Last year was a banner year for Saab Cars USA Inc. and for dealers such as Chris Cerrina, who experienced his biggest volume year ever.
Cerrina, a dealer representative on the Saab Business Team for the past three years as well as a member of the Saab International Dealer Council, says: "I have never seen a better, stronger, more committed dealer body than we have right now."
Cerrina owns Parkfield Motors Inc. in Bergenfield, N.J. Like many of his peers, Cerrina points to Debra Kelly-Ennis, president of Saab Cars USA since October 2002, as being "a very solidifying force for this dealer body."
"We're not perfect -- we're far from it," Cerrina says, "but the successes we've had, I think, far outweigh the negatives in the last 12 to 14 months. We really have the best of what Saab has to offer, and the best really of GM. A lot of General Motors dealers have inquired about the franchise, and I think that speaks volumes about what's going to happen in the future."
The future includes the Subaru Impreza WRX-based 9-2X, due to arrive in July, and the 9-7X, a mid-sized SUV based on the Chevrolet TrailBlazer platform and set to arrive in about a year. Cerrina spoke with Special Correspondent Karen Passino.
Saab dealers had a great year in 2003, selling 47,914 cars. What made that possible?
Our president, Debra Kelly-Ennis, led her executive and regional teams for a full year - that was the first step. She made the necessary changes with her team in all facets of the business to succeed. It was the people; it was having our new 9-3 for a full year; it was consistent, strengthened retail sales programs. And it was a dealer body that, when presented with a marketing plan and the model mix, worked tirelessly.
The 9-3 has been quite a success.
The car conquested at a higher rate than expected. I think we had more aspirers than we expected. I also think we had more of the entry-luxury group considering the Saab because it fit the bill for what they were looking for (compared with) other manufacturers and other cars.
What do Saab dealers expect this year?
We are continuing to build on what we accomplished in '03. The new-vehicle sales, certified pre-owned vehicle sales, parts and accessories sales - everything was in an upswing for 2003. The 9-2X will officially go on sale in July. And later in the year, we will also be working toward the launch of the 9-7X in January 2005, give or take a few weeks. With our momentum and the new products, we can really achieve higher goals for '04.
Will certified used-vehicle sales erode new-car sales?
What's interesting for '03 is sales of certified pre-owned vehicles grew 124 percent over '02, and at the same time we accomplished a 27 percent growth in new-car sales. Why can't the two prosper together?
What are the three top challenges for the dealer council in 2004?
No. 1, successful product launches. That's absolutely paramount.
Secondly, I think product and any associated quality and decontenting issues. If we don't have the product and the correct content, the launches don't happen. We have had some decontenting issues that we have fought vehemently over the past few months. Things taken out of vehicles, such as a locking gas door. We need to make sure that we maintain the correct level of content in these vehicles.
Lastly, I think it is maintaining and growing the level of communication we have going (among the dealers, Saab Cars USA and Saab AB in Sweden). I think we've gotten more done in the past 12 months than the past 24.
Saab has been lauded by enthusiasts for its quirkiness; is the brand in danger of losing its unusual image?
We really cannot afford to homogenize any of our products. We are, in my eyes, at the forefront of technology and styling. We have one of the finest designers in the world at Saab, and Michael Mauer is not about to let Saab lose any of its uniqueness. The 9-3 is outperforming its predecessor. And look at our concept sport-hatch vehicle - I think that that is an example of Saab stretching its design to be more distinctive rather than falling into the less-unique area.