By Kevin Miller
Now that the 2011 Geneva Auto Show has ended, Saab decided that instead of putting their cars from the show onto a truck and shipping them straight back to Sweden, they could instead host a series of events around Switzerland to show off their full line. Advertised by flyers handed out at the show (as well as marketing materials sent to current Saab owners), the event kicked off Tuesday night in the Swiss town of Rothrist. Staying just ten minutes from Rothrist on a visit to Switzerland, and being totally Saab crazy, I had to be there.
The event was hosted not at a Saab dealership, but instead at an events venue called Stilhaus. The parking lot was packed a lot of Saab vehicles, several of them wearing Hirsch Performance badges. Upon approaching the Stilhaus in Rothrist, there were visible inflatable pylons decorated with the I ♥ Saab logo. Near the entrance, a selection of beautifully kept classic Saabs, owned by SAABclub Switzerland member, was on display. Beyond those, a red carpet was literally rolled out to welcome guests.
Visitors were welcomed into the Stilhaus with a glass of champagne and an “I ♥ Saab” button. Two vehicles under sheets, clearly the 9-4x and 9-5 SportCombi, were poised to make their debut near the entrance. Nearby, the Independence Edition 9-3 Cabriolet and a 9-5 Aero sedan with Hirsch upgrades caught my attention. Farther in, beyond the bar and the chic conversation ares, were Griffin editions of a 9-3 Sport Sedan and a 9-3x. Being a US Saaber where leather upholstery is always available, I found it interesting that the 9-3x had seats that were a mix of leather and textile, and found it intriguing that it was a diesel-powered variant.
I soon recognized Manfred Lenherr, the Sales and Marketing Director of Hirsch Performance, whom I met in January in Detroit when Saab announced that Hirsch Performance tuning and accessory parts would become available in the US market. Chatting with Mr. Lenherr, I learned that just ten of the Independence Edition 9-3 cabriolets are allocated to the Swiss market, to be shared among forty dealers. I also learned that that car’s custom dash treatment is actually a Hirsch part, something I had suspected as it looked like the one in the Hirsch 9-3 I had seen in Detroit.
Our conversation also touched on Saab’s lack of sales growth in the US this year, which is largely due to the fact that Saab’s vehicle portfolio doesn’t yet include any of the large crossover vehicles that are so popular in the US; hopefully that will begin to turn around as the 9-4x goes on sale this spring. Finally, we chatted about the biggest Saab news of the day, that Saab Automobile they have hired SaabsUnited founder Steven Wade (Swade) to be a part of Saab’s social media marketing team. It’s a great opportunity for Swade, a big benefit for Saab, and big news in the Saab world.
Mr. Lenherr confirmed that about fifty Saab dealers in the US have signed up to become Hirsch Performance dealers, who will be able to provide factory-supported tuning; the programming equipment should reach those dealers around July of this year, being distributed through Saab’s existing US parts distribution system. I also learned that a sport body kit for the 9-5 sedan has been developed by Hirsch Performance; in recent wind tunnel testing it noticeably reduced lift at the front end of the car, so it is functional in addition to being aesthetic.
After a lengthy presentation about Saab and their current models (which seemed lengthier since I didn’t understand the German being spoken), the 9-5 SportCombi and 9-4x were uncovered, to much applause. It was announced that the 9-5 SportCombi will be available in Switzerland in September; in Detroit I learned that car will make it to the US late in the fourth quarter this year.
After the presentation had ended and people had gotten their fill of the new Saabs, I was able to spend a bit of unhurried time in the Hirsch 9-5 Aero, 9-5 SportCombi and the 9-3 Independence Edition cabrio. The new 9-5 SportCombi is noticeably larger than its predecessor, with enough rear legroom that I can “sit behind myself” and not have my knees touch the back of the front seat. The wagon also offers more rear headroom than the sedan thanks to its cargo-friendly roofline. In fact, the 9-5 SportCombi appeared to be more spacious in both the back seat and the boot than the 9-4x parked beside it.
My time spent in the Hirsch 9-5 Aero and the Independence Edition cabrio reminded me just how nice Hirsch’s dash kits are; they really upgrade the interior look of each car. The forged 20 inch Hirsch Performance wheels on the 9-5 look just as amazing now as I remember them looking in Detroit.
If you’re in Switzerland, you should absolutely spend an evening this week at one of the “I ♥ Saab” events. They are happening each night in a different town in Switzerland now through Saturday, you can visit the event website to find a location and register. It’s a great opportunity to check out Saab’s vehicle lineup in a no pressure, enjoyable environment.