Another piece of reportage from Sweden, appearing in Dagens Nyheter.
Again, my lasting thanks to ctm for spotting and translating this one. A champion effort.
DETROIT – No big news for Saab Automobile AB at the auto show in the American capitol of cars, but Jan-Åke Jonsson, CEO at Saab Automobile, has confidence for the future. In a couple of years time, he is or counting on a new 9-5, a cross-over (a car with SUV heritage and 4-wheeldrive that could be named 9-4), and a smaller car to fill the gap after the discontinued 9-2 (which was based on Subaru Impreza).
– “We are working on a smaller car than the 9-3.”
He is not willing to accept that the 9-2 and the 9-7 SUV (based on Chevrolet Trailblazer) were bad ideas.
-“You have to share [platforms / development]. 9-7 has been a good deal with 6,000 cars sold. But we should not have made the 9-2.”
General Motors, which Saab Automobile is a part of, is currently developing a smaller SUV to meet the competition from Volvo XC 60 and others, but the it is still some time away. Saab is one of the brands that will get that new model. Jan-Åke Jonsson shares the enthusiasm for this new segment with Volvo.
But there is one problem that the CEO has a hard time to escape.
The introduction of the BioPower-engine (which runs on E85 […]) has given Saab a reputation of environmentally friendly cars that is hard to fully keep up with in the U.S. The trademark for Saab is 4-cyliner engines.
– “But you have to have V6-engines in the U.S.”
At the important American market, big powerful engines are still the sign of a luxury car and status. When Volvo XC 90 was introduced, it drew criticism for the lack of a V8-engine. That has now been taking care of with the help of Yamaha.
– “The climate issue is not as big in the U.S. as in Sweden,” says Jan-Åke Jonsson.
And there is another ‘problem’ with the American customers.
– “They are not loyal to one brand. Better deals or new technology can often see buyers moving to a new brand.”
Jan-Åke Jonsson know that lots of cars in the U.S. can run on E85, but also that the infrastructure for E85 is missing. But there is hope. American farmers see this as a way to convert the current surplus of grain into fuel. And with a new Democratic Congress, there is hope for a renewed interest in this.
But Saab is already working on the pure ethanol: E100. The auto industry is talking about three main solutions with this technology. The gas in E85 is really only needed to start the car. That is why there is a simple Brazilian solution with a small tank with gas to be used to start the car. Another alternative is electric pre-heating. But the main alternative a true direct injection of E100 into the cylinder.
– “E100 is exciting [technology],” says Jan-Åke Jonsson.
He see a future of gas station with pumps at which the customers set the ratio themselves. Today, some oil companies change the ratio down to E70 depending on climate and time of year to avoid problems.
While so called experts are advising GM to drop Saab the same way as Oldsmobile, Saab has not given up. But what will happen with the Trollhättan plant is still an open issues. The Cadillac BLS, manufactured at that plant (and based on the Saab 9-3), was not a success. So the question of what to produce in Trollhätten is still not solved.
According to Jan-Åke Jonsson, there is a possibility that Trollhättan will produce both the new smaller GM car and a Saab model. The decision is to be made this year. In any case, the production is guaranteed until 2010.
He thinks that the critics are too negative in their opinion of Saab Automobile, and that they neglect the progress that has been made the last two years. For example:
– the 9-3 SportCombi
– the 9-7X
– concept cars like the Aero-X and the 9-3 ethanol hybrid
– sales record, in a big way thanks to the 9-5 BioPower