GENEVA - Saab Automobile AB will form joint ventures with some of its dealers to put showcase dealerships in major cities around the world. Some will be in the United States.
'It's very important for us to be where our customers are,' said Peter Augustsson, CEO of Saab Automobile.
Saab calls these joint ventures City Centers. The first one opened in January on one of the world's most famous shopping streets, the Kurfuerstendamm, in Berlin. Next up is London in early June, then Paris in August or September, said Goran Frederiksson, project manager for brand building and product launches.
Saab wants to open about 100 City Center dealerships worldwide in the next three years, Frederiksson said. So far, Saab has no City Centers in the United States, but cities being considered include New York and Boston, he said.
It's not clear how the partnerships would be structured. Dan Chasins, president of Saab Cars USA Inc., said Saab was working on a formula that would have the company act as a landlord for the stores but not share in the stores' profits.
The plans for the United States appear to be in the early stages, and the number of stores likely will be small. One of Saab's largest U.S. dealers, Ray Ciccolo, owner of Charles River Saab in Watertown, Mass., said last week he hadn't heard of the City Center concept.
Augustsson said Saab is funding the program in part by cutting traditional advertising.
'For us to do mass advertising is like standing in the middle of a desert and screaming, `Saab!' People may hear the noise, but for most people, `Saab' doesn't mean anything to them,' Augustsson said at the Geneva auto show.
Separately, Saab is planning factory-owned showrooms in top locations such as the Champs Elysees in Paris, Heathrow Airport in London, and a well-known site in New York. Saab calls these wholly owned showrooms Brand Centers.
Brand Centers will not make retail sales, Chasins said. Instead, Brand Centers will refer customers to area dealers for sales and for test drives.
Chasins stressed that Brand Centers are not traditional factory stores.
He said: 'Clearly, the only people we want selling Saab cars are Saab dealers.'