Saab in the US: 2008

I’ve just been observing some things and it looks to me like 2008 is going to be a much better year for Saab in the US than 2007. It’s shaping up to be a more ‘assertive’ year at the very least, and if SaabUSA can muster up the $$$ to support it, I think there could be some great results.

2007 has certainly been a flat year. Whilst Born From Jets has been roundly praised within the company, the numbers show that it hasn’t yet translated into bums on seats. Here’s the graph for the last two years:

salesUS0607-1.JPG

SaabUSA were trumpeting the fact that they had six months of positive figures at the end of 2006. and that’s a true and good thing. But as you can see in this chart, that growth was based on the depressed numbers from 2005 after the Employee Pricing for Everyone fire sale that GM did in the middle of that year.

The chart for the last 12 months (Apr 06 to Apr 07) tells a slightly different story:

salesUS0607-2.JPG

As you can see, there’s a definite downward trend in the numbers in the last 12 months. Whilst Born From Jets may rate highly in terms of visibility and what I’d call ‘absorption’, it doesn’t seem to have paid off – yet.

Here’s the light at the end of the tunnel.

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First, there’s the MCE Saab 9-3 coming in the 2008 model year. We’ll see it as early as next month but it won’t hit showrooms in the US until late in the year. This is Saab’s bread and butter model, accounting for around two-thirds of it’s sales volume worldwide. It’s been restyled in a more aggressive manner that I think is going to resonate well with the US market. As we’ve seen from the photos of new 9-3s painted in dark and light colors, there’s going to be an expression for everyone here.

In 2008 we’ll likely see the real effects of the enhanced 9-3 range kick in with the addition of XWD and the release of the ‘Black Turbo’ vehicle. This is going to expand the range with significant additions that people are asking for – i.e. AWD for those that want it and a more distinctive and high performance flagship vehicle for the range.

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Then there’s the 9-7x. It’s significant enough that I’d put this second in the discussion. The 9-7x has been Saab’s second-best selling vehicle in the US market in the last 12 months. In fact, in the 19 months that there’s records for the 9-7x, it’s outsold the 9-5 in all but three of those months (and two of those were the first two months of it’s existence).

Purism aside, the 9-7x matters. It adds volume, extends the Saab range and gives families that want a bigger alternative a chance to stay with the brand. The fact that it’s the best of the GM360 vehicles is also another good thing.

Recent mumblings indicate that the 9-7x is also going to get a lift for 2008, with the possible use of a huge LS2 V8 and some spec changes to create an Aero version of the SUV. Again, like the 9-3, this looks like the addition of a little more attitude and “deliberateness” in the lineup. A willingness to grow enough to stand up and say “we’ve got something real to offer here”. I think it’s a good thing.

Whether you like the idea or not, I tend to think that if it’s good enough for Porsche then it’s good enough for Saab. There’s people out there who will see and buy this vehicle and appreciate it. The fact that Saab have made a solid base even better provides some kudos for the brand amongst that set of buyers who will actually be interested in it. I’ve said it a bunch of times – I am yet to hear a complaint about the 9-7x from anyone who’s actually bought one. I’ve featured a few on here at TS and kept an eye for a while on the various ownership forums on the web.

Those of you who, like me, don’t tend to think about SUV’s too much, my advice is: don’t think about it too much. Right now, Saab needs more volume and exposure and the 9-7x gives this in a way that does give some credit to the brand amongst the people that are interested in it. If the prime directive is to keep Saab in play for the benefit of driving future Saabs made more in the Saab ethos, I can cope with that.

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Then there’s the 9-5. I’d forecast that not a lot will change and this vehicle will continue to sell in small numbers in the US. Numbers that lie about how good the car actually is. It’s a shame, really, but with a limited budget SaabUSA aren’t going to market this car outside of a company-wide marketing program like the recently launched comparison program on their website.

For those of you who are interested in the 9-5, I’ve received a little bit of advance info about the 2008 model.

Most noticeably, there’s going to be a number of changes to the color pallette available. My advice shows that there’s the possibility of five colors being axed from the range. So far, I’ve only heard about two replacements. Perhaps there’ll be more coming.

Out for 2008: Laser Red

Current colors not listed for 2008: Nocturne Blue, Chili Red, Smoke Beige, Parchment Silver.

In for 2008: Snow Silver, Pepper Green

A few equipment snippets for 2008 on the 9-5: Rain-Sensing Wipers standard, Aero models get 60th Anniversary wheels, Aero wagons get chrome roof bars, Semi-Aniline leather as an option, With the Visibility package the outside mirrors are power folding.

Does the inclusion of “Aero Models” in that advice mean that there’s going to more than one 9-5 specification in the US this year? I’m not sure. If I find out then I’ll let you know.

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The 9-3 redesign has received good press so far and the addition of XWD and Black Turbo in the coming year should be able to build on that.

