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U.S. 19 may soon feature Saturn lot

Pasco County may soon get its first Saturn dealership, at a site on U.S. 19 near State Road 52.

Saturn of Clearwater, which owns the franchise rights to sell Saturns in Pasco and Pinellas counties, is negotiating to lease the empty Ace Golden Oldsmobile dealership site so it can open Saturn of Pasco, said Mark Belviso, the dealerships' general manager.

"We are very close" to striking a deal, Belviso said Tuesday.

Saturns became hot sellers as an alternative to small Japanese cars after consumer magazines gave good ratings to their quality and performance. Saturn is owned by General Motors, and the cars are made in Tennessee.

The Pasco Saturn location on U.S. 19 would be leased from GM for about four months to test the site and the market, Belviso said.

"We may be granted permission to use the site temporarily, not only to judge the effectiveness of Saturn in Pasco County, but to judge the site," Belviso said. "It may not be the site that is most conducive to selling Saturns."

Even if the dealership decides the site isn't the right location, there will be a Saturn dealership somewhere else in Pasco County. The owners of Saturn of Clearwater are contractually obligated to start a dealership in Pasco County, Belviso said.

Belviso said he is certain there is a market for the cars in Pasco.

Forty percent of the sales at the dealership's Palm Harbor branch come from Pasco County, he said.

Because few modifications would need to be made to the old car dealership site, the new Saturn dealership could open quickly, Belviso said. An extra 651 cars have been ordered in anticipation.

"And 250 of them are sitting at the plant, finished, right now," he said.

The dealership also is looking for a site in St. Petersburg to start Saturn of St. Petersburg.

"We are contractually obligated to go there as well," he said.

It might take longer to find a site there, though, he said.

"Under the worst-case scenario, 24 months."

Saturn of Clearwater opened in October 1990 and has sold more than 5,000 cars.

Ace Golden Oldsmobile opened in late 1986 and closed suddenly in 1991.