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1997 Saturn models

Saturn rising

DETROIT (CNN) -- Ever slip inside a Saturn? Cozy enough, but even the most ardent Saturn-ites will admit, it would be nice to have a larger planet in which to orbit the roadways. Rub a lamp... it's done!

The code name is: INNOVATE. General Motors announced that the mid-sized sedan will be built at a Wilmington, Delaware, plant originally planned to be mothballed. The car will be based on the Opel Vectra that GM produces and sells in Europe. Expected launch date: model year 1999.

Wheels logo

Although the larger Saturn will be based on the Vectra platform, it will retain Saturn's trademark plastic body panels. Skeptics wonder if the hybrid German/Saturn will be a "real" Saturn... intimating it will be nothing but a rebadged Opel. But Saturn spokesman Jim Farmer insists it will be built the "Saturn way." That means emulating the team concept employed at the one and only Saturn plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee. From first-hand experience, I can tell you it's like no other auto plant in the world.

Instead of the car passing by workers on the line, workers stay with the car in teams and perform several jobs before moving on to the next car.

Specs: 2.2 liter, 4-cylinder engine; double overhead cam.

Other Saturn stuff: 1997 models will see an average price hike of about 1.9%, or about $282 per car. How about a look?

Here are some shots of Saturn's redesigned line, which features entirely redesigned body shells.

JPEG images of the 1997 Saturn line:

Generally electric

car charger

We had the opportunity to attend a unique car show in Troy, Michigan, the other day. It was held solely for fleet managers and there was not an internal combustion engine to be seen. Utilities across the nation are hoping to replace their gas-guzzling, pollution-spewing vehicles with electric ones.

Okay, so what's in it for the rest of us? Plenty. According to John Olsen of Detroit Edison, if utilities are successful in using the zero-emission electrics, there will be greater momentum to create a system of charging stations for the general public. In fact, in Arizona, charging stations are already being built in the Phoenix area, with plans to expand. According to Ray Hobbs of Arizona Public Service, the grand plan is to build enough charging stations so that electric vehicle drivers are no more than five minutes from one.

Saturn EV1

OKAY... I WANT ONE! Fine. Come fall, GM will be making its really cool coupe, the EV-1, available in Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix and Tucson. They'll be available at Saturn dealers in those cities, for lease only. GM tells us the car goes for about 30-grand, which includes an in-home charger. The price includes installation. When the lease is up, out goes the charger.

We had a chance to toodle around in an EV-1. Very nice. You sit low in the saddle, but the controls are well-placed on a center console. The speed governor is set to reach a top speed of 70 miles an hour, but optimum battery life is achieved traveling at about 45 mph. The car had adequate pep and pickup, but felt like it was stuck in second gear at 45- 50 mph. Then again, it's not made to peel off the line, but provide clean transportation for low mileage trips. We liked the look, which was compact and sleek and the seats were quite comfortable.

The EV-1 uses an inductive charging system. All you have to do is stick a paddle from the charger in a slot in the grille. Go away for a few minutes and by the time you return, you should have enough juice to get back home.

Problems with EV's still remain. The industry hasn't yet settled on a battery system it likes, or which charging system will become standard: conductive or inductive. Detroit Edison's John Olsen seems to think the public will determine which charging system will become the "VHS."


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