While we’ve been talking a lot about Jan Åke’s retirement, Vladimir’s intent to invest in the company, and how certain members of the Swedish press feels that Victor is the antichrist, we may have lost sight of what really matters– the cars. Consummate professionals that they are, Victor and Jan Åke continue to talk to the responsible members of the press about the business plan. They confirm things we already know, but also leak new details about the ePower lineup, partnerships, and drivetrains. Also I take a stab at playing angel’s advocate to Robert Collin and Co.’s devil’s advocate and speculate on another outcome that isn’t often discussed here– the ramifications of Saab’s success on production and partnerships (something I hope we’ll be able to do a lot more of soon).
As you can also see, I’m incoporating an introductory graphic as a quick visual representation of what’s covered so you can get an idea what you’re in for…
The subscription news service automotiveworld.com recently interviewed Jan Åke Jonsson about Saab’s plans in the near future. As always, subscribers can get more information from the article with membership to their site. Their conversation happened before his announcement to retire, so there isn’t much about his reasons for leaving, though we’ve pretty exhaustively covered that here over the weekend. What they do cover is definitely of interest to many of our readers though.
We are currently operating in 51* countries. There has been a lot of work going on: sales networks, dealerships, putting financing in place and so on. We’re still in a build-up mode – Australia, Canada, Japan and Portugal are some markets where we’ve relaunched in the last six months. In December, we signed a deal with CATC (China Automobile Trading Co) to distribute our cars in China but due to the long homologation processes there we won’t be able to sell any vehicles until the second half of this year. And then we want to look at Brazil. We’ve never really been in Brazil – we had a three-month venture with GM at one point but that was not too successful – so if we go there, it will be a new market. But we need to first focus on expanding our sales in North America and Western Europe.
On a the future of the ePower fleet:
No [we aren’t working on a 9-5 ePower], we’re doing a test fleet with the 9-3 ePower. We’ll start shipping cars in the second quarter. We will let them run for close to a year, do our evaluation and then we’ll see how we would want to move further with that programme. Right now, it’s too early to say what will come after the 9-3 ePower field trials. But I think if you want to sell electric vehicles, the starting point should be regular cars – an existing model.
Would Saab ever change it’s naming nomenclature to more directly compete with Audi?
The 9-3 is a rival for the Audi A4 and it will stay that way, just as the 9-5 competes against cars like the Audi A6. In fact, we did have a discussion about perhaps changing the name of one of our cars but that was maybe calling the 9-5 the 9-6 and in that way declare that this was a step up from the old 9-5. But in the end, we decided to keep the name and we’ll do that for the 9-3 as well.
On continuing to build the current generation 9-3 alongside the new Phoenix platform 9-3:
No, it’s not in our plans to do that. The new 9-3 will be a dramatic difference compared to the existing car and we plan to do a straight cut-off for the changeover.
On the possibility of a diesel 9-4x:
Unfortunately that won’t be the case. We could probably double our sales volume of the 9-4X in Europe with a diesel. But the 9-4X is really a vehicle for markets like the US, Russia, China and Australia where gasoline is the traditional buyer preference.
*Remember the next 9-4x is tentatively planned to be built on the Phoenix platform, and a diesel is more likely then. -Jeff
Will Saab kill the 2.8L V6 in the 9-4x?
No, we will have both engines. GM is going to put a 3.6-litre V6 into the SRX to replace the 2.8-litre turbo V6. We have the option to take that engine too but we haven’t yet decided if we want to do that. So just as we have said previously, we will launch the 9-4X with two V6 engines: a 3.0-litre, and a 2.8-litre turbo.
On working with BMW:
For the new 9-3 [we will use the 1.6L BMW engine]. But for the 9-5, we are very happy with our GM powertrains. Having said that, we have flexibility with our engine strategy so we will see how it works out with the BMW engine in the next 9-3 and we will take it from there. BMW is an easy organisation to work with. I was last with the executives we are dealing with two weeks ago and we speak to each other all the time. For them, it makes sense to sell us engines as it’s a good revenue stream for very little extra investment. And there is also of course the opportunity for engineering exchanges; for example we have expertise in E85 (biofuel) engines which we could offer them.
Not much that we didn’t already know here, but certainly some confirmation of recurring questions we see on the site. It’s curious to hear direct mentions of E85 tech for BMW as an example of something they’re lacking but might leverage from Saab. And it’s nice to hear direct insight from Jan Åke that any future electric vehicle shouldn’t be a one off as BMW seems to be doing with their “i” project, and rather an extension of a real model. What I take from the comment that the 9-5 won’t be getting the ePower treatment anytime soon is that Saab is working especially hard on Phoenix right now, and that until the 9-5 is built on the new modular platform, it won’t be available with an electric drivetrain. That is to say, if they were to find a business case for a 9-3 ePower in the first place and want to extend it to the larger model.
Meanwhile on autonews, Victor is talking about the 92 again. You’ll remember he’s dialed down his dialogue regarding a new small Saab as it isn’t part of the business plan. But as we have heard rumblings about Vladimir Antonov joining the team with a cash infusion, and behind the scenes rumors that Saab might join WRC not too long after reaching projected profitability, suddenly the 92 is hitting the news wires again.
