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New owner says Saab will soon have strongest lineup


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New owner says Saab will soon have strongest lineup



It's anybody's guess whether Saab will recover from its near-death experience this year, but the Swedish brand will soon have the strongest vehicle lineup in its 73-year history thanks to investments by former owner GM and ceaseless deal-making by new owner Victor Muller.

By 2012, Saab will have its biggest, newest model line ever, Muller said over dinner at Roast restaurant in Detroit's Book Cadillac hotel this week.

And the three new vehicles in that showroom don't include the car that really makes Muller's pulse pound -- a modern version of the teardrop-shaped Saab 92 sedan that began Saab's tradition of efficient, advanced and offbeat cars.

Other owners have failed to make Saab profitable, but it's easy to share Muller's enthusiasm when the lanky Dutch financier gets rolling, despite the fact that Spyker, the exotic-car maker he founded, consistently loses money.

GM had put Saab into liquidation, halted the assembly lines and stopped shipping cars to dealers before Spyker acquired Saab in February.

Muller expects Saab to turn a profit in 2012, when he hopes to sell 120,000 cars around the world. By the end of that year, the company will have an all-new 9-3 model on sale alongside the 9-5 sport sedan that just went on sale and the 9-4X sporty crossover that arrives in mid-2011.

The 9-5 and 9-4X were both developed before GM decided to sell Saab. They showcase an elegant design and technologies including all-wheel drive and efficient turbocharged engines.

The 9-3 will be the first product of the new, independent Saab. The car will ride on a platform developed by Saab engineers, unlike the GM platforms the brand has used since 1994.

The next 9-3 will be the first Saab from design chief Jason Castriota, who worked on luxury cars like the Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano and Maserati Gran Turismo before joining Saab in March. Castriota's design made the car longer, wider and immediately recognizable as a Saab.

"You don't need to see the logo to know it's a Saab," Muller said.

Equally important, the 9-3 will test Muller's strategy of forming alliances with automakers and suppliers. It will feature BMW engines and a unique electric all-wheel drive system Saab is developing with Detroit-based supplier American Axle. A pair of small electric motors will power the car's rear wheels, while the BMW engine drives the front. It's a unique approach that could improve performance and fuel economy significantly and cost less than conventional hybrid and electric-vehicle systems.

Muller expects Saab to be profitable when the new 9-3 arrives in 2012. "We sold 125,000 cars in 2007, when the model line consisted of a 10-year-old 9-5 and seven-year-old 9-3," he said. "In 2012, we will have the broadest and newest model line in the company's history, and our break-even point will be 80,000 to 85,000 sales."

Saab has enough money for all the development work through 2012, Muller says, but the company needs a partner to build the Saab 92 he dreams of.

"The premium small-car market is where it's at," he said, citing vehicles like the Mini Cooper and Audi A1. "Saab owned that market in the 1950s and '60s" with the 92 and 96, he said. "Saab should be a leader there now."

To do that, Saab needs a partner with a first-class platform for a small luxury car. The company's Phoenix platform, which will underpin the 2012 9-3, accommodates cars and crossovers ranging from compact to full-size.

"To make the 92, we need another partner," Muller said over drinks Thursday. "I think we have it, but I can't say who. I don't know the timing yet, but ASAP. The sooner, the better."



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