In part one of this interview, we covered the general conditions at Saab at the moment, especially in light of the current situation facing parent company General Motors.
In part 2, we looked at the progress with Saab’s new key model, the Saab 9-5, as well as a little info about the 9-3x, which will be seen in testing soon.
Here’s the third and final instalment, where we cover a number of topics in brief.
Trollhattan Saab: What will you be building at the Trollhattan plant in 2010? Assuming the 9-5 is being built on time in Russelshiem, that will be out of the plant and 2010 was the time when we’d heard that Trollhattan was scheduled to start building vehicles on the Delta platform.
Eric Geers: Yeah, we call it compact premium. Delta is an internal code. It’s the size of the architecture that’s very important. It’s not so much the platform itself, but the manufacturing size. So if you are, say, a midsize or a compact plant, it means that you can build any of these types of cars in any of these types of plants in the world. So if there were a demand for compact premium vehicles anywhere in the world, it will be easy for us to build them there.
At this point, for example, with the 9-5…if there were to be a huge demand in Chine, for example, you couldn’t make it there. So with 30% or 40% import taxes in China or in Russia: if you want to be successful in these markets then you have to manufacture there.
TS: OK, so getting back to the fundamentals of the question there, can you build the current 9-3 and the compact premium vehicles together on the line at Trollhattan?
EG: Well, the 9-3 is on premium compact – the next generation.
TS: So, you just keep building the current 9-3 there until the next generation is ready?
EG: Yes, absolutely. The 9-5, 9-3, BLS…they are all still built in Trollhattan [until the 9-5 moves to Russelsheim]
On the 9-5 and the reasons why we can’t talk about it too much…
EG: …it’s not so much about discouraging sales of the current model because it’s not a big seller outside of Sweden, of course, because of it’s age. It’s still a great car, but it has 11 years of history.
TS: Yeah, it must be hard to sell people their third or fourth version of the same thing
EG: Yeah. It’s a great offer from us. You get a lot. You get proven technology, it’s a good car. But the new one is going to be completely different, I can tell you.
The 2009 Saab Festival
TS: Is the festival going ahead?
EG: We don’t know exactly about the festival but it might be that we do an event where we invite the Saab clubs to celebrate. We might look at some sort of activity that not necessarily is a Saab festival as we know it today. I can’t promise too much because we haven’t taken a decision on the festival at this point.
TS: I think a lot of people will just assume that it’s happening and turn up anyway.
EG: (laughs) Yeah, quite possible.
SW: The 9-X Air….when are we going to see the roof?
EG: Ahhhhh, the roof!
TS: Yeah, we keep hearing about the roof, reading about the roof, but no-one will show the roof in action.
EG: Exactly. We don’t want to do that because then people will see how it works and it’s going to be copied. And that’s what we don’t want.
TS: So, is that a patent problem?
EG: Well, part of it is the patent issue. You still want to make sure you own the technology and that no-one can copy you because it is a unique system.
TS: So once the patent comes through will you show us how it works or will we have to wait for a production model?
EG: This system could show up when we would introduce the next gen convertible. Not so many decisions have been taken on that one.
That car in that size is extremely good for Saab, we believe. It’s the right kind of technology: small engine, less size and weight, and so on. In the end, how the car will look….we’ve seen all sorts of media headlines like “Build it” etc etc, so the response has been very good. Now, it’s a matter of, well, how is the next generation 9-3 going to look? Obviously it’ll be very much Aero-X inspired, 9-X inspired. You’ll see a lot of it there. So I think we’ve found our new design lanuguage.
I wish I could show you some of the new products! The design language and also the rear end of the new Saabs are going to be very pronounced, it’ll be very identifiable as Saabish from a distance. That’s really what the key thing is. I mean, if you look in the rear view mirror you need to know that that’s a Saab.
TS: Well that’s right. You can see a classic 900 from 200 meters down the street and you know within a quarter of a second what it is.
EG: Exactly. And that’s the sort of thing we want. Not necessarily aggressive, but a stronger presence.
TS: I’m pleased to hear that everything’s still feeling quite positive. I know there’s a lot of speculation, there’s a lot of worries and everything but everyone is pulling for Saab to come through in good shape.
EG: One of the good things is that Saab is a very relevant brand. It’s Scandinavian, it has the right heritage in terms of small engines. We’ve always been reliant on four cylinders, small turbo engines. Some people thought “Gee, now they’re finally moving to six cylinders” and you get into the big numbers and so on but we see that (small is) still the heart and the soul of Saab.
And it makes more and more sense, especially these days when we see six cylinder sales going down. Everybody, in the end, is going to use turbocharged engines, smaller engines, two litre…..you can expect engines to go down further in size. The BioHybrid was already 1.4 and so on, so from that perpective, Saab is a very relevant brand. It’s admired by a lot of people, so from a brand perspective, we have all it takes to become successful so we strongly believe in this. Now the only thing is you have to make it happen.
TS: Yeah, exactly right. Even Ford have got an engine variant now that they’re calling Ecoboost, or something, which is a direct ripoff of the old Saab Ecopower name. All the companies are going that way (i.e. turbocharging) and Saab’s had that philosophy for years. All we need is for people to see it.
EG: That’s what it is. And sometimes if you’re a small brand, that’s not always easy. In Sweden it’s easy because everyone knows what Saab is but as soon as you go outside of the borderlines of this country it becomes more and more difficult. That’s one of the biggest challenges.
TS: Why do some countries have different Saab websites to others?
EG: Well, you can have one main look and feel for websites, but there are some markets that still want their own look and feel for their specific customers. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes there’s advertising that you don’t want to see. You want advertising that we develop but you have to give some sort of freedom to make sure you hit the right audience in a specific market.
In the end, of course, the goal is to get one global look and feel with everything you do and say, and so on. That’s one of the things that the brand center is doing. It’s not only just looking at cars, but also looking at communications and the way we sell ourselves to the customer. The more consistent you are, the better. Especially when you’re a small brand. You need certainly to be consistent, which we haven’t always been in the past. It’s one of the things that Jan-Ake’s hammering all the time: consistency.
TS: Well, the Swedish site looks absolutely fantastic and it’s based on the international one, and I think the UK one has gone with the same basic look and feel. I hope the others can do something about it. It seems like it’d be more cost effective.
Once again, I’d like to thank Eric Geers from Saab for taking the time to have a chat.
And the photo at the top is Eric’s original photo, Simpsonised.