A major issue for a future owner of Saab will be if there are products available they can sell more or less right away. For sure, with the factory standing still for over a year now it will be tough: the supply chain has to be rebuilt, staff has to be rehired and (re)trained. The receivers say they kept the production line in shape but to make it ready will cost quite an amount of time and money. In the end it is close to starting from scratch.
Even more important would be the chance to earn a bit of money on existing models. While this would surely not make profit, it would at least generate income that reduces loss. Additionly, and maybe even more important it keeps Saab in the market and offer the remaining dealers something to sell.
For the factory this would mean they could restart with models they know. So they could relate to some experience, be it to re-establish the former suppliers or to integrate new ones. Should be much easier than ramping things up with something totally new. Any future model then would come into a running factory with a team that has already worked together for a while. Setting up the line, training the team and introducing a new model at the same time might be too ambitious, regardless of a new owner.
So let’s take a look at what is there and if it could work. For a start there is a model that is a source for very contoversial discussions, even within the SU team: the 9-3. It’s the oldest model in the recent lineup with already almost ten years in the market. So it may be the toughest one to sell while looking at its core, it is still a great car. Also important, to a degree it is the one that can be built without GM’s ok. It would not be magic to shift the 9-3 into an even more contemporary car as the base is still great.
Exterior-wise the Griffin update has made some pretty nice tweaks to a car that always had a great design. You don’t recognize it’s age. Maybe some LED lights would do something good to lift it in todays automotive circus but in general, what you need is there.
On to the interior. The Griffin also got several improvements here. Personally I would think it made sense to offer a leather package. This could include dashboard, trim and door handles like Hirsch offers it. Maybe it could even be standard on an Aero model to add the extra premium feel. One of the bigger obstacles here is that you’d need a proper entertainment system that supports USB connection of mobile devices. Still, I can imagine that you’d find something at a supplier that you can adapt for use in the 9-3.
The recent drivetrain setup with the TTiD and the 2.0 direct injection engines is the best that model ever had. Nice would be a 1.6T on the low end as an entry. With an estimated three years until a next 9-3 could come to market and maybe one year until production starts again this could be a reasonable timeframe for this effort. After all this would be more about showcasing some technology than making money from it. What I’d see as important is to make all petrol engines automatically BioPower to underline a core competence of Saab.
A definete step into the right direction would be the combination of TTiD and XWD that never found its way into the 9-3 because the development would have been too expensive. So even under a new owner it may be too much effort on a car that will just be there for another two years or so.
Having said that the 9-3 Griffin always suffered from the fact that it was talked dead in the Spyker era. Especially Victor talked too much about the next 9-3 so a number of potential customers decided to wait for a car that wasn’t even in reach. Just another thing I did not understand. The other setback is that especially since bankrupcy the 9-3 has been sold with heavy discounts in some areas.
So to be able to sell that final edition you’d have to choose one of two ways to go. Either you set the price extremely low or add more value. I know there is a demand for a Saab in the Euro 20k price range but I believe this place has to be filled by a future 9-1. It is dangerous to set the price of the 9-3 too low because Saab would have a hard tome to price a next 9-3 in the range they need. Personally I think when the Griffin came around pricing was finally on a proper level.
In my view that level should already have come with the restart but the top management failed to see the demand of the market to offer more for less. In the end this reflects a problem in this “premium” definition that was all around back then in combination with an overly hurried production restart. The Griffin corrected this and where it hit the market it sold well.
So it’s up to adding some value. For quite a while I advocated to make some typical Saab features standard items on all cars, such as heated seats and headlamp washers. USB and bluetooth connectivity have to be standard and preferebly there should be no more green radio display. Just small things that change the general perception.
To reduce costs of course it could help to make the model range a bit slimmer. Just stick with two equipment lines as before and throw out some options that are rarely ever chosen. Reduce the selection of rims. Make it just five colors but don’t make them just shades of grey. Rather white, black, silver and two strong colors like red and blue. To go even further, I’d skip the SportCombi and stick to the Sedan, Convertible and 9-3x. It’s not such a huge difference between Combi and x anyway, you’d just have to offer both trim lines on the x. At least for those two years until the next generation is ready this has to be enough.
The convertible is important because it is a seller. For the Sedan – if you try to aim at Asian markets like India or China you definetely need this model as people there are very fond of this body style.
