Interview with Jason Castriota – Part 3

Click the links to read:

Jason Castriota is Saab’s Head of Design. In part 1 of this series, we talked about his appointment at Saab and a little about the successor to the Saab 9-3. In part 2, we focused more on the 9-3 successor, the expectations on Saab Design and the Saab concept car that will be shown in Geneva, 2011.

This is the final segment in this 3-part series based on phone calls in September and October 2010. My thanks once again to Jason Castriota for taking the time to chat about so many different issues for the benefit of the wider Saab community.

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SW: The workload is very heavy at the moment, with that concept vehicle (that will show in Geneva 2011) on top of the work for the 9-3 successor. How is the Saab design team functioning on a day to day basis at the moment? And what size team do we have at the moment? You’re in New York right now, so how is that working?

JC: Well, I’m constantly back and forth. My month is broken into around 10-14 days in Trollhattan. There’s a week of PR commitments and a week in New York. It really is a time of constant travel.

The team is absolutely flat out. We’re a team of around 35 people in total. There’s around 7 designers in total, including my people, then we have about 15 computer modelers, a handful of physical modelers and a handful of project managers. So around 30-35 people in total. It’s a very small team, but it’s the way it should be because the ideas are very clear now, and it’s all about having that synergy with your collaborators and executing.

We have the exterior and interior programs for the 9-3 successor going on right now (mid-October) – one main interior theme and then with the various body style changes, there’s mild variations because of rear door panels, or a lack of rear door panels, etc. In parallel we have the exterior and interior of the concept car happening.

SW: OK. Switching tack for a moment…

You’re part of the board now and you’re doing a lot of PR work, etc. I know you’ve got a particular interest in branding and making sure something suits the brand. Are you playing a part in the visual design in Saab’s branding efforts in the next couple of years?

JC: Absolutely. I’m working hand in hand with Knut Simonsson, the head of marketing. Simon (Padian) and another guy in the studio, Matthias, are working together with me to help design provide support to marketing and branding. We have to make sure the new message from Saab is very clear.

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Interview with Jason Castriota – Part 2

Click the link to read part 1 of my interview with Jason Castriota – Saab’s Head of Design.

Part 3 is still to come.

When we left Part 1, we’d just started talking about the expectations surrounding the successor to the Saab 9-3, which is due in Q4 of 2012. Our conversation was interrupted and we had to pick things up again around 5 weeks later, so we started there.

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SW: So back to the weight of expectation around the successor to the 9-3. We talked about it in terms of what the company needs this car to do – it has to be a hit in all categories – but how conscious are you of customers’ expectations re: what this car represents.

JC: I’m absolutely conscious about it. It represents the core Saab car for not just the existing core clientele but also people who are just car enthusiasts in general. This is always going to be the ‘point of reference’ Saab, the spiritual successor to the 900, which is the car that made Saab a modern and relevant company.

It’s great for me because we’re being placed in a ‘dare to be great situation’ and some people view that as a risky position. I don’t view that as a risk because if I’m given the power to live or die by my own hands then I believe in what I’m going to be able to do.

I know Victor feels the same way about the things he does and the risks he takes as a businessman and I know Jan-Ake feels the same way. None of us really feel like we’re at risk. There’s a challenge ahead of us, particularly this year because it’s going to be a difficult year – there’s no doubt about that.

It’s an uphill battle for Saab this year because in the United States, above all other markets, this is the market that suffered the most because of the fallout of what happened with GM. So there’s still this unfortunate misconception in the United States that Saab doesn’t exist, that it’s dead, been liquidated, and it’s something that we’re having to take very seriously – building customer trust and market trust again.

SW: With this 9-3 replacement, are you looking back to iconic features of older Saabs, to either include those directly, or include cues to those in the new car? Or is it something that’s going to be pretty fresh, a complete new direction?

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AMS photochop the Saab 9-3 successor – interview Jason Castriota

The latest issue of Auto Motor and Sport has hit the news stands and it features their artist’s guess as to what the successor to the Saab 9-3 might look like when it comes out in a few years from now.

Auto Motor and Sport cover

They also have an interview with Jason Castriota in the print issue. It probably won’t be online for a little while, so Swedes who want to read it might have to head to the news stands.

Thanks Tobias!

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Speaking of interviews with Jason Castriota, I’m just finalising part 2 of my trilogy at the moment. Hopefully it will come out in the next 24 hours.

You can read part 1 of my interview with Jason Castriota right now.

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Several Swedish newspapers have published a shorter interview with Jason Castriota today. Here’s a Googletrans:

Thanks Lennart and others!

Saab’s new designer is no coward

Saab’s new chief designer want Saab to be more original. Now there are three completely new vision of the new Saab 9-3 in Trollhattan. He’s extremely tough demands on himself. But he himself is only a consultant.

At the end of the interview, Saab’s new head designer Jason Castriota become its feet.

– I do not understand that the new 9-5 was not a combi coupé, “he said suddenly – and saw the date of the new Saab car that is vital for his clients. He, who joins from Bertone in Turin, where he has been accustomed to designing sports cars and be the head had started in autumn 2008. He wanted to move back to New York with his wife and children after eight years in Italy. Wanted the children to get to start school in the United States.