Saab is continuing its search for a partner to help it build a new entry-level car and the company also wants to build vehicles for other automakers at its factory in Sweden, Chairman Victor Muller said.
“We are talking with other manufacturers to buy a platform or drivetrain technology for this entry-level car,” Muller told Automotive News Europe. “It should come as soon as possible, in 2014 the earliest. ”
Muller said the car would be priced at about 20,000 euros. “It should be a car about the size of an Audi A1, and we could sell 30,000 to 50,000 a year,” Muller said in an interview with ANE earlier this month.
He did not say which other automakers Saab is talking to about a potential partnership.
Also in the article, Victor mentions leveraging the Trollhättan plant to build cars for other manufacturers who might be interested in building on the Phoenix modular platform.
Muller said Saab does not want to ask a bank for credit to fund investments for the new car. “We have a big asset with our plant in Trollhättan. It has a capacity of 190,000 cars. We could act as a contract-manufacturer,” he said.
Also, Jan Åke chimed in with the magic breakeven number, 85,000 units.
Saab CEO Jan Ake Jonsson said the brand has very ambitious sales goals. “We plan to sell 80,000 units this year, and 120,000 in 2012,” Jonsson, told Automotive News Europe. “Our business plan relies on low volume expectations. We only need 85,000 units to reach our break-even level,” Jonsson added.
Meanwhile a blog post by Matthew DeBord on his online column Shifting Gears for CBS bnet.com summed up a lot of the facts that we’ve known for a while, but presented in a way that makes me remember why I was so optimistic about Saab’s future in the first place. He sees Saab in excellent position to settle into the near luxury niche that gives BMW and Audi shoppers a more price conscious alternative without compromise. With Saab’s design heritage making a comeback and finding its way into other makes (read: hatches), and rightsized engine, turbo, and hybrid electric technology, the future doesn’t look so grim.
And then a lightbulb went off in my head which got me thinking even more optimistically, something that hasn’t happened around here in a while. Usually we’re more concerned with worst case scenarios, but what if we took a more balanced and realistic look at production numbers in the next 2-4 years. First, let’s assume the Saab factory won’t be swallowed by the earth in that time period. With new sales agreements in Brazil, China, and Russia, and the possibility that new sales leadership from Matthias Seidl at the top and James Sweeting at SCNA, what happens if sales actually eclipse the 120,000 mark? With a 9-5 sedan and wagon and at least 3 variants of the new 9-3 rolling off the line with hybrid drivetrain options, it’s certainly conceivable. On top of that, if Saab is able to convince a partner to build a low volume model on the Phoenix platform, that 190,000 capacity doesn’t sound too far fetched.
But what if we add in that 92 to the mix with 30,000 sales globally? Mini sold 45,644 units in the US alone last year, in a year when gas prices remained relatively low. If the rumblings we’ve heard turn out to be true, by the time the 92 is ready for production, the Trollhättan plant might be getting cramped. Given that the 92 would need to be built on a partners platform, it’s pretty easy to fathom it wouldn’t be built at Saab’s plant at all.
As a bonus, for all of you hungry for a new photochop, I cooked one up using Tiago’s old chop along with some Phoenix lights, clamshell hood, front air dam, clean rear quarter, and sloping teardrop roof to create a new one. It’s a little rough, but they’re usually like Prozac for us here so I thought we could use one 🙂
and just for kicks, in silver…
…and for those who wanted more cargo space…
But wait, you say, you’re still missing the 9-4x.
Which leads me to something I just noticed on car and driver’s blog, where they feature a map and production numbers for every plant in North America, broken down by city. When you scroll down to Ramos Arizpe, the location where all our shiny new 9-4xs will begin their lives, you’ll notice and incredible figure.
Cadillac produced 76,589 units of the SRX last year. The 9-4x is essentially the same vehicle, only it looks less flashy and more premium. Also you’ll see that the Chevy HHR which is slated to be phased out also takes up a huge chunk of production space at the plant. Saab wants to sell only 15,000 of these worldwide, yet Cadillac can somehow produce more than 5 times that with a less attractive product? As we reported here recently, the journalists who got to review it last week in Virginia think it’s a bigger deal than has been let on. If the scenario above holds true and the plant in Trollhättan is getting full, would Saab be interested in building the next generation of 9-4x in Mexico too? So far we’ve heard Saab has every intention of moving the next 9-4x’s production line to Sweden, but given the export penalties and the fact that the 9-4x’s core market is the US, would that even make sense? As Jan Åke said, they’re still looking at the option of using the 3.6L engine in an update to the 9-4x, so I’m hopeful they’re maintaining strong ties on development of the next generation of the 9-4x with GM. The other interesting thing GM is working on with the NG SRX is a plug-in hybrid option, an option that would not only help Saab with CAFE standards, but hedge against declining sales as gas prices rise. While Saab is still transitioning from crawling to walking, it’s always nice to know what running shoes they might be interested in wearing. 😉
Finally, a late addition to snippets. Andreas J. has come up with a rather creative license plate holder that might boost our site traffic 🙂 It looks great.