CAR Magazine interview with Carl-Peter Forster

With thanks to Un-Zed’s Robin Capper, and at the risk of angering ye olde copyright gods, here we go……(CAR, drop me an email if you’ve a problem with this)…..

Car Magazine published a short interview with the new GM Europe head honcho, Carl-Peter Forster. Unfortunately there’s no weblink available, so I’m going the long route and typing it up here, so that all Saabists can hear the thoughts of one of the brand’s key players.

As you can see from the first question and answer, he’s a fairly straight shooter.

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We hear Saab might be sold to the Chinese or Renault-Nissan.
Bullshit. GM is committed to Saab.

Okay, so how will GM revive Saab?
You will see an expanded product range, sold globally, although we can’t afford a fortune. The 9-2x, 9-6x and 9-7x are bridge solutions, a necessary, intermediate step. We needed to get new product into our dealers quickly, to keep them happy until the new vehicles come along.

How will the Saab-Subaru relationship develop?
Don’t expect too much of that going forward. Subaru’s strength is it’s unique technical concepts – but that makes it difficult to join forces with other brands.

Is the lack of a flat four diesel engine a stumbling block?
Subaru might develop one boxer diesel, but we don’t need one, we need a range. And that’s very expensive. A lot of resources have gone into that (the diesel), but it’s difficult to carry into other brands. The boxer engine creates unique proportions, it’s a unique drivetrain that’s part of Subaru’s heritage.

What about a Saabaru 9-2x MkII
A bridge has a beginning and an end. No bridge goes on forever.

How will Saab get the 200,000 annual sales it needs?
Saab can make money at less volume. We need to thin fixed costs and improve margins by collaborating with GM more intensively.

Here’s an example of Saab independence gone wrong. It created a new electrical system for the 9-3 (even though it shares its chassis – and potentially its electrical systems – with the Vectra). The cost is Eu$10m to engineer alone. Plus the cost of components is higher due to lost economies of scale.

The 9-3 also has a different engine mounting system, apparently to meet US crash regulations. I would have spent the money on new models.

What makes a Saab a Saab?
Saab design should be Swedish, clean and modern, with carefully selected chosen materials like pale woods. It’s not difficult to create a Saab look. It has a great heritage but has lost much of it. How the hell could it give up the wraparound windshield? I would rather invest in that than electrical systems. The next generation will be distinctly Saab.

What about the ancient 9-5?
We will develop a successor in our European joint engineering and development network.

Can a Saab be rear-wheel-drive?
Yes. Many customers don’t appreciate the difference between front and rear-wheel drive. Saab stands for effortless acceleration and great handling, but I’m not sure that front-wheel drive defines a Saab.

Why launch an in-house rival for the 9-3 in the Cadillac BLS?
They will not compete – there is minimal overlap between Saab and Cadillac customers. Cadillac is targeting American-minded people in Europe who want a distinctive design. Underneath, the 9-3 has more in common with the BLS than it does with the Vectra, but the two cars are tuned differently. The BLS is important for boosting Cadillac dealer volumes.

Critics say Saab is withering away, starved of investment…
It’s not, as the new 9-3 V6 and wagon and facelifted 9-5 prove.

We have new product, we have to bring out additional product, develop our sales network, raise awareness, grow our volume and ultimately become profitable.

GM has made Saab’s Trollhattan plant and Opel’s Russelsheim plants compete for new models. Why?
The site selection debate was to force people to take a proactive stance on efficiency. It’s equally inefficient to have 5,000 people assembling 180,000 cars at Russelsheim and 3500 assembling 120,000 at Trollhattan.

We face competition from outside and within. No-one is protected in our industry.

If both get to benchmark levels of productivity and quality, we can afford to produce cars in Western Europe, close to our customers. The sites have suddenly become quite creative in finding ways to improve. If they implement them, their likelihood for survival for the next 15-20 years is very high.

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The interview briefly talks about Opel from then on.

As I mentioned, a straight shooter. I’m not sure I agree with everything he’s said here (e.g. being so dismissive about FWD being part of Saab’s defining characteristics), but I’m just a blogger, so who gives?

All in all, I like the man. Go hard, CPF!!

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8 Comments

  1. thanks for the re-type, swade! (you always bring your “‘a’ game.”)

    i agree with you about his “fwd” comment.

    what he said about saab + subaru being limited and, like a bridge, having a beginning and an ending, sounded wonderful to me.

    (i like his bluntness, too.)

    for the most part, it sounds like he’s on the right track.