Suddenly he stood alone. He began to build a simple small organization, took his newly printed business cards and flew in December last year the car show in Los Angeles.

There he met an enthusiastic Dutchman named Victor Muller, who had just made his first bid for Saab. They talked a bit.

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Interview with Jason Castriota – Part 1

Recently, I had the good fortune to spend a bit of time on the phone with Saab’s new design chief, Jason Castriota. The conversation was split over two sessions. We first spoke on September 8, a conversation that was cut short due to unforeseen circumstances. We finished things off on October 15.

In between those dates, Jason had the unveiling of the SSC Ultimate Aero, which he designed, as well as the Paris Motor Show and a bunch of Saab-related interviews with various members of the motoring press.

My thanks to Jason for picking up the phone and having a chat. As you’ll see below, he likes to talk, which makes for a great interview.

We skipped the stuff about him drawing cars when he was five years old, etc, and got straight into the Saab questions, many of which were posed in comments by SU readers prior to Jason and I talking.

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Swade: You and Victor Muller seem pretty similar. You’ve both got pretty fine tastes and you seem to have ended up at events that suit your similar nature, places like Pebble Beach, etc. When did you guys first meet and did you hit it off straight away?

Jason Castriota: Yeah, we really did hit it off straight away and I have to say that with Victor, I really do have a partner in crime. I really love his gregarious nature. He’s a bit bold, a bit brash and he’s managed to be so successful being blunt and honest, true to the point. I’ve really prided myself on being that way in my career as well, and that can make you some friends but it can also work against you sometimes as people don’t expect such blunt answers. But I think, from a designer’s point of view, that you have to be very assertive and I like the fact that Victor’s very assertive as well.

We actually met in 2006 at the Geneva Auto Show and we really hit it off right away. He was very complimentary of the things I was working but aside from that, sometimes you just find that when you meet someone and start talking to them, that you have very similar tastes. You have a fun, vibrant conversation that just moves forward by itself and next thing you know, you’ve lost 30 minutes. That’s kind of how it was with Victor and I.

Over the years we just kept running into each other at auto shows, events and various car-oriented and enthusiast-oriented events and we always agreed it would be really cool to do something together some day but we never really new when that day would come. I didn’t know if it would ever come, to be honest, because you hear that sort of thing a lot in the industry, but with Victor I always felt it probably would.

I ran into him again at Geneva this year and he immediately asked me “What are you doing?” And he called me over to the Spyker stand and asked me again – ‘what are you doing?”. I told him I was running my own consultancy. I was enjoying being master of my own destiny, etc. He said “that’s great, but you have to come and be director at Saab”.

I said “I don’t know” (laughs).

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Wednesday Afternoon Snippets – Muller interview and Autoline After Hours

Autosavant have a good interview with Victor Muller from a function Saab hosted in Greenwich Village during the New York Auto Show.

…..no company becomes premium because it calls itself premium. You have to earn your premium status. And, you have to earn it in every aspect of the business. From your showroom CI to your quality of your product, to the look and feel of your interiors, it’s the whole experience, from service, to the way you’re greeted when you enter the dealership. All those components, define, in the end, whether you’re accepted as a premium brand or not. Clearly, Saab is a premium brand. But, I would like to see the brand go up in terms of being premium.

I don’t know that there’s anything we haven’t heard already, but it’s always nice to hear from Victor and reaffirm what we’ve heard before.
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If you’ve got a spare 80 minutes – and yes, I know that’s a long time – then check out Edition #49 of Autoline After Hours.
AAH is the laid back, guys-in-a-bar version of Autoline Detroit where they get in an industry type to chat with a few automotive media guys. It’s always good viewing.
This week there’s some very interesting stuff, none of which is directly Saab related, but is interesting nonetheless. Like the way Ford have a pipe going from the induction chamber of the Mustang to the cabin to channel the induction sound so the driver doesn’t miss that noise with all the NVH work they’ve done on the car. There’s also a good insight into climbing SUV sales, which by extension, can be taken as ‘why Saab dealers in the US would love to have the 9-4x yesterday’.
AAH is on every Thursday night.
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Saab sold no cars in Australia in March 2010.
Zero.
Of course, my understanding is that we haven’t had any new cars delivered into the country for some time, but still, I thought there’d be some stock somewhere to be sold.
We need that new import organisation to start up in Oz asap, and yes Victor, Parveen, whoever…. if you need a committed, professional and competent staffer, you know where to get hold of me.
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On the upside……Australians:
Soon-to-be supercar makers,
Writers of the best letters ever used to get out of parking fines, and
Great pilots.
We rock!

