Inside Line: Saab to build in Russia, sell in China

Right now I’d rate Inside Line’s accuracy when it comes to Saab stories as “questionable”. We all remember the Michelle Krebs story from a month or so ago, right? Auto Observer is Inside Line’s cousin so we have to wonder if the family gene for accuracy has been carried on or skipped.

That said…..

Inside Line are running a story today that makes one or two interesting claims.

Swedish automaker Saab is considering expanding in Russia and China in the near future, through the establishment of its own production facilities as well as resumption of distribution in both countries.

In the case of Russia, according to Jan-Ake Johnson, managing director of Saab, the new plant might be established in the Far East. Earlier this year, Russian media also reported about the plans of Spyker, new owner of Saab, to build a plant in the Kaliningrad region for the production of Saab models with a total capacity of 10,000 cars per year.

According to some Russian analysts, the new plant may specialize in the production of new Saab models including the 9-3 sedan for the Russian, Ukrainian and Kazakh markets, priced no higher than $12,000.

To put these reports into perspective, I’ll have to take you back in time a little.

The young Russian banker, Vladimir Antonov, was officially excluded from the Saab purchase by decree of General Motors, but it’s fair to say that unofficially, he has fingers in various pies.

Earlier this year, Antonov spoke to several publications about Saab, talking about his plans to build Saabs in Kaliningrad – cars that were based on some of Saabs older technology that hadn’t been sold to BAIC.

Inside Line manage to include Jan-Ake Jonsson in their article, above, however there’s no direct quote from him about production in Russia, just an invocation about producing them in “the Far East” (which is a long way away if you’re talking about Russia’s far east. I wonder if Sarah Palin will be able to see the factory 🙂 – sorry.).

The only quote I’ve seen from Jan-Ake Jonsson about Antonov’s plans for Russian production played the plans down a little.

Of course, Russia is an emerging market which is interesting for Saab. But I can not comment on the substance of what he has said. I have just read what he said and has not spoken to him myself, “said Jan-Ake Jonsson.

Bear in mind, that was back in April and a lot of water has flowed under the bridge since then. Inside Line could have spoken to the man himself but just not included a direct quote.

Cranking out some older-architecture Saabs for Russia and “the Stans” might well be a good little earner. As long as it doesn’t hurt the prospects of Saab selling their new models to Russia’s nouveau riche.

For the moment, I’ll place this in the wait and see basket.


And in the same article, about China:

At the same time in China, Saab is planning to open 10 to 15 dealerships, under a single network, which is expected to allow it to sell up to 5,000 cars in the country a year. In addition, there is also a possibility of launching the production of a new generation of 9-3 sedan in this country in 2012.

Can’t come soon enough.


And completely unrelated, but whilst we’re talking Antonov……

His Snoras Bank are sponsoring the Lotus Renault F1 team next year, which are part-owned by Genii Capital (who were one of the contenders looking to buy Saab).

25 thoughts on “Inside Line: Saab to build in Russia, sell in China”

  1. I guess IL based their story on this Automotive News story:

    Saab Automobile AB plans to begin distribution to China some time in 2011.

    “Until we launch the new 9-3 at the end of 2012, it will be just a couple of thousand units (annually), all based on imports. As we lead up to this, we have to make a decision if and when we are going to introduce local manufacturing in China,” Jonsson said on the sidelines of the Los Angeles Auto Show.

    Among the issues to be resolved by the end of this year is “defining the dealer network” in China, he said. Saab needs to be present in five or six cities, with a total of 10 to 15 dealers, he said.

    A distribution deal for Russia also is expected to be announced by the end of the year. Details were not revealed.

    If a decision is made to assemble vehicles in China, production would begin with the next-generation 9-3. The 9-5 and the upcoming 9-4X crossover would be imported.

    Victor Muller, Saab’s chairman, said, “You need to get to a volume of 10,000 cars (in China) before you can start manufacturing locally.”

    • Could be (no indication as such), but if so, then they’ve twisted and re-crafted it significantly. That one talks about Chinese production where the IL article is clearly about Russian production.

      Hence the listing as “questionable”.

    • I can’t find it right this second but just a few weeks ago in LA I remember seeing JAJ saying something along the lines of “we will have announcements about Russia and China in the near future.” I think it was in his press conference, but I can’t be sure. Typing this on an iPhone on a subway platform means I’m not looking anytime soon either.

      • and they’re 1.6, too!

        Like the old story about how BMW used to use ‘tried’ engine blocks out of old 3-series cars 🙂 Not that I believe it!

