In an answer to its dealers' prayers, Saab Cars USA Inc. will get an SUV based on the Chevrolet TrailBlazer for the 2005 model year.
The mid-sized truck will fill a huge hole in Saab's buyer-retention numbers - 25 percent of buyers who leave the brand each year do so to buy an SUV, according to Debra Kelly-Ennis, CEO of the U.S. sales arm.
"These numbers are compelling," Kelly-Ennis said last week in a roundtable with Automotive News editors and reporters.
"Our dealers sit there year after year watching other makes get SUVs."
Kelly-Ennis said Saab originally wanted to use the platform of the new Cadillac SRX for its vehicle. But after a year of discussion, the project was scuttled because of the costs involved.
"For the first time in Saab's history, we are looking to develop and bring to market a vehicle that would rely almost solely on one market," Kelly-Ennis said. "Therefore, the costs couldn't be spread over 50 markets worldwide."
The automaker also hopes to get a sport wagon based on GM's Epsilon car platform, she said. But that project, which could come to market in three years, is awaiting approval.
The SUV, to be called the 9-7, will have different exterior design, interior trim and chassis refinements than the TrailBlazer, said Saab product spokesman Kevin Smith.
"It will have very different handling, with excellent braking and performance," he said. "It will be significantly different than the GMC Envoy, Chevy TrailBlazer or Oldsmobile Bravada."
Smith said sales likely would be between 5,000 and 15,000 units annually. "It is too early to divulge volume, but it would be nothing near 25 percent of our sales," he said.
Rather than try to compete with car-based vehicles such as the Volvo XC90 or the Lexus RX 330, the Saab SUV will be pitted against other truck-based vehicles, Smith said.