2009 Detroit Auto Show: Minimal Details About Saab’s Future
By Kevin Miller
Late last week, we reported that a GM/Saab press conference was expected in Detroit with representatives of the Swedish government. The presumption was that the press conference would include announcement of an arrangement that would result in Saab receiving some amount of the Swedes’ promised 25 billion Kronor earmarked as loans to their .
When no such press conference materialized, I was eager for more information. Fortunately, I was able to chat with Saab’s Jan-Willem Vester at the show, and while I didn’t end up with any specific information about Saab’s financial future I came away with a good feeling that Saab will be receiving some assistance from the Swedish government, just as other nations’ automakers have received assistance from their governments.
As Saab has a strong identity globally as a Swedish product, Sweden is keen to keep the automaker in business, in Sweden. While building Saab-branded crossover vehicles in North America doesn’t do much for the business in Sweden, the manufacture of vehicles in Trollhattan obviously keeps Swedish people and their economy working. Details of any financial assistance agreement between Saab/GM and the Swedish government would surely include a guarantee of production numbers or models in Trollhattan , but so far there isn’t any such information available.
From GM’s perspective, Saab draws customers into showrooms that other GM nameplates cannot. As their only global European brand and their only premium European brand, Saab is an asset to the GM organization. Cadillac models simply have not been able to find buyers in Europe, so the only premium vehicles GM sells in Europe are Saabs. By highlighting these points, and by emphasizing how blown-out-of-proportion last week’s firestorm of news was surrounding the reports that GM was unable to find a buyer for Saab, Jan-Willem Vester seemed to indicate that GM is interested in keeping Saab. Of course, this differs from today’s TrollhattanSaab.net post, which links a Reuters article where Rick Wagoner says that GM is looking for a buyer for Saab.
Mr. Vester and I also briefly discussed Saab’s upcoming products, the 9-4x and the new 9-5. Not surprisingly, the production 9-4x sheetmetal will be essentially unchanged from the concept that was shown last year in Detroit. With spy shots and other leaked images, we’ve got a pretty good idea of what the 9-4x will look like. Knowing that it is following the Cadillac SRX into production, we can tell that production will begin sometime in the last half of this year in Mexico, and we can also surmise that it will be available with the 2.8 liter V6 turbo AWD powertrain featured in the SRX, which itself came from Saab’s flagship Turbo X.
Jan-Willem Vester also confirmed that the 9-5 will be shown and a major auto show this year (though he wouldn’t promise that it’ll be seen in Geneva), and that it will be in production by the end of the year. It won’t necessarily be in US showrooms by the end of the year, but it will certainly be on its way, and I interpret that to mean that the 9-5 should be on sale in Europe by then.
I had the opportunity to ask Jan-Willem whether Saab would be able to show either of those vehicles at the 2009 Saab Owners Convention this August in Colorado. His response was that he surely hoped so, as Saab owners (especially those who attend the club conventions) are incredibly loyal to the brand, and appreciate seeing models before they are available to the public. He reminded me that last year the Aero X concept was shown at the 2008 Saab Owners Convention in Massachusetts, as was a conceptual sketch which may (or may not) hint at the appearance of the upcoming 9-5.
Our chat took place behind the Saab display, which didn’t have an over-abundance of cars. In addition to the 9-X Air Concept on a turntable there were just four production cars: a 9-5 Griffin sedan, and a trio of 9-3s (a sedan, a SportCombi, and the special edition convertible). As Saab is currently manufacturing only two models, it makes sense that they don’t have many cars to display.
Up on the turntable, roof of the 9-X Air was open. Earlier in the show I had asked one of the Saab representatives whether the roof closing function could be demonstrated, and I was informed that the top could not be closed because the top mechanism of the concept car is quite fragile. Instead, I was invited onto the turntable to take as many photos of the 9-X Air as I wanted. I’ll have to accept the photo shoot as my consolation for not getting more information about the company’s financial situation.
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