    • Yes, the JPS livery is very nice indeed.
      But next F1 year will really be fun, with the two Lotus teams 🙂
      The one in typical Lotus green-yellow, which has only the rights to call themselves Lotus and Renault where Proton has jumped in with the also Lotus historical JohnPlayerSpecial livery.

      • Actually, I think both teams will be running black and gold livery, perhaps confusing, but still beautiful! As I wrote at

        What does Antonov, Muller, Eccelstone, GENII and I have in common? -F1 and Saab!

        • That’s right, the 2010 Lotus Racing Team ran a competition on their site a few months back to design the black and gold, and I think Tony Fernandes/Mike Gascoyne commented that Renault/Proton/Lotus were stealing their idea! (Not that they got the black and gold livery from anywhere else of course!)

          Either way, I used to like Lotus as a kid, so, whatever incarnation they exist in, it’s nice to see.

  2. Russia. Antonov has stated he wants to build cars in Russia. GM does not want that. One reason might be that they snuck Deripaska,(much higher up food chain in Russia), into US to sign an agrement to manufacture, not assemble from kits, 25,000 Opel cars. I think GM my not want competition from Antonov. Just a thought

  3. I can’t see that Saab has any money in the business plan to open a factory in Russia, not even a simple assembly plant. But if Antonov or some other partner would pick up the bill, then maybe.

  4. I do my best to find some logic in the plans to built a factory in Russia?

    1. Russian Far East drives right-handed second-hand japanese cars – 95%. SAAB is an unknown brand there. It’s impossible to sell needed quantity there to earn profit.
    2. 12k$ per car – the all new Lada which is positioned as a “low-cost” – 9-10k$. It’s a metal body on 4 wheels, I wonder if the stearing wheel is included.
    3. Only “worldwide” as VAG, Ford, Nissan-PSA, has succeeded in Russia (as far as I know Ford produces around 50 000 cars per year with plans to make 100 000 cars). And these plants were built because of the deficit of cars on the market.
    Production of the “unknown” Chrysler Sebring was a fiasco, though the investments in this project were abou 200mio $.

  5. @swade. in a recent video (I think from the LA auto show) VM and JAJ said they will be looking at producing in China for that market to circumvent the high import fees there

  6. O.T.

    Interview with Jason Castriote from Wallpaper*:

    So what can we expect from Saab next?
    At the LA show this year you’ll see the production 9-4X based on the 2008 concept, followed by the 9-5 wagon in 2011 plus a new concept from me in the same year before the production 9-3 arrives in 2012. It’s a tight timeline to get that 9-3 right! Afterwards my next homework assignment is a new small Saab.

    Can you reveal a bit more about this small Saab?
    It will be called either the 9-1 or 9-2 and be a Mini Cooper size and segment rival. It’s a product for customers to buy into the brand with, maybe their first real car purchase before hopefully moving up the Saab range.

    So JC will start working on a 9-1/9-2 after the 9-3. I assume that the 9-3 must be finalized some time in the first half of next year. Does this mean that a deal with a partner to make the the 9-1/9-2 is imminent?

  7. “Swedish automaker Saab is considering expanding in Russia and China in the near future,”

    How about “expanding” in the US first…huh?

    Or have SAAB given up on this market. Sure looks that way from this side of the pond. 🙁

    • “At the same time in China, Saab is planning to open 10 to 15 dealerships…”

      Which I’m sure will warm the hearts of the dealers in the US who have had to CLOSE, due to little support from SCNA. Nice.

    • Same goes for Australia, NewZealand, South Africa, Brazil, Argentina…… Saab currently lacking simplicity, focus, commercial nous? then again they have done very well to get to the end of 2010.

  8. Russia may not be true, but a $12,000 car produced at only 10,000 a year (with local labor) just has me wild with speculation over the possibilities. Since it is a car they own, but has not been sold to China, and is not a current car, I immediately thought of that 1972 99E. Put in a new drive train and you have a great, simple, tough car for rough roads and cold weather. ( I would want one for those bad snow days here.) A 99E is probably impossible because the tooling is gone, but can you even make the current pre-refresh 9-3 for $12,000, even if you take out all of the airbags, electronic stability, etc?

  9. Something to keep in mind about Russia. Before the financial stripout it was considered the fastest growing market in Europe. GM had just decided to build their own plant there rather than assemble kits jointly. GM has also stripped Opel of their responsibility for Russia. So things are happening there. There is a lot more room to drive in Russia. Saab could ship kits for final assembly to Russia?

    China is a separate fast growing market

    Saab has to hit their break-even point to be able to talk confidently about expansions.

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