Saab Australia to kick off February 1

Thank goodness this is finally out there. I’ve hinted here and there that Saab were going to go it alone in Australia rather than appoint an importer.

Now, Carpoint have had a lengthy chat with Saab’s Executive Director of Sales, Adrian Hallmark. They’ve put to print about as much detail as the Aussie Saab customer could possibly hope to read at this early stage.

February 1 is the date and Saab will be running the organisation themselves. I can tell you that some dealers have already been meeting and the first order of 60 cars was made a few weeks ago. From what I know, the model line will consist mostly of Linear and Aero models and as you’ll read in the Carpoint article, there are big hopes for the 9-4x here.

Here are some dot points. And thanks to Jonathan L for the tip!

“Monday, we agreed the business plan,” he began. “It’s taken longer than expected by about three weeks — the reason being, looking at all our priorities as a company, we need to put cash into Australia to start the business moving, of course.

“When we’re spending money on investments, we need to make sure it’s going in the right direction. So we have a clear business plan for Australia. It’s, to use the banking phrase, a ‘stress-tested business plan’. That means: ‘What if we can only do as well as this?’

“And there’s an upside that says ‘What if we could really make it work in Australia? How good could it be?’

“In the worst case scenario, it’s still viable. We have to be there.

I love that last sentence. Australia is a long way away from Sweden, but we were relatively untouched by the GFC (thanks China!) and we’re 22 million plus people in a sunny climate.

“It is our subsidiary, this is why we’ve had to be absolutely clear on the business plan, because we’re putting our own money in. That is, for us, a very important distinction. Having said that, we may use third parties to distribute cars and parts — in terms of trucks.

“We’ll use outsourced partners for parts warehousing, parts distribution, car distribution, but we will manage the parts portfolio, pricing, bonuses, target-setting, customer support, marketing, PR…”

So there’ll be a Saab head office somewhere in Australia?

“Absolutely. We don’t have a head office, we haven’t registered the company, we’ve got potential partners to do the outsourced work, but they’re not signed up, so until that’s defined I can’t be more precise; but the business plan is clear, it’s agreed… First of Feb [at] latest, we’ll be operational.”

There’ll be a Saab head office here in Australia. Yes, I want to work there.

Hallmark would like Saab and its parent company to have a direct financial involvement in perhaps as many as 20 retail outlets around the world. If Saab can be properly re-established as a brand in Australia, a factory-owned retailer here would make some sense.

“In Paris, London, Frankfurt, we have our own [retail] subsidiaries… and I could even imagine we could invest in retail in Australia.

“There’s also a possibility, as Porsche did in Melbourne, to try and link the investment in the premises to have both in the same domain so that you can get some synergy effect from that.

“That’s not yet determined, but all of these options are to be considered — and we’ll be considering them fast.”

Sounds perfect. That Porsche building – if it’s the one I’m thinking of on Victoria Parade, is a sensational facility (and just down the road from the hospital where I was born!). If Saab could mimic that – even on a small scale – then they’ll have a fantastic facility.

Under the new business plan, Saab would be largely supported by multi-franchise dealers.

“There’s very few places in the world where we can generate enough business to be stand-alone,” said Hallmark.” Even in Sweden it’s difficult, because the cost of operating a car business is so high, there’s very little [margin left]…

Fair call.

OK, to the predicted model mix and sales emphasis….

How will the new Saab fare in Australia, we asked? Would sales success be contingent on the new Saab 9-5?

“We can separate image from earnings, if you like,” Hallmark answered a little circuitously. “The earnings of any car is a function of its margin multiplied by its volume. 9-5 will not be our biggest earner.

“If you look at the Saab brand in Australia, we did to some extent become the yellow Saab convertible brand, which is not a bad position to have, compared with a boring company car brand — but it’s not broad enough for what Saab should and could be.

“I’ll be specific, 9-4X we’ll be launching in LA in a few months’ time; that will be a huge potential earner in Australia. Somewhere between Q5 and Q7, a Touareg/Cayenne-sized platform car with a 300hp twin-turbo engine. For the Australian market, sounds like a good fit.”

So the new, as yet untried SUV will be the point of difference between Saab as it will be and Saab as it was. With the Australian market’s current love affair with SUVs, the faith in the 9-4X makes some sense, but where does that leave the new 9-5 and other models in the Saab product portfolio?

“9-5 will be an image-[builder] but niche model in that range,” replied Hallmark. “9-3X, the wagon 4WD, we think could be interesting — especially with the twin-turbo diesel. I know diesel is moving in a more fashionable direction in Australia now…

“And of course the Cabriolet is a key product for us. They don’t all have to be yellow either…

The convertible is a massive part of Saab’s historical sales mix here. They’ll sell a bunch of ’em, yellow or not.

I can’t tell you how good it is to finally have all this news about the Aussie market. It’s been a long time coming, but it’s going to be grrrrrrrrreat!

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