I am pretty aware that for all that comes now GM’s approval is needed and that just recently James Cain renewed his statement that there will be no licenses for a future owner of Saab. But as before, I do not give too much on this statement. A main thing at the moment is that as long as there is no decision on a buyer there is noone for them to talk to. As long as there is still a Chinese bidder we don’t have to expect them to be too open. The invisible arm of SAIC will not allow any negotiation in that direction.
Mahindra on the other hand could offer some value that goes beyond just cash. India is kind of terra incognita for GM. All they do there is build and sell a few old Daewoo models at a rather devastating market share. So GM should be open for anyone who can offer some assistance for them to get a foot on the ground there. Many options could be thinkable but in any way this would be an entry point for negotiations.
Keeping that in mind, let’s proceed to the 9-5. On one hand it is just too big for Europe, fairly expensive and very GM. On the other hand it is despite it’s size very handy, a blast to drive and looking at the prices of for example Audi and BMW not out of range. Sure, there are a lot of GM parts in it but I don’t really mind which supplier delivers them.
A major reason that the 9-5 could not explore it’s full sales potential was that the SportCombi never made it to the market. Judging from the buyers preferences it should have come at the same time as the Sedan as it would have accounted for some serious sales.
As with the 9-3 I’d get rid of the green display. Another point would be the dashboard. There has to be some supplier who is able to make something fancy, if not the ice block then at least something else that looks a bit nicer than that black plastic. Not that I did mind it too much but following comments there seems to be a demand for such a thing. Pimp it up with heated seats and some more nice features to give it even more value for the money.
On the outside for my taste especially the Aero should get more character, similar to what Hirsch did to their Performance version. Maybe it would even be possible to slightly adapt the bumpers and make it 4,99 m instead of 5,01 m. That would erase some psychological barrier in the head of potential buyers that consider the car to be too long.
While I am one of those who advocate that Saab should only use 4-cylinder engines as they are more saaby a V6 I am a bit torn about the Turbo6 version. It is so much fun to drive and makes sense in such a big car. On the other hand if it saves some money reduce the offerings to the diesel and the l4, which can run up to 260 hp in Hirsch trim already. Even more as I’d like to see all petrol Saabs to be BioPower. Another thing I’d see as important is that the TTiD gets the automatic gearbox as an option.
The last stop on this journey is maybe the most difficult one: the 9-4x. Most difficult because it is not built in Trollhättan and so changes to the car are rather difficult and require a lot of goodwill from GM. But as far as I can judge it from the planned German pricing situation with about 55k for a almost fully equipped Aero it had been very competetively priced.
After all, this car never really touched down in Europe but the experiences from the dealer tours here in Europe last fall made it clear that there is a demand for such a car, even if it lacks a diesel or a hybrid. Admittedly, I would be one of those who’d get one. I drove it last fall and it exceeded my expectations. Despite the GM stuff in it you can see that Peter Doerrich’s Saab team had a major influence in the development of the car.
Given the circumstances of production I think it would be too daring to look for other engine options. The Aero Turbo6 can be ramped up to 330 hp through Hirsch. Some time last year I talked to a dealer who asked for some version that should be somewhere between 350 and 400 hp to attract customers who may originally go for an X5 or Cayenne. I know there may be an option through some hardware modification. Could be worth to take a look at.
So we’re up to a proper portfolio for the restart, but there is another thing that is needed: proper financing for customers as well as for dealers. Many dealers out there have made little profit from Saab for over a year now, many have even lost money through bankrupcy. So to enable them to regain confidence and to get cars in stock they definetely need some proper financing partner, backed by the owner of Saab.
For the customers it has to be the same. While I still think it makes no sense to continue huge discounts I think Saab has to invest in getting better lease or finance rates than they had in the past. Given the uncertainty Saab faced since 2009 I believe this can only work with a financing partner that is directly tied to Saabs owner or at least backed by it. Only few financing companies may be willing to take the risk of financing Saabs so some strong effort is needed here.
You may see this picture I painted as wishful thinking but I strongly believe at least parts of this scenario can come true. It is mainly a matter of how much effort a bidder is willing to put in this. And those with a clear view and a vision of how Saab can explore its values will at least examine all possibilities. For each model it is about weighing pros and cons, about judging where to put the money one brings in. A lot of development work on future technology has to be done – and financed – too.
While we are eagerly waiting for an announcements things under the surface are very intense. It’s tough but I rather wait to see the final deal than being dissapointed by quick announcements that never bear fruit.