Jan-Ake Jonsson interview

Big thanks to Johnny for emailing me this English language translation of an interview with Jan-Ake Jonsson, appearing at Aftonbladet.

I’ve really got to learn Swedish!!

Anyway, here it is:

(AB = Aftonbladet)
(JAJ = Jan-Ake Jonsson)

JAJ: From a brand point of view, developing and producing Saabs in Sweden is necessary. Building some niche cars in Trollhattan is not enough. If the production is moved completely outside Sweden, it’s doubtful whether the brand will survive.

AB: What is the biggest risk in moving Saab outside Sweden?
JAJ: Saab would loose its unique Swedish and Scandinavian elements. My task is to show Detroit the importance of development and production in Sweden.

AB: What will a Saab look like in the future?
JAJ: There has been quite a lot of ambiguity over the years. Turbos, hatchbacks, sedans, large wagons. The only car that has been constant is the convertible, and that is our greatest success. For example, I believe that we should not prioritize load capacity – the 9-3 SportCombi is just right. The cars should be driver oriented, not load-luggers.

AB: Moving the next generation 9-3 to Rüsselsheim has already been decided. But what about the next 9-5?
JAJ: It is decided that there will be a new 9-5, but not where it’s going to be produced or which platform it will be based on. It could be the Epsilon 2 (like the next generation 9-3) but also another one.

AB: What are the chances of keeping the car in Trollhattan?
JAJ: My ambition is to attract production to Trollhattan. This requires that Trollhattan is so good that GM says “let’s build cars here”. The target is now to show that we are right up there with the best. Next year we’re going to produce five different cars in Trollhattan. Two models, the 9-3 SportCombi and the Cadillac BLS, are completely new launches. If we can make that work, then Trollhattan has a chance.

AB: Carl-Peter Forster (GM Europe president) told me that Trollhattan could be a niche car manufacturer and that the 9-3 convertible could be moved to Sweden. And maybe a future SUV. What is your comment on that?
JAJ: Producing 20,000 convertibles a year in Trollhattan is not enough. We’re not likely to get the coming small SUV either. No, we must try to keep the 9-5.

AB: Talking about SUV’s, what’s your opinion on the 9-7X?
JAJ: It’s completely right from a short term point of view. We need more models quickly and the 9-7X cost almost nothing to develop. Same thing with the 9-6X which is based on the Fuji Heavy Industries Subaru Tribeca. But of course, a big frame-built truck that consumes a lot of fuel is not the future. I drove the 9-7X very gently from Gothenburg to Stockholm, with a consumption of 15 liters/100 km. That’s obviously not good. The coming 9-4X will be a completely different car, a crossover with car-like qualities. It will also be sold in Europe.

AB: A couple of years ago you had an almost finished four-wheel-drive version of the 9-3 SportCombi in Trollhattan. Wouldn’t it have been better to finish that, rather than go for alternatives like the 9-2X and 9-7X?
JAJ: In 2002, Saab was making enormous losses. Detroit demanded that we put an end to that and sort out our finances. That was completely right. We had to take a time out. And developing the 9-3X would have been much more expensive than the 9-2X and 9-7X. Moreover, we had to get new models out quickly.

AB: But the 9-2X is a complete flop!
JAJ: It is correct that the car sold badly as long as the price was 10 -15 % over that of the Impreza’s. But this summer we lowered the price to a symbolic amount over the Impreza price, and then it sold well.

AB: But did you make any money on it then?
JAJ: No, we did not make much money out of it, but we sold a lot of cars in our stock.

AB: Will there be a successor to the 9-2X?
JAJ: No, hardly.

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7 Comments

  1. At least he doesn’t mince words. Shame to hear that load carrying is not a focus; this is something I consider Saab very good at, in a clever, practical, unconventional way.

    Interesting.

  2. I’m sure he’s speaking relatively. Some of the meaning may be lost in translation too. They’ve always been good at maximising space and I’m sure that’s a consideration in the design process, though the focus is more on driver-experience enhancement. Space is a by-product.

  3. With Jay at the helm of Saab USA and Jan of Saab Global (The Jay and Jan Tag Team ?), Saab could totally turn around the way Audi, Porsche and Nissan did if the right mix of genuine Saab design, engineering prowess, leveraging of GM’s global resources and other partnerships were to coincide intelligently with the right timing.

    Imagine next-gen 9-3/9-5/9-7X and upcoming 9-3X/9-4X/9-6X with hybrid, E85, turbo’d biodiesel/conventional diesel and gasoline powerplants, powerful yet clean and economical motivation applied to FWD/AWD platforms, covering all segments of the market. Then, a halo 9-1/Sonett IV emerging to recapture the essence of Saab (I don’t even care if it’s RWD, but preferably AWD like the Audi TT Quattro). All these models would be dressed in classic Saab designs including wraparound windshield, 3-port grille, aircraft-inspired interiors, aggressive stance, efficient packaging, hockey stick C-pillar and practical payload capacities.

    Like Martin Luther King Jr. once said …. “I HAVE A DREAM !!”

  4. I’m not sure the translation is accurate. Based on the flow of the conversation and the use of specific words, I’d say the point of the last three questions/answers is:

    “The 9-2x was a flop?”
    “Well, it was priced too high, when we priced it lower, it sold well”
    “So did you make anything on it”
    “Not really, but we sold alot of units”
    “So must it be replaced”
    “Probably not at this time”

    I don’t believe this indicates the 9-2x won’t be continued, I think it only means, relative to the questioning, that Saab doesn’t feel -simply because of the 2005 sales rate of the 9-2X- that it needs to be replaced. In a way, the article actually indicates Saab plans to continue it and not create a replacement.

  5. I recall the interview with Carl-Peter Forster who, when asked if the 9-2X partnership with Subaru will continue after the current model generation, he said, “Every bridge has a beginning and an end.” That to me sounded like our lil’ Saabaru is done after 2007/08. But there have been rumors/news that the next 9-2X will be based on the hot Opel/Vauxhall Astra VXR 🙂

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