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Saturn Entering A New Orbit

After years of being a forgotten brand, Saturn is slowly entering a new orbit that includes higher sales, more relevant models, and recognition by General Motorsthat it's youngest brand is loaded with potential.

Today the automaker announced it would be adding the Astra compact car to it's line-up in late 2007. GM heralded this move by touting the fact that once the Astra rolls out, all of Saturn's models will be younger than 20 months. Even more important for Saturn is the fact that it's new models are good looking, relevant, and competitive. Take the Sky roadster, the sister car of the Pontiac Solstice. The Sky is a sharp convertible that sends a clear message: Saturn's are no longer boring cars packed with plastic. To the contrary, they are becoming more relevant. Saturn's redesigned 2008 VUE is an edgier looking crossover utility vehicle. It's a huge improvement over the current Vue which is, according to Jean Jennings with Automobile Magazine, "a penalty box". If that's not harsh enough, Jennings also describes the current Vue as "a dog kennel".

Are people noticing the change? Yes, and no.

Saturn sales are up just 3.6% this year with car sales, thanks to the Aura sedan and Sky roadster, up a healthy 17.4%, according to the research firm Autodata. Truck Sales remain weak, down 10.2%, in part because it's main vehicle, the current Vue, is withering on dealer lots with no marketing support.

Meanwhile, GM leaders are making good on their plan to push Saturn. Last week at the Los Angeles Auto Show, GM announced it will make the '08 Vue the first model in the company to come as a plug-in hybrid. Watching the press conference at the Saturn stand was CEO Rick Wagoner, who has said for the last 2 years Saturn will be a focus of growth for GM. While it's volumes are still too low to have a huge impact in slowing GM's market share slide, Saturn is coming around. Now GM has to build on that momentum.

Questions? Comments? BehindTheWheel@cnbc.com

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