No Hirsch for Australia

One of the vexing situations for Saab enthusiasts here in Australia is that there’s no Hirsch products available for sale here. I’m after some Hirsch rims for my Viggen and I know Richo’s interested in some for his as well. I also know that there’d be a number of Saab enthusiasts out there who would be interested in getting some more out of their Saabs as well.

One of the things I had on my list to sort out at the launch for the 2008 Saab 9-3 today was the Hirsch situation. So at lunch I sat down with Neil Whitehead, the contact point at Saab Oz for Hirsch.

We started down the standard answer route, whereby they were still looking into doing the Hirsch mods on a select number of cars and gaining compliance status for them but this hasn’t happened yet. Neil then mentioned that he’d asked another guy at Saab Oz, Richard, to look at the business case for Hirsch here in Australia and it was then that we got down to the real answer.

To cut to the chase, whilst Saab would like to be able to offer Hirsch here, there just isn’t a viable business case for it here given Saab’s low volume. This comes down to a few things.

First, Saab have to get clearance to offer the products. This involves testing them against Australian Design Rules and issuing a second compliance plate for each car that receives the modifications. All of this costs money and therefore adds to the cost of the modification. For the small number that would be done, it would put the price well beyond what people would be willing to pay.

Secondly, the way GM’s structured here it would make warehousing parts too costly for such a small volume segment of the market.

A big part of the problem seems to be the way the relationship with Hirsch is structured. Whilst Saab has said globally that Hirsch is an approved Saab modification that will be warranted by the global company, each country has to organise its own agreement with Hirsch to fit the products. Other performance arms, such as BMW’s “M” vehicles and Audi’s “S” line don’t work this way. The modifications are done by the company, rather than by a third party provider approved by the manufacturer.

It would seem then, that the global solution involves Saab developing it’s own high-performance line, or endorsing the Hirsch arrangement as a global one – part of the standard model line. I asked Jan-Ake Jonsson about this, and the quick version of his answer is that they’ve got other priorities to fix at the moment before tackling such things, but that in terms of being a premium brand, a special performance identity is something that they will likely be looking for in the future – but not before the basics are in place and delivered consistently.

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The bottom line: Aussie Saabers looking to enhance their cars will need to look aftermarket as has been the case in the past. Elkparts and Abbott will be getting my business when the time comes.

Incidentally, it was mentioned that Saab have to issue new compliance plates for Hirsch modified vehicles as when you alter the performance of the car it’s illegal to not have a new compliance plate in place. This means that all chips like BSR etc actually make your car illegal.

It’s not going to be policed, but it’s interesting nonetheless and goes part way to explaining the small market dilemma they have here.

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6 Comments

  1. The argument against offering certain mods here in the US is the same. The emissions regulations (especially in places like California) are too stringent and require additional testing for each setup. It simply isn’t feasible many times.

  2. I still refuse to agree that the assumption on low volumes is a valid one. Cars of much higher value sell and competitors to Saab do bring these optioned vehicles regardless of the low volume. To date I’ve only spotted 2 RS4 since it’s release nearly 3 years ago. You won’t call that high volume and a viable business case !!! This is nonsense !!!

  3. Jose, I think when they were talking low volume they meant the brand as a whole. Audi makes money on everything they sell, so they’ve got the money to invest in pushing the RS line despite it’s low volume. It also helps that the RS and S lines are internal Audi models that are complied when all Audis are complied, instead of a 3rd party arrangement like Saab has.

    In other words, Audi have got the internal setup and the sales to afford an image builder. Saab are saying that they don’t.

    I’m with you. I’d rather see them have it, but the basic situation they’re outlining is that it won’t work without the company subsidising it to a large extent. And subsidies aren’t going to come without them getting the basics of a consistent and competitive model line bedded down.

    Sucks.

  4. eggsngrits: that reasoning would make sense for engine components such as chips and exhaust systems and such, but you’d think that they wouldn’t have compliance issues bringing over some of the products such as the leather dash kit, the wheels, etc. Aesthetic items shouldn’t have an effect on emissions.

    The “too small a market” reason in Australia doesn’t translate to the U.S. market either. They’re two unique situations.

    Still if I had to prioritize what gets engineering resources for the U.S. I don’t think Hirsch kits would be at the top of my list. I’m sure engineering a 50-state-compliant diesel variant and certifying BioPower would be higher on my list of priorities…

  5. In my view the need to seel Hirsch optioned vehicles is to satisfy a market in which at least I fall in to. The other main reason is to allow the market to expand. This is a situation of spening more to sell more. But as a business in it’s own right, the Hirsch entity will probably never fly outside of Switzerland under the parameters explained.

  6. eggsngrits: I’m not so sure about your explanation. California emissions make it difficult for diesel vehicles, but gasoline vehicles rarely need much modification for those standards.

    There was a post on Saab Central which suggested that the lack of Hirsch here was some sorta political problem internally at GM, which is supposed to always use AC Delco for modification parts. (I’m not convinced of that either.)