Detroit 2011: Saab Launches Hirsch Performance Products for US Market
By Kevin Miller
This year’s North American International Auto Show started early on Monday morning, with Porsche holding the first press conference of the day at 6:30 AM, with press events or ceremonies being held every 25 minutes all day long, concluding with a Chevrolet press conference ending at 6:40 PM. Needless to say, it was a long day in Detroit. Notably absent from the show floor (and the press schedule) was Saab, whose tenuous grip on existence at this time last year resulted in the Swedish brand not securing a stand at NAIAS.
Ever resourceful, Saab held a media reception across the street from Detroit’s COBO Center on Monday evening. In a venue they called the SNÖ HUS, Saab offered a chance to unwind from the rigors of the day over cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, with a handful of Saab vehicles to look at.
Saab’s leadership team of Jan Åke Jonsson and Victor Muller were on hand, as was Matthias Seidl, the new Executive Director of Global Sales who is also serving as the interim head of Saab Cars North America following Michael Colleran’s resignation last week. The trio used the opportunity to make a brief presentation to the gathered journalists and bloggers.
Jan Åke Jonsson confirmed during the presentation that Saab’s new 9-4x crossover vehicle will start arriving at US Saab dealers in May, that the 9-5 SportCombi (which has historically accounted for about 80% of 9-5 orders in Scandinavian countries) will commence European sales midyear, and that the next generation 9-3 will bow in 2012. The presentation continued with Victor Muller stating that Saab is still on track to return to profitability by 2012.
The big news of the presentation was the announcement that Saab Cars NA has partnered with Hirsch Performance AG to offer performance upgrades and aftermarket accessories for 2007-2011 Saab 9-3 and 2010-2011 Saab 9-5 models. The upgrades are factory backed and warranted, and have passed emission testing so that the performance modifications don’t run afoul of air pollution standards.
In both the 9-3 and the 9-5, the Hirsch performance program adds 30 HP to the stock horsepower figures. Saab had one Hirsch-tuned 9-3 and one Hirsch-tuned 9-5 on hand for inspection at the SNÖ HUS , and both looked great. Each car featured the performance enhancement, plus a variety of interior and exterior upgrades like lightweight alloy wheels, and a leather dash kit on the 9-5 that really enhanced the standard car’s stark appearance. Hirsch is the German word for deer, and their deer symbol adorns many of their products. The Hirsch line is expected to be available through participating Saab dealerships by the end of March.
Hirsch started as a Saab dealer in Switzerland in 1965, and has been creating performance enhancements for the cars since 1987; they first partnered directly with Saab for distribution in 2002. Manfred Lenherr is the Hirsch’s Sales & Marketing Director. I had the chance to quickly talk with him when the presentation was over; he told me that performance updates will be programmed to the cars electronically at the dealership. Other Hirsch aftermarket products include performance spring sets, dual performance exhaust system, rear deck lid spoiler, carbon fiber aerodynamic ground effects kit (front splitter and diffuser), 4-piece grille set, Aluminum pedals, leather interior set and carbon fiber instrument panel decor. Asking about pricing and logistics, Mr. Lenherr told me that the pricing hasn’t been finalized, but that all accessories will be given Saab parts numbers and distributed through Saab’s parts distribution network.
Also after the presentation, I had the opportunity for a quick conversation with Matthias Seidl. As Saab’s Executive Director Global Sales as well as interim head of Saab Cars North America, Mr. Seidl has his work cut out for him in growing Saab sales from their stagnant status. When I asked about how he planned to do this, he said that Saab has plans to motivate the approximately 200 US Saab dealers to focus attention on Saab once again now that they are finally getting vehicle inventories.
I also asked Matthias Seidl about the North American launch timeline of the 9-5 SportCombi, and reading between the lines it sounds like that car will make its world debut at the Geneva Motor Show in early March, followed by its US Debut in April at the New York International Auto Show; it is expected to be on sale in the US “late in the second half” of this year. As a Saab fanatic, I cannot wait to see it.