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SAAB to add 9-4, sub-9-3 compact, replace 9-5 by 2011

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Saab: GM Starting “To Get It” on Niche Brand Status
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August 30, 2007 | By Bill Visnic | [/b]Link to Original Article @ Edmunds[/b]


Saying a planned new compact car coming in a few years is a “terrific opportunity for us,” Saab Automobile USA executives also claim owner General Motors is beginning to understand how to manage the niche brand -– just as the future of small-volume, premium brands such as Saab appears to be reaching a crucial juncture.

At a media event for the redesigned 2008 9-3, Knut Simonsson, executive director, Saab Global Sales and Marketing, tells AutoObserver that because of the increasing “globalization” of virtually everything –- common talk now is dominated by terms such as “global business” and even “global warming” –- consumers will increasingly gravitate toward brands that evoke strong images of heritage or national origin as a way to satisfy their desire for more “context” for their purchases.

That, says Simonsson, is an opportunity for Saab.

Coveting Niche Brands


Simonsson says this expected new desire for purchase context also is what has entities as varied as U.S. hedge funds and Indian automakers lining up for a chance to buy Ford’s Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo brands. Each enjoys powerful perceptions of national flavor and heritage similar to Saab’s unique reputation for quirky but sensible Swedish design.

Saab expects this kind of strong identifier will become increasingly important in a consumer future that is moving towards dispassionate products and anonymous brands, Simonsson says.

“I am convinced of this,” he says.

GM "Getting" Saab Niche


Meanwhile, Saab plans to take full advantage of the predicted power of niche brands, saying GM –- which took full ownership of Saab in 2000 -– is starting to “get it” in terms of leveraging Saab’s brand qualities.

Last year, Saab sold about 133,500 vehicles worldwide.

“It’s not easy when you [GM] make 9 million cars a year to figure out how to be a steward,” says Steve Shannon, Saab Automobile USA’s general manager.

“We are getting to be a very good steward of the brand.”

GM Expands Saab's Product Line


Shannon says Saab’s got to get more models on the showroom floor. Currently, it has the 9-3, redesigned for ’08, the 9-5 midsize sedan and the 9-7X SUV, a craftily reskinned Chevrolet Trailblazer that never has been right for the brand.

The first priority, says Shannon: “To replace the 9-5 with a very strong successor.”

The flagship 9-5 was introduced in 1997 as a ’98 model, yet Simonsson says the 9-5 is the ideal example of the power of the Saab brand, noting the absurdly old car set a sales record last year.

Then the product range will be expanded with an all-new crossover vehicle. Saab executives say crossovers are the fastest-growing market segment, both in the U.S. (Saab’s largest market) and in Europe.

That model almost assuredly will be placed on a GM front-wheel-drive platform, likely a “premium” version of the General’s global midsize architecture. Although past speculation has lined up a Saab crossover with a variant of Cadillac’s SRX, that seems unlikely, as the SRX is based on GM’s rear-drive Sigma platform, and Simonsson asserts Saab “will never skip front-wheel drive” as a base drivetrain layout. Like rival Audi AG, Saab also plans to increase the use of all-wheel drive as an enhancement to front-wheel drive, however.

Saab’s history and reputation for front-drive, Simonsson says, demands its future vehicles use that configuration.

Shannon says the all-new 9-5 and the Saab crossover will come to the U.S. at about the same time, probably around 2009-'10.

Following those two crucial models will be a vehicle smaller than the 9-3, currently Saab’s entry-level model.

Shannon says Saab and GM will not repeat the exercise of the 9-2, a hastily reengineered Subaru Impreza WRX that bombed in the U.S. market and was dropped in 2006.

The new subcompact Saab, says Shannon, will key on three elements: “breakthrough” design, sporty driving characteristics and strong functionality and utility.

Saab executives will not provide a time frame for when the new entry-level Saab –- a competitor for BMW’s Mini Cooper, Audi’s A3, Volvo’s C30 and the coming BMW 1 Series –- will be launched, saying only that it will arrive after the next-generation 9-5 and all-new crossover model.
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When I think of SAAB, I still picture a black, 3 door 900 Turbo. That upright, wraparound windshield was a strong identifier. I'd like to see SAAB come back with a 3-door hatch.
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I was next to this baby last week at Saab Bil Museet in Trollhättan (don't ask for pictures - I'm pretty mad at myself over losing all my holiday pictures when I tried to transfer them to my PC :banghead:). I went around it some 10 or 15 times thinking 'why on Earth couldn't GM bring this to market to fight the Audi A3?!?!?!'

