Although it seemed almost impossible at one stage last year, through the efforts of many (notably, fellow blogger Steven Wade from Tasmania) the iconic Swedish brand has gained independence from General Motors and is getting back in the groove of things.
It’s been just one and a half months since Saab became an independent company in Australia under the leadership of long-time Saab loyal Stephen Nicholls. In that time the company has worked hard in preparation for the launch of the brand new Saab 9-5.
There are still some links to the old General in Australia and Saab is slowly extracting itself away. Holden is still handling Saab’s parts business until the end of this month when the company will be able to stand on its own two feet.
Numerous Holden/Saab dealerships have closed the Swedish side of their operations, leaving Saab with just eight dealerships currently in Australia. A figure that is likely to expand (particularly in NSW where there is only the one dealership) over the next few years.
Saab has moved all manufacturing back to Trollhattan in Sweden and despite the factory closing down for a few days this week due to a cash flow issue with a supplier, the Swedish brand insists it’s back for good.
It’s hard to look past the enthusiastic approach that Saab has taken at getting back into business. Despite GM’s best initial efforts to quietly kill the Swedish brand, fans around the world united against GM’s decision which led to the company being sold to Dutch supercar maker Spyker.
According to Mr Nicholls, Saab was never a loss-making business for GM, it simply didn’t fit in with its philosophy or strategy. Under GM, the Swedish brand managed to sell around 120,000 cars a year, a figure that the new owners are desperately hoping they can achieve.
The break-even point for Saab production is around 100,000 cars per year, with a healthy profit expected if that reaches 120,000. The plan is to be profitable by end of 2012. In order to do that, Saab is planning to get back to its roots.
As well as getting its old customers back, Saab is taking future technologies rather seriously with ongoing research into electric and hybrid vehicles. Mr Nicholls believes Saab needs to invest in alternative fuel technologies if it’s to be taken seriously. Two hundred prototype electric 9-3s will soon be put on the road in Sweden to get customer feedback and BMW has already signed a deal to supply 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engines (Mini) for the next-generation 9-3.
First out from the refurbished Saab Automobile company is the new 9-5 sedan. The first-generation 9-5 was on sale since 1997 (which is remarkable given the average product cycle of around 4-6 years) and had been showing its age for the last 10 years. With the new Saab 9-5 the company hopes to revitalise interest in the brand and showcase an alternative to the Germans and fellow Swedish manufacturer, Volvo.
New Saab 9-5s arrived in Australian dealerships yesterday with prices starting from $71,990 for the four-cylinder diesel and reaching $94,900 for the all-wheel drive 9-5 Turbo6. Saab Australia has estimated that it will sell 80-100 of the new vehicles, but we suspect it will likely do more.
October will see the arrival of the Saab 9-5 Combi, closely followed by the 9-4X and the all-new 9-3 over the next 24 months. Saab already launched the 9-3X earlier this year.