Automotive Design & Production
If a vehicle can be considered a "coming out" party for a brand, then that's exactly what the Saturn Relay is.
Although the Saturn Relay from this perspective looks like a minivan, it is supposed to bring an SUV to mind. What’s important about this vehicle is that unlike all Saturns up to it, it doesn’t have polymer body panels. It has a steel body. And it is the first of four products that are coming in the next two years from Saturn that will make the showrooms of its dealers look like a different place, indeed.
If a vehicle can be considered a "coming out" party for a brand, then that's exactly what the Saturn Relay is. The so-called crossover-sport van (CSV) is the first Saturn that can hold over five people. It can contain seven in comparative comfort. It is also the first to forego polymer body panels for steel. (Yes, yes, fascias are still plastic. But you get the point.) And the Relay is the first of four vehicles that will transform the company's offerings in a 24-month period.
Crossover sport van? Well, that's a term that is meant to describe a hybrid, not as in "gas-electric," as it has a fairly basic 200-hp 3.5-liter V6 mated to a four-speed automatic, but hybrid in "a cross between an SUV and a minivan." The SUV parts derive from the fact that it has a hood that's more diagonal than vertical, a visible C-pillar (they're normally masked on minivans), and slightly higher ground clearance (5.5 in.). However, the slot on the rear quarter panel for the sliding door is evident, so people may not be entirely fooled that they're not encountering a vehicle found in elementary school parking lots everywhere.
The Relay is the first of the new breed of Saturns not only from the standpoint of body material, but because it shares a platform with other brands. In this case, there are CSV versions for Buick (Terraza), Chevy (Uplander), and Pontiac (Montana SV6). All rolling out of the Doraville, GA, assembly plant. Where the Chevy Venture, Pontiac Montana, and Oldsmobile Silhouette hail from. Essentially, the CSVs are based on those forerunners and given new tops (although the vehicles are a bit longer than their predecessors: 204 in. vs. 200.9 in., ostensibly to accommodate those new hoods). GM's midvans have not had the kind of success experienced by almost every other vehicle manufacturer (when is the last time you heard someone opting for a GM minivan rather than something from Chrysler, Toyota or Honda?), so the company's execs say that they expect the modifications to the minivans to increase interest in the products.
One of the things that GM is doing to help boost the appeal of the CSVs is to concentrate on the interior, including the suddenly popular overhead rail system for storage and entertainment; the CSVs have a rail-mounted DVD player as standard. An interesting option will be available a bit later in the first year production run: a 40-gigabyte PhatNoise (www.phatnoise.com) digital media system that's capable of storing 10,000 songs (MP3, WMA or WAV formats) and 40 movies (MPEG), which means that the kids will be able to listen to Raffi and watch Dora the Explorer to their hearts' content.
To return to the issue of Saturn: look for new products to come out, including a Kappa-based roadster (what the Solstice will be to Pontiac, this will be to Saturn), a completely new sedan that will make people forget the Ion ever existed, and a larger SUV. The transformation of Saturn will make the transformation of Cadillac look anemic. —GSV