As it’s motor show time, the company executives are out in full force, and Saab’s Jan-Ake Jonsson is no exception.
This article appeared in the Swedish paper DN.se and we all owe a huge debt of gratitude to ctm for providing this translation. Awesome stuff.
It started in Detroit, continued in Geneva, and here in Frankfurt it was out in full force – the green wave under the dark shadow of the climate change.
Jan-Åke Jonsson, since 2 years CEO Saab Automobile AB, thinks it somewhat strange.
– “I think there is a big lack of awareness about the issues we have to start working with, it’s just lately things started to happen. Europe is one step behind Sweden, while the US is even further behind. But even in Sweden there is a surprisingly lack of knowledge, it’s been the more extreme organisations that many has ignored that has been on the right track all the time.”
In the debate, the auto industry is often publicly disgraced and the answer usually was that the consumer didn’t ask for green cars.
– “First and foremost, we in the auto industry must take our responsibility. At the same time – if you look globally at CO2 emissions – the transportation system is responsible for 14% of those, it’s really not that much. Then there is the question of how much our customers want to compromise. Our ethanol vehicles consumes more fuel, so you have to fill them up more often. People complain about it and are not interested just because of a simple matter like that.”
According to a survey, consumers think that Toyota is the most environmentally friendly car maker. Do you think the same?
– “No. They have been successful with the hybrid vehicles, and for that reason lot’s of costumers consider them extremely environmentally friendly. Take a Lexus 400 H, a monster. It’s a hybrid, by some classified as an environmentally friendly car, if you step on the gas it spews out CO2. Toyota is not better than anyone else if you look at the average CO2 emissions from them.”
While auto makers try to outdo each other with green cars, Saab puts a black turbo in the spotlight – lot’s of horsepowers, rapid acceleration, and 250 km/h in top speed are the words in the advertising. It’s like nothing have happened. The car feels out of place at the show. The criticism doesn’t worry Jan-Åke Jonsson.
– “Of course, I would like that more customers used a green car – the reality is that globally petrol and diesel are still dominating. For us, to have a sound business we must also have cars like this. And, turbo is important for us from an environmentally friendly standpoint, you get lot’s of power from small cylinder volumes.”
Opel dominated at the GM presentation today?
– “We got lot’s of credit for the BioPower. I don’t feel inferior in this circumstances. We have lot’s of room [freedom?] within GM. Here at the auto show the new 9-3 is shown for the first time, but most of the journalists have already seen it.
Volvo got some press in the German paper Welt am Sonntag for the hybrid. Have you seen anything about Saab in German papers?
– “No, to be honest I haven’t seen anything in German papers.”
What do you understand by this?
– “There are lot’s of news here, they can’t cover everything. Then of course, if you have something extreme like the Volvo concept in a show like this it will get the attention.”
Do you think this whole thing with green cars is just a trend that soon will go away?
– “No, I don’t think so. Especially in Europe, authorities are toughen up the laws. It’s not something simple that we do just like that.”
What do you think about the new tougher demands?
– “As a private person, I think it’s the right thing to do.”
And as CEO for Saab?
– “The auto industry, of course, have to contribute. But there is room for a discussion on how fast we can make radical changes. But we can all agree on that we have to do something and that now.”
How would you like to have it?
– “At first, some standardisation. EU is active, that’s good, but what about the US. And what about Europe outside the EU. Then I would like more considerations to alternative fuels.”
The ethanol cars are the big alibi for Saab in this discussion. According to Jan-Åke Jonsson, the Saab model line-up emissions from fossil fuels are something like 35-50 g/km but goes up to over 200 g/km when including the alternative fuels. The new EU directive demands 120 g/km.
– “But, emissions from alternative fuels are not harmful since they are absorbed in the atmosphere,” he says, and think they shouldn’t be taken in to the equation.
There are some discussions about ethanol because of the CO2 that are released when producing it.
– “It’s still more environmentally friendly to use corn as fuel than to use petrol or diesel. Then we have to look at what we can achieve with the next generation of alternative fuels.”
Absolute limits and fines are not things that Jan-Åke Jonsson believes in. That means that some can just buy themselves out of the demands. He rather talks about “realistic goals” that the industry can achieve. Once again, Jan-Åke Jonsson raise the question about what the consumers think, how much they are prepared to pay. In Europe, Sweden has one of the oldest fleet of cars.
– “I saw a number saying that there are one million Volvo cars in Sweden. I cannot guarantee that they are of the latest model.”
There has been some difficulties exporting Saab’s ethanol vehicles because of the lack of E85 abroad. There are 900 E85 service-stations in Sweden, but only 90 in Germany. France is a country that is putting resources into E85, and Jan-Åke Jonsson thinks that the fuel has a future just because of the simple reason that we will be without oil someday.
Opel’s new hybrid, is that an interesting thing for Saab?
– “Absolutely. We are a part of GM and have access to everything that are developed. An E85 hybrid wouldn’t be bad. I believe in that technology, using E85 to charge the batteries is a really good idea. The issue is the battery, that should not only be able to power the vehicle but at the same time have an operational life of 10-15 years.”
Why wasn’t it Saab that premiered the hybrid?
– “Doesn’t really matter who. Sometimes we get the stuff, sometimes it’s Opel or Chevrolet. We showed E100 in Geneva. Things are spread among the brands inside GM. That is something we have to live with. I’m satisfied as long as I get the technology to our cars.”
When will we see a smaller Saab?
– “We are looking into that. It’s a segment that is growing. BMW has one, there is the Audi A3 and the Volvo C30. It would be suitable for Saab. It’s the car that we plan to build in Sweden.”
The new 9-3 and new 9-5 will both be built in Rüsselsheim in Germany. The smaller car is the hope for production in Trollhättan.
– “Saab needs a big operation in Sweden. It’s important for Saab as a brand, it creates credibility. It’s all about our Swedish heritage. Otherwise, it would be like BMW without any operations in Germany.”
Saab is not yet a profitable company. GM has put huge money into it during the years. According to Jan-Åke Jonsson, they are spending lot’s of money right now on development so it will take some time. He is not worried about GM losing patience with the little Swede.
– “We have an incredible firm support.”