Chevy Hearts Zafira
Now that GM's Rethink American brand has finalized plans to stock its showrooms with a Belgium-made Astra subcompact, The General is looking to its European passenger car division to aid its American Revolutionaries at Chevy. Automotive News [sub] reports that GM's Hamtramck, Michigan plant will build a compact minivan in 2009 based on the next-generation Opel Zafira. The seven-passenger vehicle will be produced for both domestic consumption and foreign delectation. Despite a long and lackluster history in the minivan genre– Lumina, Venture, Uplander (not to mention the Astro)– GM says it expects to sell 100k units annually in the U.S., stickering somewhere in the high 20's to low 30's. Needless to say, Saturn will get a version and then, who knows? Pontiac? Saab? GMC?
That size and configuration of vehicle makes all kinds of sense. I hope that GM builds it right and that people buy it. For heavens sake don't waste time on a Saturn version. Saturn doesn't have the brand reach to matter. GM is going to live or die on Chevy sales, everything else is a distraction.
I drove the Zafira a while ago (in OPC "Opel Performance Center" format). It had 180HP, fat tires, and a well-made leather interior. It was stonking fast, could seat seven w/o luggage, or you could fold the seats down in a disappearing act to seat five with loads of luggage space. Quite a niche car. Not quite my cup of tea (why would I want a hard-riding, fast cornering mpv?) but a very impressive vehicle that has earned its cult status.
I think I demonstrated/guarded this thing in 12/04 at a focus group. At the time they were looking at two different mechanisms for folding the back seat for third row access (cruelly, the focus group involved people getting into and exiting the third row) and the engineer had come over from Italy to make sure it was working properly. I only had one pair of pants split before my eyes, though. Since it was a prototype/mock-up, all the roof-line pulls ("oh s#it" bars, I've heard them called) were glued on, and we had to reattach them when people ignored our warnings and grabbed them to get out. People seemed to like it. It was up against the Chrysler Pacifica, the Subaru Tribeca (with the famous flying vagina!), the Ford Freestyle and the Honda Odyssey, IIRC. GM should make Saturn=Opel N.A. instead of making this a Chevy.
It's a good idea and could sell if shoppers are beaten over the head with it. Mazda doesn't sell many 5s because it's never advertised. The Mazda5 should be sold at Ford dealers as a Ford model.