Q&A with Manfred Lenherr at Hirsch Performance

Till72 posts his final report from the Hirsch open day and it’s a quick interview with Manfred Lenherr, one of the guys over at Hirsch Performance.

Hirsch are Saab’s official tuning house and their products are first class. As with Saab, it’s been a turbulent year or so for Hirsch. Till talks to Manfred about that, and about the future for Hirsch Performance.

Related: Tour of Hirsch Performance, and A Look Around the Hirsch Collection of Saabs.

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The last 18 months have been a rollercoaster for all who are connected to Saab. How did you at Hirsch experience that?

It has been a turbulent time for Saab, but during these difficulties, we at Hirsch Performance have remained confident that a solution for Saab would be found. To a large extent thanks to our commitment to quality and an unsurpassed customer experience, we have been fortunate enough to have very loyal regular customers, and have in fact increased both our market share and our revenue per vehicle over this time period.

Has there been a direct line of contact to Victor Müller or JAJ since the sale to Spyker?

The co-operation between Hirsch Performance and Saab Automobile is here to stay, and we occasionally get the opportunity to exchange a few words with various members of the Saab Automobile management team. In our daily business, the Saab aftersales team is our interface to Saab. The sales activities are coordinated with local Saab importers and adapted to the market specific demands.

Can you give us a hint about what is planned for the new 9-5? How much can you get out of the engines? Will there be some product to replace the currently plain black dash? Is there a chance that there will be a heavily modified car like the Troll R for the new 9-5?

All Troll editions have been created, marketed and sold by the Hirsch dealership.
Hirsch Performance and importers have marketed the top models under the Saab Performance (by Hirsch) brands. Without revealing too much, we are proud to report that we are currently developing a complete portfolio of upgrades for the new 9-5, both for the powertrain, chassis, interior and exterior, much like we have done for the 9-3 and the previous 9-5 in the past. These products could also be used in the future to create a new Saab 9-5 Performance.

Talking about extreme tunings: What lead to the end of the project for a 270 hp 2,0T 9-3?

A true Hirsch Performance product is not only fast but also needs to deliver a certain driving experience, and with the enlarged turbocharger, although the power was there, the driving experience was simply not refined enough. In the end, we opted for a different hardware setup including the original turbocharger, and this upgrade to 260hp is currently available as a limited edition specifically for southeast Asia.

A word on homologation – how difficult is it to get a tuned car through homologation and what are the biggest problems?

We have great support from Saab here, but today’s emissions regulations are extremely strict, and regardless of whether an engine is upgraded or not, the biggest challenge is always emissions testing. In extreme cases, it can take months of minor tweaks and adjustments before a new product passes all emissions tests. The legislation for aftermarket upgrades also varies from market to market and constantly changes, so we maintain quite a database of various approval documentation to be able to serve all the markets where we are currently active.

If Saab develops a new model, at what stage do you get the information/cars you need to start your work? And if you develop a new product at what stage is Saab involved?

We work with fine-tuning of the driving experience, and to be able to do that, we like to work with actual cars rather than computer models. We therefore tend to enter at a fashionably late stage of the development of new cars and variants. We co-ordinate our product development with Saab right from the start.

When will you be able to offer whole product range in the US? What were the problems to get there? Any other new markets planned?

All markets are different, both in terms of consumer expectations and legislation, and we therefore often offer slightly different product portfolios on different markets. The U.S. market will clearly have a slightly different product range than some European or Asian markets. Specifically for the U.S. market, there is an unusually large difference in consumer expectations and legislation between aftermarket and OEM products, which – especially during the GM time – has made it a slow process to find a setup with an attractive business case for all parties for OEM-quality aftermarket products such as ours. Now that the new, highly efficient Saab Cars North America organization is in place, we are progressing more rapidly, and hope to be able to service U.S. customers soon.

What would you describe as the core values of a Saab?

Powerful, friendly, intelligent and beautiful, delivered in a Scandinavian way.

What are your basic principles when you develop a new product?

We evaluate the experience you have as a driver, both the visual and aural experience from the outside, the visual, haptic and olfactory experience on the inside, and most of all, the driving experience at speed. We then proceed to consider what we with moderate adjustments can achieve to make the car measurably faster, and the complete experience more intense and enjoyable, without compromising durability or everyday practicality.

A very personal question: describe your perfect Saab!

My company car does match my view on a perfect Saab. Comfortable, premium, good looking and fun to drive.

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