Automobile.com have an interesting article today analysing the future for Saab. Their opinion is that despite recent reports, Saab will likely stay in GM’s hands at least until the production slated for Trollhattan through 2009 runs out. After that it appears that all bets are off (from their viewpoint).
Over the past few weeks there have been countless headlines in car magazines and newspapers across the globe stating that Saab is doomed, and for good reason. Lacking a clean bill of health due to ever-sliding sales, hampered by a miniscule product lineup and extremely strong competition, it looks as if Saab has little more than a dim future.
Their basis for this is Saab’s ageing lineup. The 9-3 is now three years old without a significant revamp and the 9-5 will be 10 years old by the time the new model is due in 2008. The medium-term future of the 9-7x is unknown and now that the partnership with Fuji has been dissolved, the current 9-2x will expire after the 2006 models are sold. It should be noted that in the early 2000’s, Saab had a full model range in the design stages under the oversight of Michael Mauer. The 9x and 9-3x concept cars were the first evidence of this and the 9-3 SportCombi is the most recent release from this portfolio.
So what happened?
A quick recap is necessary to grasp an understanding of the issues that Saab has been facing. While its true that pointing fingers after the fact isnt always fair, plans made by upper management with respect to the brand dont seem all that bright.
It seems there were two major factors that fit into the ‘not all that bright’ category. The first was the blowout in costs in the design of the 9-3 Sport Sedan. The electrical systems couldn’t be shared with other vehicles, thereby spreading the cost. All up, cost controls seem to have thrown out the window and without huge sales to enable recovery, GM went to the beancounter’s business manual and did what most companies would do: it applied the handcuffs.
That new model range was canned and substantial investment dried up to a trickle. The AWD plans that were slated for the 9-3x went into the trash and we recently got a ‘refresh’ instead of a new 9-5.
Automobile.com gaze into their own crystal ball and see several new models for Saab’s future. Here’s hoping they’re right as the brand certainly needs some new blood. What do they see? Well, it’s pretty much what we’ve been hearing for the last little while. What we need is for someone, anyone, at GM to come out and deliver.
The first vehicle off the rank will most likely be the 9-4x, based on a similar design ethos as the Saturn Vue.
….the potential answer to Saabs financial problems is the 9-4X. As insiders have suggested, it would be a compact SUV built up from the Epsilon architecture, or more specifically, the 9-3s platform. With production of the 9-5 slated to move from Sweden to Opels HQ in Russelsheim, Germany, this would free up space on the Trollhattan assembly facility to produce it, and its Cadillac equal, the BLX. This solution is popular with Saab; giving the Trollhattan plant enough of a production schedule to avoid closure.
The other popular vehicle theory is a 9-2x replacement engineered around the Astra from Opel in Germany. This was also hinted at by Auto Express back in May. The car was said to be a spiritual successor to the 900 (good marketing, but the proof will be in the pudding, friends).
A second model, perhaps called the 9-1 or 9-2 would be Saabs entry into the compact hatchback market, and would act as the successor to the Impreza-based 9-2X. This has long been suggested by enthusiasts, and frankly would be a very practical and financially conscious one as well. This vehicle involves reworking the European Opel Astra hatchback and its components, including a redesign to fit into Saabs model lineup.
Finally, there’s been allusions to a reborn Saab Sonett based on the Kappa platform that underpins the Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky. Automobile.com cite this as the least likely to see production anytime soon, though it has been mentioned a few times now, most notably by Jay Spenchian himself back in June.
If all goes well, a third, and perhaps final vehicle could be instituted, not so much a money maker but more of an enjoyable sports car. When the Kappa lightweight RWD sports car platform was still in its concept car form, GM produced many different prototypes for its brands, from Vauxhall/Opel to Pontiac, Chevrolet and Saturn. A production version for Saab could eventually arise from the Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky duo, slotting into the range as a modern day Sonnet.
I firmly believe that Saab are positioned to really take off in the next 5 – 10 years. Given the rising costs of fuel, Saab’s knowledge of turbo technology and flexfuel vehicle development, its reputation as an innovator and as a pacesetter in safety should position it for a real assault on the marketplace. The potential for growth is enormous providing that everything’s done right.
GM – you’ve got to spend money to make money. I think Saab’s future will extend well beyond the Trollhattan four-year deadline as long as the next 4 years are spent profitably. Not profitably just in terms of the bottom line, but profitably in terms of development. The crucial development years under Michael Mauer were reduced to a very limited output. That’s a real shame because the potential, as exhibited by the 9-3x, was almost without limit. It’s vital for Saab’s future that that sort of waste doesn’t happen again.
Maybe they’ve only got one shot in the locker before GM throws its hands in the air and sells the brand. Maybe that wouldn’t be a bad thing either. I just hope that the carnival ride that Saab seem to be on at the moment ends soon and we get a batch of fresh, innovative and progressive models to challenge the Germans with.