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NINETY EIGHT REGENCY

Stability? Hallmark prefers Saab job

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Stability? Hallmark prefers Saab job

Diana T. Kurylko

Automotive News -- April 12, 2010 - 12:01 am ET

Adrian Hallmark, 47, says he turned down a job from a stable European carmaker to join Saab AB as executive vice president of global sales.

"I had to decide whether I wanted safe and the same thing every day or this -- a challenge," he says.

Few would dispute that Hallmark came to the right place for a challenge.

In the United States, many dealers have lost confidence in the brand. Saab's new owner, Spyker Cars NV, is a tiny, little-known Dutch maker of sports cars, and Saab no longer can depend on General Motors to fill its inventory pipeline.

Hallmark is taking the problems in stride and confidently predicts Saab's global sales will bounce back swiftly. He says global sales will reach 120,000 vehicles in 2012, compared with 39,903 in 2009.

Hallmark has spent the past few weeks meeting with dealers in major European markets and the United States. In late March he addressed 175 of Saab's 202 U.S. dealers in Boston, sharing details of Spyker's business plan for Saab.

"Considering the dealer network thought they were going to close down until six weeks ago, we expected to find an unmotivated, demoralized and dislocated dealer network," Hallmark says. "The belief in the brand and the future of its market potential -- everywhere -- is greater than we expected."

GM put Saab under "strategic review" in December 2008. Uncertainty hung over the company for 15 months until Feb. 23, when the sale to Spyker closed.

Key elements of Saab's plan include:

-- Replacing the 9-5 and 9-3 cars, launching the 9-4X SUV and developing a smaller new 9-2 compact. GM will produce only the 9-4X SUV; the other vehicles are coming out of Saab's Trollhattan, Sweden, factory.

-- Increasing U.S. sales from 8,680 in 2009 to 15,000 cars in 2011.

Hallmark has high hopes for the redesigned 2011 9-5 sedan, which goes on sale in the United States in August.

"The previous 9-5 was priced 5 percent below the [Audi] A6. We believe with what we're offering, we can lift the price a little," Hallmark says. Pricing for the new generation 9-5 hasn't been released. The discontinued 2009 9-5 had a base price of $41,180, including destination.

The only vehicle being produced today is the 9-3 sedan, convertible, station wagon and all-wheel-drive 9-3X.

Hallmark previously was executive director of sales for Volkswagen in India and Asia-Pacific, where the VW Group is expanding sales rapidly. He left that job in August.

Before that, he ran Volkswagen of America Inc. from 2005 to 2007 and worked to make the brand's cars more affordable in the U.S. market. Hallmark also persuaded Germany to kill the slow-selling Phaeton luxury car in the United States.

As future Saab models are developed from scratch, Hallmark says, exterior styling will be even more "Scandinavian premium" and "beautiful but not extravagant."

Read more: http://www.autonews.com/article/20100412/RETAIL03/304129954/1424#ixzz0ktYg2TAh

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Even the A6 is struggling to find US buyers at its current pricing. Spec for spec, the 9-5 compares against cars like the Acura TL, which starts at a low $36K. I'd stick with the 9-5's current price of $41,000 fully-loaded.

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