Jan-Ake Jonsson speaks on Saab’s reconstruction

Swedish news service, Sydsvenskan have just published an interview with Saab chief Jan-Ake Jonsson. They talk about the pressure the comany’s under right now, but more importantly, about the models that are important for Saab in the near and medium term.
My thanks to Dippen for translating it and sending it through.
What do you say to those who are planing to buy a new Saab today?
JAJ: To continue to have confidence in us. We have been through crises before, and came through it. I am convinced that we will do so this time also.
And to those who currently drive a Saab?
JAJ: Same thing, even if they are planning to buy or sell a Saab. I am happy with the response we have got, the support groups and their ideas of how we should do. The support from customers is very important to us.
What will happen now?
JAJ: We are in the reconstruction phase and to find a new owner is the first priority and there are interested parties. There is hard work going on everywhere and we will not simply lie down and die.
Is there a risk that the situation will effect the reseller in Sweden, that some of your 44 resellers will disappear?
JAJ: I do understand the anxiety. The financial crisis has made the business very tough and some may have problems with liquidity and are looking for alternatives, but hopefully they can survive on car maintenance and services in the interim.
How will the Saab brand be effected by what is going on at the moment?

JAJ: In the short term the brand can be effected but when we have gone through
this then our brand will be stronger than before.

The production of 9-3 cab will be transfered to Trollhättan and 9-5 as well, but what will happen to the 9-4X? Is the plan that it should be produced in Mexico on track?
JAJ: Yes, the Cab and 9-5 will be produced in Trollhättan and the production
of Cadillac will be phased out. The plan for 9-4x in Mexico is still on track, and GM has assured us about it.

What is the breakeven for Saab with 9-3 sedan/Combi/cab/X and with a new 9-5 sedan/kombi?
JAJ: In 2007 we sold 125 000 cars and had a positive cash flow and that’s with the 9-5 being about 10 years old. Now we are expanding our product range but a lot also hangs on the value of US dollar. Breakeven can be under 125000 cars but that is a little uncertain. Our goal is not to be a high volume manufacturer/producer , but let’s say 150000-175000 cars is a realistic target.
The 9-3x has been on the agenda before, even when the 9-3 was introduced seven years ago. Do you regret that it wasn’t introduced earlier?
JAJ: You can’t re-write history. It will now come and it is a very important addition to our product portfolio. I think there is a market for people who want a crossover that is very close in resemblance to a combi.
Looking back, was Saab’s commitment to ethanol cars and ethanol cars with powerful engines wrong?
JAJ: No, we have sold 45000 ethanol cars. It has given revenue and a good environmental image . However i think it is a pity that more countries have not invested in ethanol, but I am convinced that it will be a alternative in the future.
How are the plans for hyrbids?
JAJ: They are in the plan and we have already shown a hybrid concept. We will have access to hybrid technology from GM, but as a high volume model, we should not overrate the hybrids.
Will Saab have the “muscles” to be infront with new technology, hybrids, etc?
JAJ: in the short perspective we will have close co-operation with GM, but afterwards we will be free to chose which partners we want to co-operate with. That gives us flexibility. The car industry is full of co-operations today.
Any plans on CNG/LNG?
JAJ: No, we can’t work on every fuel alternative. We are betting on small turbo engines, alternatives fuels and hybrids.
Which Saab would you want to develop if you did not have to worry about the cost?
JAJ: I want to finish what we are currently working on. We have had plans during the years but we have only come halfway with those plans. A smaller car (9-2) is on the wish list, but it is not in our plan right now. The next 9-3 is the compact structure.
Isn’t Saab’s future to build more niche cars, maybe only cabs?
JAJ: We regulary hear wishes that we should do a new Sonett, but we can’t split our resources too much. The 9-3 and 9-5 are our product base and products that can provide a profitable business. The 9-3 cabriolet is important, especially for our image. Over the years it has provided 10-15% of our sales.
What kind of Saab will we se in 10 years?
JAJ: A much stronger company with a new owner and new car models that will be re-newed after six-seven years.
What do you think of Maud Olofsson’s idea of that you can build wind mills or something else in the factory in Trollhättan if the car manufacturing disappears?
JAJ: It would be wrong to not invest in the car industry and develop it. We have a strong car tradition here in Sweden with four manufacturers: Saab, Scania, Volvo Cars and Volvo Trucks, and we really should care for them.
What do you say to those who think Saab and Volvo should join and become a strong swedish car manufacturer?
JAJ: Not to join, but to develop co-operations. We already have co-operation in R&D. And what says that we both can’t share the same pressing facilities or other resources in the future?
Can you imagine Saab and Opel joined together?
JAJ: Right now we are looking for a new owner and there are interested parties. We do have a close co-operation with Opel for now with common components, engines etc, but on that day we get a new owner then we will develop co-operations with partners who we choose on our condition.
What must happen for the car sales to pick up again?
JAJ: First the financial crisis must be solved. Right now our initiatives with advertising, discounts etc do not help. The state must do its part where tax money must get the economy to roll again.
One thing that can help to get car sales going again is to hike the incentive for scrapping your old car in favour of acquiring a new one, like in Germany. Also there must be a decision on how to stimulate the sale of green cars when the green cars tax incentive will be phased out in the summer. A car tax that is favourable to green cars is one way.

You say that you are hardened, but have you ever considerd to resign now or during the past months?
JAJ: No and I am not the one who decides that, but as long as I see a solution I will continue to drive this further. I have been through hard times before, but what is happening now is without precedent in our history. But I am very calm and think that we will fix this.
Thanks again, Dippen.

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