CAR Magazine interview Christian von Koenigsegg

CAR Magazine have published an interview with CVK today where he talks about all things Saab.
If you’re up to date on all the news here, then I don’t think you’ll find much in this interview that we haven’t previously heard from CVK or the news stories.
Still, it’s good to see all this information in the one place. It’s also good to see CVK out there talking about Saab and the plans they have for it. It inspires more confidence than the silences we’re used to.
Some snippets……
Ambition:

I want to create a viable Swedish car company. Most commentators in the media say that there is little chance, because Saab has never made money. It is a fairly simple analysis. If you based all business decisions on what has happened before and expected that it would be exactly the same in the future, then there would be no way to change anything. Ever. We see it in a slightly different way

Jan-Ake Jonsson:

He is a rock that manages to stand up no matter how strong the wind is blowing. He stands up for Saab’s tradition and creates a good balance in our future management plans

Future Cars:

A specific electric car, a 9-3, the 9-5 and at least one car smaller than the 9-3. Perhaps something like a Mini Cooper with a premium. We could even launch a Sonnet sports car, but we really need everything else fixed before we can indulge ourselves in that sort of opportunity.

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I’ve been busy tonight working on the Classifieds site so this was a welcome read after a hard night’s code-monkeying.
Click here to read the full article.
Thanks to Greg for the link!

Former SaabUSA chief Joel Manby on GM/Saab culture

Joel Manby was one of the 8 guys who kicked off Saturn back in the 1980s, with a finely honed focus on the customer being more important than everything else – even the cars they were selling.
In the mid-late 1990s, he was slotted in as the head of SaabUSA, staying there for four years. He’s now working as the CEO of a company dealing with entertainment parks called Herschend Family Entertainment.
Manby did an interview recently with Georgia Public Broadcasting. The interview was mainly concerned with his current role at Herschend, but in discussing the corporate culture there, he also touched on his past experiences at GM in general, and Saturn and Saab in particular.
The full interview is available in PDF form here or you can watch it on video here.
I’ve reproduced the Saab and GM bits below:
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“…what I saw at General Motors which was not very good. It was chaos. It wasn’t very well led. And at General Motors it was only about the bottom line. It was only about money and, you know, at the end of the day, I don’t think great people are really attracted to that…”
“…when I was in the GM culture, a lot of the discussion was about cutting costs and labor issues, union issues, and not enough about what’s going on with that customer.”
“…with Saab, we had a fantastic car, but we had no marketing strategy and no dealer network.”
“On Saab, the biggest thing I learned is how difficult it is to change a culture that is not customer focused and in Saab’s case, it was an engineering driven company. When you’d be in the meetings, it’d be all about having the absolute, best car, which actually, you can go too far, because you can put things into the car that customers aren’t willing to pay for. The engineers want it, but you’re not willing to pay for it as a customer,and that’s what I walked away with [from] Saab. You’ve got to only put in things that the customer is willing to reward you for…”
“At Saturn and Saab I saw a lot of mistakes there where, frankly, it became poor leadership. It really comes down to strong leadership and at Herschend, the owners just permeate the values.”

This guy is incredibly customer-focused and running a car company has to be about the product first and foremost, but some care and attention on the customer side is going to be crucial as Saab emerge from GM’s shadow.
Under Koenigsegg, Saab will have a chance to rebuild their identity under the flag of an exotic and very Swedish ownership identity. The customer experience will hopefully be developed to reflect this.
This has been an interesting insight from a guy was, at one time, right there at the coal face.
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My thanks to Alan H for the tip and quotes!

Monday Night Snippets – Steve Shannon edition

Todd Agostini from the Autos section of examiner.com sat down for a chat with Steve Shannon at the New York Auto Show a few days ago. The exercise was in conjunction with Saab History so Ryan was behind the camera, capturing the conversation for posterity.
There’s a few lollipops in there, but over all it’s as forthcoming an insight into Saab’s current situation as we could expect from a GM guy in the US marketplace. The most interesting question for me was the one relating to what the two parties, GM and Saab, have got from the relationship over the last 20 years. I think the ledger is firmly stacked in GM’s favour there and Shannon’s lack of response as to what Saab got from the relationship (basically, it’s survival) is a case of damning GM with faint praise.
The conversation lasts 22 minutes and is well worth a look. Thanks to Todd for the heads-up via comments.
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It’s worked in France and Germany so it seems the Brits are going to have a crack at the scrapping bonus.

ALISTAIR DARLING, the chancellor, is set to end months of speculation by announcing a “scrappage” scheme to encourage people to trade in old cars for new in his April 22 budget….
….Details of the scheme are still being finalised in discussions between the Treasury and the business department, headed by Lord Mandelson. It is expected to involve a £2,000 allowance for people trading in for scrap a car more than nine years old against the purchase of a new or nearly new vehicle.

Two grand is a reasonable allowance, I reckon, especially if your nine old banger really is an old banger.
I’m sure the usual suspects will be the main beneficiaries of this scheme, but it might be a good time for Saabists to get a few more pennies off.
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I have some great photos to show tomorrow from the Saab Car Club of Australia’s national gathering in Canberra, including one of our mates here at SU, Hawkeye, taking a prize in the national Concours.
Great stuff!!
Until then, enjoy this classy shot from Total Abstainer, via Flickr
Black9-3shadows.jpg

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