Saab is focusing on its products after losing the argument with owner General Motors about whether future models must be built in Sweden.
This month, General Motors Europe said the next-generation Saab 9-3 and Opel Vectra will be built starting in 2008 at the Opel plant in Rüsselsheim, Germany.
Saab's main plant in Trollhättan, Sweden, had bid against Rüsselsheim for the program, but lost. GM Europe said Trollhättan will build specialty models, including the 9-3-based Cadillac BLS.
In a sense, building the next 9-3 in Germany is just a continuation of GM's policy of globally interchangeable plants.
Two US-market-only Saabs -- the 9-2X and the 9-7X SUV -- are already assembled outside Sweden.
Saab CEO Peter Augustsson was a staunch defender of the "Swedish-ness" of Saab, so it was hardly surprising when GM announced he would leave the company. News of his departure came days after GM chose Rüsselsheim.
"Peter has done a lot for Saab, but he had been considering leaving the company since last August," said a source close to Saab. Augustsson, 51, will start his own consultancy.
With the plant's future decided, Saab managers are trying to get the brand's advanced product programs back on track after repeated delays.
"All these political rumors in the past have caused much delay in product development and marketing strategies," said Ad Janse, chairman of the Saab world dealer council. "We may have lost two years."
Dealer council's task
On April 21-22, the dealer council will meet in Sweden for the first time under Jan-Ake Jonsson, a Saab veteran named the brand's managing director. He is based in Sweden. But the new chairman of the Saab Automobile board is Carl-Peter Forster, president of GM Europe.
Saab believes the current 9-3 portfolio has the most short-term potential to boost volume. Saab will add a 9-3 sports wagon this spring.
Said Janse: "It could generate 60 percent of 9-3 sales." Saab dealers also want the 9-3 all-wheel-drive version promised three years ago.
GM had delayed a decision on a next 9-5. So the current 9-5 will get a face-lift this autumn to extend its life.
Forster said GM will create a global Saab crossover vehicle. Front-drive is no longer a core value for Saab. "But agile, predictable handling definitively is," he said at the Geneva auto show.
"Unlike the Saab 9-2X and 9-7X, which were developed half-way into the base models' life cycles, the crossover Saab is a brand new development," said a source, adding that it is at least three years away.
The Saab 9-6 comes first. A GM Europe source said: "closer to 18 months than two years."
Saab's future brand image will include distinctive design.
"We will see and feel the aero heritage in next-generation Saabs," Forster said. He promised a return to the wraparound windshield: "It is like the canopy of an aircraft. How can you possibly give that up?"
– Tony Lewin contributed