2008 Detroit Auto Show: Saturn Flextreme
What it Is
Saturn Flextreme Concept Preview – Detroit Auto Show: If you grew up with siblings, you were probably constantly admonished by your parents to share your toys. It’s a lesson learned at General Motors, and the company’s North American and European operations have been sharing all manner of goodies lately: the Saturn VUE is an Opel Antera; the Saturn AURA is a stretched Opel Vectra, and the Opel GT is a rebadged Saturn Sky. So we’re not too surprised that Opel’s Frankfurt E-Flex platform concept, the Flextreme, is appearing in Detroit badged as a Saturn.Why it Matters
The E-Flex portends big things at GM, as it’s what underpins the Chevrolet Volt, a car that GM veep extraordinaire Bob Lutz tells us will save us from our own environmental insensitivity in some form or fashion. Anyhow, the Flextreme is Opel...uh...Saturn’s take on the concept. Rather than use gasoline like the Chevy version, the Flextreme uses diesel, and it has a more practical wagon-ish body shape than the low-slung Volt.
What’s Under the Hood
The E-Flex platform uses lithium ion batteries combined with a diesel-burning powerplant to provide up to 34 miles of pure electric mobility. It can be plugged in, or if you run out of electric juice before you reach an outlet, the engine (in this case a small diesel) kicks in, not directly driving the car, but acting as a generator to keep the electrons flowing. The idea is that most commutes are less than the electricity-only range, and thus you’d wind up using significantly less fuel than you would if you had to drive even a full hybrid like a Toyota Prius around, since you can recharge the batteries at night.
What it Looks Like
Since it looks just like the Opel version but with Saturn badges, the Flextreme is familiar to us now. Changes are minimal: the Opel grille is replaced with a Saturn version, and the polished five-spoke wheels are now chromed. Otherwise, it’s the same subtly sculpted car we saw in Frankfurt. With four doors and a vertically split tailgate, the Flextreme is a more practical car than its Volt sibling, especially with two I’m-too-lazy-to-walk Segway scooters tucked inside.
OK, the Segways are a little weird, but they’re stored in a clever underfloor trunk compartment that’s designed to be easier to access than a high-liftover cargo area. The rest of the interior is futuristic to the extreme, with digital displays instead of side mirrors, a touch-screen display in the center with programmable buttons (we like that idea), and a touch-screen “drive selector gate,” something we’re a little dubious about. The seats deserve special mention, not because of the lightweight construction, but because they only ride on one track, rather than the usual two. GM claims better foot room under the seat, we claim an inevitably wobbly seat if this design ever makes it beyond the concept stage.
What Saturn Says
Calling the Flextreme a “collaborative effort between Saturn and GM’s European Opel brand,” the initial press release for the car is, of course, effervescent. Says Saturn general manager Jill Lajdziak (that’s pronounced Lay-jek, by the way): “Clean design, innovative features and environmental technology are hallmarks of Saturn’s newly revitalized portfolio. The Flextreme concept demonstrates how these design-driven, innovative attributes will be applied in our next generation of vehicles, and it shows that unconventional thinking can result in great cars.”
What We Think
We think the idea of the E-Flex platform is a good one, and we hope to see stuff like this make it to production. GM has already committed to the Chevrolet Volt – as long as technology can be developed in time – so there’s a slim possibility that a Flextreme may make it to production someday. Although we’re a little on the fence about the whole Segway thing, it at least demonstrates the car’s cargo capacity is something real-world usable.
By Keith Buglewicz
Photo credit: Oliver Bentley