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Saab Eager to Get Back to Business in U.S.

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Saab Eager to Get Back to Business in U.S.

By Herb Shuldiner

WardsAuto.com, Apr 7, 2010 8:45 AM

NEW YORK – Saab Cars North America Inc. finally is launching its ʼ10 model lineup in the U.S., ending several months of delay as a result of an uncertain future.

Saab's 202 U.S. dealers had virtually no inventory – just a few hundred leftover ʼ09 models – before the end of March, Michael Colleran, president and chief operating officer, tells Ward's at the auto show here.

The pipeline began flowing again late last month, following General Motors Co’s Feb. 23 sale of Saab Automobile to Spyker Cars N.V., creating Saab Spyker Automobiles.

The deal includes a number of supply agreements with GM that will stretch several years.

“GM is going to build the 9-4X (cross/utility) for us in Mexico under a 4-year contract,” Colleran notes.

GM’s German arm, Adam Opel GmbH, has started turning out ʼ10 Saabs, with some 60,000-65,000 units to be assembled for worldwide distribution this year.

“We will get 25%-30% of that production,” Colleran says. The first ʼ10 Saabs started arriving in U.S. dealerships March 30.

9-4X BioPower Concept basis for new Saab CUV due in 2011.

Saab's portfolio will include the all-new 9-5 flagship, beginning in July. The 9-3X cross/utility vehicle will debut in the middle of this month. A holdover 9-3 convertible is expected to arrive any day, but an all-new 9-3 won't bow until 2012. The 9-4X will go on sale in the second quarter of 2011.

Noting it is very early in Saab's relationship with Spyker, Colleran is cautious in describing what changes will occur to the auto maker’s product portfolio.

“Yes, there will be a more performance-oriented Saab,” he says. “There are some opportunities there for us.”

He predicts Saab's expertise in turbocharged 4-cyl. engines will be valuable as fuel-economy regulations toughen worldwide.

“You're going to see the industry going in the Saab direction,” Colleran says, adding there also may be “an opportunity to widen Saab's product range on the low end” with smaller, more fuel-efficient models.

“The U.S. consumer is rapidly becoming more open to smaller luxury vehicles. They're looking for miles per gallon,” he says.

The typical Saab customer is “fiercely independent,” not quirky, Colleran says, adding he is looking to conquest Audi buyers.

“I equate us more to Audi, here and globally,” he says. “The Audi buyer is the one I want to go after.”

Colleran is confident customers will come back to Saab once it has the vehicles to sell. “Product is the lifeblood of the business,” he says.

He's also gratified Saab has negotiated a deal with GMAC Financial Services to begin leasing again. Historically, leasing has been important to Saab sales.

Saab’s U.S. volume peaked in 2003 at 47,914 vehicles.

“The only way I would consider beating 48,000 units is to do it profitably,” Colleran says. “I wouldn't buy market share.”

Only 12 Saab dealers in the U.S. decided to surrender their franchises after the sale to Spyker. They did so voluntarily, and no financial settlements were negotiated with them.



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