Recently, I chatted with Eric Geers from Saab Sweden. Eric is the Director of Communications for Saab Automobile and splits his time between Gothenburg and Trollhattan.
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.
Here’s part 2:
Trollhattan Saab: We’ve heard that they’ve been delayed, but how close were the 9-5 and 9-4x to being finished? We’ve heard that GM set priorities whereby a car had to be 90% ready to continue on in this current climate. How close were these cars to being done on time?
Eric Geers: First of all, we never officially indicate when we’re going to launch new products, but as I said earlier, there were so many speculations that in the end, dates end up almost living their own lives. So as long as a car hasn’t yet made it to market, it’s very difficult to talk about a delay.
There are always re-timings when you are developing a product. There are always timing issues for various reasons. What we did say is that the 9-4x has been delayed a little bit but the 9-5 is currently completely on schedule.
TS: So the 9-5 is on schedule from your perspective?
TS: And that schedule hasn’t changed in the last six weeks?
Note, the vehicle is on schedule from Eric’s point of view. Whether that schedule ever aligned with the speculations here or elsewhere in the automotive web is another matter.
It’s at this point that things got a little blurry in terms of what I can and can’t say here at TS. If I get my information from a Djup Strupe, then I feel at liberty to share. But if I get it directly from an executive and he requests that I use it for perspective only and maintain confidentiality, then I have to respect that.
Suffice to say that should GM and Saab survive the next few months and the market improves, then I firmly believe that 2009 is going to be a better year than what we thought it was a few weeks ago.
Trollhattan Saab: The other vehicle I wanted to ask about was the 9-3x…
Eric Geers: The 9-3x is going to be here. I just don’t know yet if we’re going to do an official press release and turn that into something…but as of next week the 9-3x is going to be out for test driving on public roads around Trollhattan so we can give you a look at this one.
TS: I don’t know if I can ask you this, but are we likely to see this before the 9-5?
EG: Yeah, that will be before the 9-5
This is great news, but not too surprising. The 2008 Saab 9-3 facelift was seen on public roads in Trollhattan well before the official unveiling at the Saab Festival in June last year. That the 9-3x, which is basically a 9-3 SportCombi in heavy boots, will do the same is good to hear, but not a big surprise.
It’s also encouraging that this vehicle will come about before the 9-5. There was recent news from one particular market that the 9-3x would be delayed in that market until 2010. It’s quite clear now that if that news still holds, then that’s for that specific market only and not for all markets.
TS: The big question, because this would be such a good seller, with the 9-3x being raised up a little, is there now room for a diesel engine (in combination with XWD)?
EG: …..(pause)….err, that’s part of the thing that’s still being discussed, powertrain. At this point I can’t give you the full update, but BioPower will be there. Diesel is still being discussed but I assume that that’s also the case, but it might not be because of the XWD issues. We also have to look at the numbers and the markets, they’re changing and the sectors are changing. In the end it becomes a business case, whether it does make sense to have it with a diesel or not.
TS: I’ve had quite a few people, especially from Europe, asking about the combination of the TTiD and XWD..
EG: Yeah. I know…..but I can’t say too much about that one. It would be great to get it in there but in the end it’s going to be the volumes that dictate whether it makes sense to do it.
Reading between the lines here, it sounds a little like the TTiD/XWD is physically possible, but maybe only with a bunch of expensive modifications that Saab will have to justify with projected sales numbers.
I really hope they do it, but knowing that the SportCombi is already a niche seller, and that the 9-3x will be another niche, I think it’s going to be a little tough to make a case for a niche within the niche within the niche. If you know what I mean.
TS: Assuming that there would be a delay in the new 9-5, I was wondering how you anticipate plugging any gap that may arise between the old one and the new one. Do you have enough of the old one left to see you through if necessary?
EG: I wouldn’t worry about that one too much…
TS: Well, the main concern was with the engines. Do you have enough of them? You sold the engine plant a while ago, right?
EG: Yeah, but that’s a matter of planning and banking and so on.
TS: So you’ve got plenty of those engines hanging around then?
EG: Yeah, that’s all under control.
TS: You want to send one down to me?
EG: (laughs) Yeah, we can ship you a couple. It might take a couple of months, but they’ll be there….
TS: I’ve got nothing to put it in, I might have to shoehorn it into my 900
EG: Sounds good….
That’s all for the second installment and we’re about two thirds of the way through the call.
Still more to come.