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Some discussion of GM's small car strategy including a hint of Nomad. A small clip listed below...

Cobalt may be leading GM’s small car charge, but it is being followed by two very different foot soldiers — the battle-weary Saturn ION and the untested Pontiac Solstice.

Introduced two years ago, the ION was blasted by automotive reviewers as unremarkable and cheap-looking. They hated the car’s small diameter steering wheel, generic exterior styling and base-level looking interior, and were mixed on its center-mounted instrument panel.

The car also was hurt by a late-starting advertising campaign. But the ION is receiving a makeover inspired, in large part, by the Cobalt.

“A lot of things we’re learning from the Cobalt, we’re rolling into the current ION,” Queen said. “Quite frankly, people are shocked when they get into a new ION.”

The basic electronics of the new ION, including a recalibrated electronic power steering system, are the same as the Cobalt’s, she said. While most of the details of the reborn ION are being kept under wraps until August, Queen said the changes include new seats, fabrics, color grains and glosses, and a larger steering wheel. The center-mounted instrument panel stays, however.

“It was nontraditional, and Saturn had a history of doing nontraditional things,” Queen said.

A high-performance, 205-horsepower Red Line version of the ION went into production in April. Saturn will add a sporty small car to its stable in 2006 based on GM’s Kappa architecture, the same underpinnings as the 2006 Pontiac Solstice, a rear-wheel drive, two-seat convertible. A Kappa-based Saturn concept car called the Curve made the rounds at this year’s auto show circuit, but Queen says the car Saturn will sell is not the same as the Curve, offering no further details.

Other GM divisions, including Saab, also could be selling small, sporty cars based on the Kappa architecture in the future.

“I don’t think there’s a division that’s not fighting to get one,“ Queen said. “The decisions aren’t made but it’s very likely we will branch off to other divisions for the next generations of what comes out of Kappa.”

But little sports cars may not be appropriate across GM’s far-flung brand structure, warns AutoPacific’s Hall.

“Unless they can differentiate them enough, there may not be room in every division,” Hall said. “Put it where it makes the most sense.”

A third Kappa-based vehicle called the Chevrolet Nomad was introduced as a concept car in January. Unlike the Solstice, it looks more like a station wagon and is proving to be fodder for heated debate within the company as to whether or not to produce it for sale.

When asked if a decision has been made, Ann Asensio cracks a mischievous smile that belies all she knows but won’t reveal, and says in her soft French accent, “We’re still working on it.”

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