalists at the annual North American International Auto Show here yesterday.
The hybrid Vue, dubbed the "Green Line," goes on sale at Saturn dealers this summer.
It's part of an overall effort by the world's largest automaker to spread hybrid technology through a broad range of brands. GM will introduce 12 hybrid models this year.
"The Vue Green Line is expected to be the lowest-cost hybrid-powered SUV in the market," said Mark LaNeve, GM North America vice president of vehicle sales, service and marketing. "Its lower price allows us to offer the fuel-saving benefits of hybrids to a wider group of customers."
The hybrid Vue also helps workers at the Spring Hill plant in their quest to build more GM products when the plant's current vehicles reach the end of their life cycle.
GM announced in November that it would end production of the Saturn Ion sedan in Spring Hill at the end of this year, and it's still unclear how that will affect the 5,700 jobs at the plant now.
The Spring Hill plant is in line to gain another vehicle, but GM hasn't said what that will be or when a decision will be made.
"It continues to be one of our good assembly plants," said Gary Cowger, who heads GM's global manufacturing operations. "They're building right now, and we'll continue to look at Spring Hill for future product allocations as things may come available."
Building the Vue hybrid alongside regular versions of the Saturn sport utility vehicle showcases the plant's versatility, said Mike Herron, chairman of United Auto Workers Local 1853, which represents workers at the Spring Hill plant.
"We're in an environment now where things are changing daily in the automotive world," Herron said.
"If you're going to survive long-term, you've got to be a facility that's flexible."
The hybrid Vue is part of GM's effort to revitalize the Saturn brand.
Besides the Vue hybrid, Saturn will introduce three new vehicles in showrooms this year. The Sky roadster makes its debut in the spring while the midsize Aura goes on sale this summer. A crossover sport utility vehicle will debut in the late fall.
The Vue will get an estimated 27 mpg in the city and 32 on the highway, a 20% improvement over the regular Vue.
It uses standard hybrid technology, using electricity when the vehicle is at idle and gasoline when it's rolling. The electric motor will boost the gas engine on acceleration. The batteries are recharged when the vehicle slows down.
The hybrid Vue will start at $23,000, about $2,000 more than a regular Vue.
The price should help boost its popularity, said Jim Sanfilippo, an analyst with Automotive Marketing Consultants Inc.
"GM learned a lesson from the initial hybrid buyers that price matters," he said. "The Vue is pretty aggressively priced in the first place."
The Vue, first introduced in 2001, was redesigned this model year, which helped Saturn boost sales during the last three months of the year.
Sanfilippo said that success should continue.
"It's certainly an attractive vehicle that did better this year than it did last," he said.
The company won't say what its sales projections are for the hybrid Vue.
"We're going to let the marketplace call it," Saturn General Manager Jill Lajdziak said.
The hybrid Vue is a natural fit for a brand that carved its niche on being environmentally friendly, Lajdziak added. She hinted that other Saturn hybrids could be in the works.
"We're absolutely going to stay focused on our environmentally friendly pillar that we have as a brand," Lajdziak said.
"A good first step for us here is with the new green-line Vue, but we certainly think there are other opportunities in our portfolio. Stay tuned. You'll see more."
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