The 9-7x will be built up for that specific market niche and then replaced by the 9-4x in the near-mid term. Jan-Ake Jonsson himself has referred to the 9-4x as ‘perfect’ for Saab and the direction they’re heading and it’ll be built in Mexico, which will solve a lot of the currecy issues plaguing cars built in Europe.

The 9-5 will hold its course, selling at a drip feed pace until 2009, when we should finally see a replacement that’s also being whispered about with high praise.

Whether it makes a dent in the US market or not remains to be seen, but the 9-1 will also eventually come.

The US is a key market for Saab, and what all of the above points to is the building of a more stand-out range of vehicles for the US market that’s going to give Saab a greater ability to market something to a greater number of people. If they can get the products right, I really do believe that this can lead to the goal we all want – a stable and successful Saab company with it’s heart in Sweden producing cars that hold on to the best parts of Saab’s heritage.

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11 Comments

  1. Swade, there already is an Aero package in America, which is weird (and in my opinion, too bad, as the name should be reserved for special models.) It includes, according to the SAAB BYO configurator at saabusa.com, a “lowered, sport-tuned chassis, leather-appointed sport seats, metallic interior trim, and Saab Aero Academy.”
    As one can see from the following car, being auctioned on eBay, buying the Aero package evidently gets you Aero badging รก la the old model with its bespoke engine:
    http://cherry-hill-classic-cars.ebizautos.com/shared/viewer.aspx?&iid=1587304&src=eBay&pid=12
    When I saw that the 260 hp one was going to be called the “2.3t” in America, I had visions of a 300+ hp Aero dancing in my head, but alack, such things appear not in the cards. Meanwhile, that Black Turbo is sounding tastier than ever! I wonder what they’ll call it…Thunderbolt in Swedish perhaps??

  2. Well, the US can only go one way. What I do not understand is why GM is not integrating saab better with saturn. One reason saab is selling better in spain is because of integration with opel. THis should be the standard all around the world with dealers selling both in clearly separate areas.

    Another branding thing that I do not get, and I noticed it when a met a old 900 a few days ago. One of the core saab things are turbocharging. Why does saab not write turbo on each an every trunk with capital letters. The turbo is a saab characteristic, and should be branded as such. A simple t does not do it for most people.

    Looking forward to a sharp designed 94. I agree with swade that the 97 does not have to be bad. It might not be a core saab, but its still better than most gm trucks. If porsche can do a suv, and soon a four door, and if audi can build cars together with skoda, saab should be able to do the suv route too. IN the short run its about sellign more cars, and in the long run to make money.

  3. MJL, thanks for the spot on the Aero 9-7x. That’s what happens when you write under time constraints and don’t stop to proof read properly.

    I like to leave my mistakes in wherever possible, so I’ll chalk this one up with the rest.

    I’d love to see them reprise the Viggen badge for the Black Turbo, but somehow I don’t think that’s going to happen. But I still hope it does.

    And I totally agree on the turbo badging, cj.

  4. Pretty comprehensive swade, nice work.

    On the “matt aluminium” trim, i think this stuff looks cheap and nasty and in many cars tends to wear off a little too easily. If the interior trim remains an option with this don’t mind.

    The turbo badging, i don’t have a problem with the “T” . The current badging i like better than say the 900 models prior to 5 years ago.

    But i think these are generally trivial things. For me, Mr SAAB convert, i’m more concerned about the quality, reliability, unique style (plenty of that) and value.

    I think these key things will bring new customers to the fold.

    BTW has there ever been a Gripen model?

  5. Whoa, sorry, totally didn’t make this clear, but I was talking about the 9-5. I don’t know anything about a 9-7X Aero; currently, they’re just called the 4.2i and 5.3i (the latter engine being almost twice the size of the previously biggest Saab engine to my knowledge…but I won’t get started…)
    An Aero 9-7X would be sweet, as long as it was…what’s the word again? Oh yeah. TURBOCHARGED.

  6. Craig: There’s been a Griffen, it was a 9000 sedan model. There were only like 400 in the us, I think. Search through the 9000 archive on this site, there’s a post with a nice long video about the Griffin.

  7. Something else to be considered (and laugh if you will) is that SAAB has one fewer model to sell this year. The 9-2X wasn’t a spectacular seller, but it did add to the sales numbers. In February at the 60th Anniversary Media Event in San Diego Jay Spenchian did mention that sales have been down slightly due to not having 9-2Xs to sell anymore.

  8. Craig, I don’t think GM is allowed to use the “Gripen” name as that trademark was retained by SAAB Aerospace when the aerospace and automobile divisions were split. I’m sure Gripen International (http://www.gripen.com/en/index.htm) retained the trademark.

    Now, has there ever been a “Draken” edition should be the real question! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  9. Draken, yes but you can’t beat those forward canards on the Viggen for agility.

    I think Viggen was more Dragon than the Draken…..

  10. I can imagine snow silver, but does anybody know, what pepper green is going to be like?
    The only match I could find was the (very nice!) colour of a ’69 Pontiac GTO – it’s a medium dark green that would fit a Saab well!

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