Saab Cars USA Inc. is making a major push for exclusive dealerships, including an offer of interest-free loans to dealers.
Dealers emerged from the make meeting at the National Automobile Dealers Association convention with high morale.
'This is a franchise on the move,' said Joey Joseph, owner of Cold Brook Saab, an exclusive store in Skowhegan, Maine.
John Orth, Saab vice president of sales and marketing, said that ultimately he would like about half of Saab's 215 dealers to have exclusive stores, including all stores in major markets.
'That would account for around 80 percent of our sales volume,' he said, in an interview.
Orth estimated it will take at least two or three years to get that many dealers signed up. About 20 dealers have accepted Saab's offer of interest-free loans to help build exclusive stores, he said.
Saab made the offer a few months ago, Joseph said.
Orth attributed recent higher sales to the new 9-5 model and a bigger advertising budget.
'We used to go 'black' (not run any national advertising) in the fourth quarter for budget reasons,' Orth said.
'We're not this year, and you can really see the difference. And one of the dealers told me that before, when we did run ads, people didn't necessarily come in. Now when we run ads, with the favorable word-of-mouth we're getting, people come in.'
Saab sales jumped 64.7 percent in December. That brought U.S. sales to 30,757 for all of 1998, up 8.1 percent. January sales were 2,774, nearly three times the 1998 total of 945.