  2. Ditto for me. I like his frankness about Saab’s waste of resources to develop proprietary subsystems that could have been better streamlined with other GM Europe’s products. These are elements of engineering that can and should be shared and not ever impact the customer perception of “platform-sharing” and brand uniqueness. A return to Saab’s aeronautic roots with wraparound windshields, woohoo ! And an end to 9-2X Saabaru, more woohoo ! Not that I think the WRX/Impreza are bad cars by any means, but I think GM/Saab could have “incubated” the project a little longer to make it more Saab-like instead of rushing it to the market “half-baked”. For that I blame Debra Kelly-Ennis.

    Here’s a toast to better days ahead !

  3. Agreed, Ken (and sorry it took so long to approve the comment – Saturday here).

    Everyone’s pretty anti-GM these days. I could well imagine even some wiring shared between models being a cause for outcry for some.

    “That 9-3 shares a red wire with the Vectra. It’s just a rebadged Opel!!!”

  4. Many of the quality issues of the last models are the power of the “purchase department” in the Automotive Industry and it’s independence to decide what materials and parts to purchase only thinking in economics of scale. If Saab decide to spend Xmillions to upgrade the electronic devices, the chasis because it not meet the Saab requirements of quality, functionality and can meet the customer satisfaction it must be spend this money to make the car competitive against the others. Saab need to concentrate his effort and resources in the important factors/issues that makes Saab a Saab and share and collaborate in the basic engineering to make avery good basic engineering but the problem is to find the frontier in how many sinergies you can do with the others and the money the would like to spend to meet his requirements, are not the same the quality requirements of Opel and Saab, and for this reason Saab for example spend more money to adapt the basic design to make his car more safe, more powerful, more stable, more comfortable, because Saab is in the premium segment and Opel not.

  5. Is that you, Edusaab?? I’m honoured.

    Cost allocation would certainly be a balancing act for a small division such as Saab. Which is why the success of the US-only models is critical in the next few years.

  6. Yes, it’s me….

    I always follow your blog, very very interesting for every Saaber. You make a great job. The job that I always dream to do, but I never have enough courage to begin with it.

    greetings

  7. Hola Edu,

    Thanks for the compliments. It’s a lot of fun to do and a good way to fill in a little bit of spare time.

    Thanks also for your enthusiasm for Saab. You manage to find a lot of good Saab stories I might miss and I’ve used a few of them here, always quoting you as the finder.

    Hope all’s well in sunny Spain.

  8. I like a lot the Automotive Industry, I always try to know his situation and stay informed. Saab is a brand that I love, I am very idetified with this brand, his philosophy of doing the cars, functionality, turbos, safety, electronics his heritage(I like a lot the aircrafts) for me is the perfect car….

    For this reason seeing the last 15 years and how GM was unable to do nothing and now that finally is doing something with Saab, we must wait another 4-5 years to see something real interesting, but quite disapointing thanks to the same idea of the 90’s and the need of reduction in costs. Thanks to a Spanish(Superlopez)engineer brilliant in Logistics issues but hurt a lot Opel and Saab with his manners and methods of reduction in costs thanks to the 9-5 Saab could survive and now we look that Saabs will be produced in germany and partially developed there….

    About Carl Peter Foster words….I am agree with him partially, but it’s quite stupid to say that Saab waste money developing a different electrical system for the 9-3ss, with fiber optic and with one of the most advanced in the market, when Saab is a leadership in the industry in the car electronics and GM uses it, as the TechII, Trionic and many others….Thanks to its electrical system Saab make a big step in that issue, always Saabs were well known for his anti-thieft safety, and for this reason Saab must use a common electrical system that can be hacked by a teenager??.(take a look at the audio/climate controls of the next 9-5 and compare it with the controls of the Pontiac lucerne, saturn, chevrolet and other GM models, then remember some words of Bob Lutz in his blog about sinergies and the customer will not look under the dashboard to know what parts are saab and what not….) If all that money that Saab spend in making better the basic Epsilon design(compare the rigidity of the chassis of the Vectra, 18000NM/grade with the 9-3ss 22000NM/grade) and make a new model then what changes will introduce in them?? another badge engineering?? It has no sense. They can say that is a global development, with teams of every brand developes a basic product and then locally make changes, but where is the frontier?

    For me it’s a pleasure to collaborate in everything related to Saab, there is a strong community that must survive, I was one of the founder of the Saab Club of Spain and it’s a pleasure to make meetings, know people that like Saab and so….

    Here in Spain…..I live near Barcelona and the Mediterranian climate is quite horrible in this season, near the sea with high humidity and high temepratures(over 70%) it seems that you have all the body with glue.

    greetings

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