Gm to Sell the Cheapest Hybrid to Challenge Toyota

By: Anthony Fontanelle

To challenge its closest rival, the Toyota Motor Co., General Motors Corp. plans to set forth the cheapest hybrid in the form of the Saturn Aura sedan in the United States. The hybrid sedan is aimed at fuel-conscious customers who want to enjoy affordability and efficiency in one car.

The hybrid version of the Saturn Aura comes with a starting price of $22,695 and it is $100 less than Toyota's Prius hybrid. The vehicle will hit showrooms this month. The Saturn Aura will be the first hybrid sedan by an American car maker to be offered in the United States. Aura Green Line's EPA fuel economy rating is rated 28 miles per gallon in the city and 35 mpg on the highway.

The Saturn Aura is equipped with GM's belt alternator starter system, 2.4L Ecotec engine mated to an electric motor/generator and the 4T45-E four-speed automatic transmission and to bolster the performance of the car. It claims 30 percent improvement over the XE.

Aside from the affordability of the Aura, the purchasers are also entitled to a $1,300 tax break as part of the federal government's initiative to encourage the purchase of environment-friendly hybrids. "It makes true hybrid fuel savings available to more people than ever before," Saturn General Manager Jill Lajdziak said.

GM has pinned much of Saturn's revitalization on the Aura, which has generated glowing reviews. The automaker, which does not 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 the AutoTrends Consulting in Short Hills, N.J., "it should do reasonably well."

Realizing the boost of environment-friendly aspects for Toyota, which is already famed for its technologically-advanced product lines, GM endeavors to steal some of the positive hype. GM announcements were delivered on the eve of President Bush's visit to its Fairfax Assembly Plant in Kansas City, Kan. The facility is responsible for the manufacture of Aura.

GM is also working on other hybrids other than Aura. According to GM, the production of the Volt, an all-electric car, is likely to start in 2010. The automaker is also planning to introduce other hybrids which will be using various types of technology.

The Saturn Aura is set to rival the Toyota Prius, by far the most well-liked hybrid in the United States with 107,000 units sold in 2006. Nevertheless, starting April, Toyota Prius owners will be eligible for only a $787 federal tax credit. This is because of the gradual reduction of the credit granted by the federal program. The tax credit will eventually be eliminated as more and more models are sold.

Despite the fact that gas-electric hybrid vehicles cost several thousand dollars greater than conventional models, they have lured customers due to fluctuating gas prices. Hybrids have conventional internal combustion engines and electric motors, which assist the gas engine.

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