German Saabs, Swedish Opels

Via Reuters. (and new update added below)

Many of you will remember a decision last year that cause a lot of heartache for Saabisti worldwide: the next generation of 9-3 and 9-5 Saabs would be produced at Opel’s Russelsheim plant in Germany (original story here).

It seems the tables may have been turned and Saab’s Trollhattan plant may be the future cradle for Opel’s next generation Astra, and I’d guess other models produced off the same platform (the next Saab 9-2 or 9-1 perhaps?).

The case for the 9-3 and 9-5 being produced in Germany was made as follows:

The decision to build Opel and Saab models in Russelsheim was based upon extensive analysis of numerous factors including capacity requirements, investment, labor costs, plant efficiency and flexibility, working-hour models, logistics and currency issues, to name but a few.

Perhaps we could read between the lines and presume some heavy threats of union action, as well as platform requirements, were the main factors amongst this.  Moving the 9-3 and 9-5 to Russelsheim will mean Saab’s Epsilon II models will be made alongside Opel’s Vectra, allowing for some efficiencies that didn’t exist in Trollhattan.

The Russelsheim plant also has a much bigger workforce, which would have meant a much angrier workforce if the Epsilon architecture had been removed from the site. 

Labor costs and productivity?  Well, the latest report from Reuters seems to put that baby to bed:

"Saab also has good chances to manufacture the next Astra generation," the publication quoted Carl-Peter Forster, the U.S. automaker’s head of European operations, as saying, adding that the Trollhattan assembly plant was "super-productive."

The decision on where to build the revamped Astra starting in 2010 will be made by early next year at the latest, the report said…..

….Saab brand chief Jan-Ake Jonsson was quoted in Automobilwoche as saying manufacturing costs are roughly 25 percent lower in Trollhattan compared to German plants, and that it increased its productivity by 15 percent last year.

"And we want to improve it this year again by a double-digit rate," he said.

This is obviously great news for the people of Trollhattan, whose expertise and product gives me a great amount of enjoyment every single day. 

Any additional capacity there keeps the plant alive and the dream that Saabs may be produced there en masse once again.  At the moment it looks like that entry model, which I’m still calling the 9-2, may be the only one for a little while.

GM: Keep Saab Swedish. 



Automotive News are now picking the story up too, including the bit about the smaller Saab:

Awarding Saab part of that production would make sense strategically. The next Astra will be based on GM’s Delta architecture, which also will underpin a future small Saab model to be called the 9-1.

"A compact Saab will come to market at the earliest in 2010," Forster said.

Forster said a final decision on whether to build the 9-1 still has not been taken.

Saab Managing Director Jan-Ake Jonsson said that Trollhatten currently is operating at two-thirds of its capacity. Last year 103,000 units of the 9-3 and 9-5 were built at the plant.

Jonsson said GM would not need to make large investments at Trollhatten to produce Delta-platform cars there.

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1 Comment

  1. Trollhattan is, I presume, getting the same wake-up call that Detroit has been getting for the last 10 years. One can no longer demand month-long vacations, cradle-to-grave contract guarantees, yearly wage increases, shorter work weeks, college tuition programs, etc. in a global market. Frankly, I’m surprised that a German plant won out in the initial evaluation given that other locations like Korea and Eastern Europe have shown that they can make a competitive product at a lower cost.

    I understand that Swedes live in a different social environment than much of the world and they expect and/or mandate some of these. However, there are consequences. Losing manufacturing jobs due to excessive labor demands is one of them.

    Don’t get me wrong — I want Trollhattan to remain open, too. I’m just frustrated that someone isn’t standing up and solving the cost efficiency problem at the roots rather than trying to stay ahead by trimming the leaves. My two cents.

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