Tuesday, March 27, 2007

GM pits hybrid Aura vs. Toyota

Tuesday, March 20, 2007
GM pits hybrid Aura vs. Toyota
Automaker confronts rival by selling cheapest gas-electric vehicle in U.S. with Saturn sedan.
Sharon Terlep / The Detroit News

Looking to challenge Toyota Motor Co. for fuel-conscious consumers, General Motors Corp. plans to sell the cheapest hybrid -- the Saturn Aura -- on the U.S. market, the automaker announced Monday.

A hybrid version of the Saturn Aura sedan will hit showrooms this month, with a starting price of $22,695 -- $100 less than Toyota's trend-setting Prius hybrid. The Aura will be the first hybrid sedan sold in the United States by an American automaker.

Aura buyers also will get a $1,300 tax break as part of the federal government's push to get more drivers to purchase fuel-sipping hybrids.

"It makes true hybrid fuel savings available to more people than ever before," Saturn General Manager Jill Lajdziak said.

Realizing the massive image boost Toyota received from being seen as an environmentally friendly, technologically advanced carmaker, GM has set out to steal some of that positive buzz.

GM's announcements came on the eve of President Bush's visit today to its Fairfax Assembly Plant in Kansas City, Kan., where both versions of the Aura are made; Bush also is expected to discuss his plan to reduce U.S. fossil fuel consumption.

Volt, other hybrids in works

The automaker has set a 2010 goal to start production on an all-electric car called the Chevrolet Volt and is coming out with other hybrids that use different types of technology.

The Aura will go up against the Prius, by far the most popular hybrid in the United States with 107,000 sold last year.

However, beginning in April, Prius buyers will be eligible for only a $787 federal tax credit. That's because the federal program gradually reduces -- and eventually eliminates -- that credit as more and more of a particular model is sold.

GM lists the Aura Green Line's EPA fuel economy rating as 28 miles per gallon in the city and 35 mpg on the highway.

Even though gas-electric hybrid vehicles cost several thousand dollars more than conventional models, they have resonated with buyers as fuel prices fluctuate wildly. Hybrids have conventional internal combustion engines as well as electric motors, which can assist the gas engine. Ford Motor Co. and Honda Motor Co. each have hybrid offerings.

Aura leads Saturn's rebirth

GM has pinned much of Saturn's revitalization on the Aura, which has generated glowing reviews. The automaker, which doesn't disclose sales targets, has sold 7,898 Auras in the first two months of 2007.

"Given the fact that the Aura is an absolutely first-rate, terrific vehicle," said Joseph Phillippi of AutoTrends Consulting in Short Hills, N.J., "it should do reasonably well."

You can reach Sharon Terlep at (313) 223-4686 or sterlep@detnews.com.

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