I am amazed reading the 9-5 is able to set sales records after all this time!

2009-2010 seems right for the 9-5. It's been written it will be the 2nd EpsilonII product to be introduced in Europe after the Vectra.

I'm not so sure about the smaller model being a Mini competitor. A3, 1-Series, and C30 are what they're after IMO.

Edited by ZL-1
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New Small Saab, Crossover Coming

the car connection.com

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In a bid to build up its global presence, the Swedish automaker, Saab, plans to expand its lineup over the next few years, while also launching a new all-wheel-drive system that could make it more competitive against better-known luxury marques.

Despite ongoing concerns about the financial health of General Motors' Swedish luxury brand, things are looking better than ever, asserted Steve Shannon, the GM "lifer" who has been running Saab operations in the U.S.- its largest market - for the last six months.

Saab faces a variety of challenges, Shannon acknowledged. For one thing, it is hard to gain traction in a market dominated by better known European and Asian brands, such as BMW and Lexus, especially with such a small lineup. But getting more product is itself a challenge when you're such a small part of the GM empire.

"It's not easy, when you're a company that makes 9 million cars a year to figure out how to steward a company that makes 130,000," acknowledged Shannon, though he quickly insisted, "We're getting better at it."

Saab has a major update of the 9-3, currently its smallest and lowest-cost model, rolling into dealerships for 2008. And it is finishing up work on a new version of the bigger 9-5 line, which has gone far too long without significant revision.

The real test of the brand will come in little more than a year, when it launches its first crossover vehicle, which some sources have dubbed the 9-4X, though that name is far from official.

The crossover is being designed with the U.S. in mind, though Saab hopes to break into the fast-growing global demand for crossovers. While some makers have experimented with radical alternatives to conventional SUV designs such as the Nissan Murano, Saab's offering will take a conservative approach.

"We will not make the mistake of some other manufacturers," explained Shannon, "trying to make a 'tweener,' somewhere between a car and a truck. We will not take any risks with this."

The planned crossover will make use of a new all-wheel-drive system. Dubbed Cross-Wheel Drive , or XWD, it will make its debut next year on the 9-3 line. GM has appointed Saab its center of excellence for future all-wheel-drive technology for use on all transverse-mounted vehicle programs.

New entry-level car coming

A year or so after the launch of the crossover, Saab will bring to market a new entry-level model, a replacement for the short-lived 9-2X, which was produced in a now-abandoned partnership with the Japanese automaker, Subaru. Expect a more stylish and distinctive vehicle, hinted Shannon.

"We learned a lesson from the 9-2," he said, during an interview in Washington, D.C. "We need to add a design that's really a breakthrough. There are a lot of very pedestrian, over-priced players in that segment right now."

Except for vehicles equipped with the XWD system, all future Saab products will remain front-drive, asserted Kurt Simonsson, the automaker's global marketing chief. While conventional wisdom might suggest that rear-drive is better for performance, the Swedish executive argued that it's really "all about execution," and indeed, as TheCarConnection.com reports in its review of the 2008 9-3, Saab has eliminated two of the most common complaints about its older, front-drive models: turbo lag and torque steer.

Saab also plans to remain loyal to its turbocharged in-line fours and V-6s, meanwhile, rather than adopt the big engines favored by many other imports (with the exception of the V-8 in the huge Saab SUV, the 9-7X). If anything, "It's crystal clear," said Simonsson, that the market is shifting from "big engines to more efficient engines."

But for the moment, there are no hard plans to adopt some of the hybrid technology starting to show up in other GM brands. That will likely change in the next decade, but as a small brand, Saab has to wait its turn.

How much the brand can grow is unclear. Sales nudged 35,000 sales in the U.S. last year, and will slip slightly due in part to the changeover from old to the new 9-3. Globally, the figures have been improving, and are now running around 130,000 annually.

That may be little more than a rounding error for GM, but it's more than acceptable for Saab, argued Simonsson. How much larger does the brand need to go? "One hundred percent, we can be sustainable at 200,000" sales annually, even 180,000, said Simonsson, and with the planned new offerings, Saab is betting it can reach those numbers.

source:

http://www.thecarconnection.com/Auto_News/...13308.html?pg=1

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