We’ve got to love Bob Lutz and his unabashed capacity to be wrong. In today’s Automotive News, he reports that “The Saturn Astra costs too much for U.S. customers, and sales and profitability of the small hatchback are suffering.” There is no question that sales have been anemic (between 1500 and 2000 cars per month) and that profitability for the Astra was always questionable at best. Or worse. Lutz went on to tell AN that “the profit is no longer there.” None of this has been in contention. But what is blindingly daft is GM’s explanation: the Astra costs too much for American consumers, at $16,495. Before we break out the slide rules and figure that the Civic starts in the mid $15,000s and the Mazda3 sedan starts just a hair under $15,000, keep in mind the comparable levels of equipment we’re talking about here. The Astra comes standard with loads of kit that you’d have to pay thousands more for in options. Many people don’t look at that when they are trying to buy the cheapest new car they can. But many people do want options on their Mazda3, or Corolla or Civic. And for those people, the Astra is not too expensive. The culprit from this writer’s mental CSI lab? First, zero advertising for the Astra. It’s not a legacy nameplate (i.e. Corolla or Civic) so they can’t just expect people to know it’s out there. Second, the mileage is a few pegs off from the class leaders: compare a 24/30 Astra to a 25/36 Civic. I don’t care, but lots of other people do. Third and finally, the Astra is hatchback only. I love hatchbacks. You might love hatchbacks. But Nissan was smart enough to realize that Americans are only warming up to hatchbacks; that’s why the ass-ugly Versa sedan outsells the more pleasant Versa hatch. Bottom line: the Astra (a truly decent car) is headed to the enthusiast’s scrap heap. There it can join other high-potential, half-executed Lutz ideas like the Merkur xr4ti, Pontiac Solstice/Saturn Sky, Pontiac GTO, and Pontiac G8. At least they’re all cheap to buy used.
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