GENEVA -- General Motors has approved plans for a Saab crossover vehicle that the company says will give the chronically unprofitable Swedish automaker a shot at profitability.
Carl-Peter Forster, president of General Motors Europe, said a crossover for North America and Europe is "a fully approved product" that should end Saab's years as a financial drain on GM. He did not reveal timing for the vehicle.
"This is the first important step for Saab to turn a decent profit," Forster said during a press briefing.
GM has never disclosed its total investment in Saab, including purchase price and accumulated losses, but it is estimated to total several billion dollars since 1989, when GM bought its first 50 percent stake in the Swedish company.
The last few years have been turbulent for Saab, with GM stripping the Swedish unit of much of the autonomy it had as an independent company.
Saab design, engineering and purchasing have been folded into GM Europe, and its lineup has been fleshed out with GM and Subaru vehicles.
"Basically, we were not working together" in the past, Forster said.
One sore point: GM officials complained that work done on the Saab 9-3, which shared the mid-sized Epsilon car platform with the Chevrolet Malibu, Pontiac G6 and Opel Vectra, could not be replicated in GM's global manufacturing system.
Peter Augustsson left as president of Saab in March 2005.
He was replaced by Forster, as chairman of Saab, and by Jan-Ake Jonsson, as brand managing director.
Forster did not reveal details of the crossover vehicle but said in a separate interview that it would share a platform with another premium brand and might be built in the United States. That suggests that it could join the Cadillac SRX on the Sigma platform.
Forster noted that Saab must boost its global sales of about 140,000 last year to get to break-even and beyond.
"We have taken the break-even of Saab down considerably," he said, "but not that far."
Saab sold 38,343 cars and trucks in the United States last year, virtually even with 2004.
Through February, sales this year are up 19.1 percent from a year earlier to 4,983.
You may e-mail Dave Guilford at [email protected]