Saab Automobile CEO Jan Ake Jonsson, joined the Swedish automaker in 1973. Jonsson, 58, was Saab's managing director under General Motors' ownership, and he was named CEO this year when Dutch sports car maker Spyker Cars NV purchased the company from GM.
The purchase of Saab by Spyker prevented the brand from a complete shutdown.
Jonsson spoke this month with Product Editor Rick Kranz at Saab's headquarters in Trollhattan, Sweden.
When GM purchased Saab in 1990, the intent was to revive Saab with frequent model updates and an expanded lineup. It didn't turn out as expected. Did GM managers get distracted, or did the agenda change?
I think everything came back to investments in the product.
If you look at what BMW has done, if you look at what Audi has done, in terms of new entries and broadening the portfolio, GM never allowed that to happen at Saab.
The current 9-5 does not have a V-6 diesel. We have a compromise four-cylinder diesel. If you look at all-wheel drive, it was first introduced last year [on the 9-3]. GM did not invest in the product compared to what Audi and BMW did.
We are behind. And that is what we are trying to correct.
What is your opinion of the 9-2X and 9-7X?
I think they were quick decisions that were intended to do something for Saab. There was a [small] premium architecture that was stopped. There were a number of short-term decisions that were compromises to give Saab more products; they were more detrimental to the business than beneficial. The Saab 9-2X is a good example. We have been beaten up -- correctly -- over a long period of time.
You can say, to the credit of GM, that in 2005 they realized that we had to do something. A lot of the product plan is actually coming from that time. It started with development of such concepts as the Aero X. Unfortunately for GM, it ran into financial problems so it had to separate from Saab.
What is the potential impact of Geely Holding Group owning Volvo?
For us, Volvo -- from a Swedish point of view -- is very important. We have a common supplier base in Sweden. We do some early research and development together with government support. So Volvo's success is very important -- not too much, but it is important.
I just hope that Volvo will continue as a Swedish brand located in Sweden.
And if Volvo begins substituting a wide range of Chinese components, then what?
It would be a challenge. But, of course, everybody is looking to China for some suppliers. We have to do the same. But I hope that Volvo will remain Swedish.
The next-generation Saab 9-3 will be engineered by Saab and debut in 2012. Do you view this vehicle as a re-engineered version of the current model or as a redesign?
Brand new. There might be some crash elements to keep because it is so good. We will change the electrical architecture and rear axle. You will have a new all-wheel-drive system. You could say the framework is there, but it will be a new architecture from our point of view. If you have the framework, you will always share some components, and that means you will drive down costs.
Under GM, Saab vehicles were sold in 23 markets. Will that change?
We are not expanding into any new markets. We are staying with the ones we have. We will have our own subsidiary like we do in the United States. We will work with brand offices or appoint independent importers.
Five years from now, how do you hope Saab will be perceived by the public?
The statements that we have heard are that GM has made Saab more generic. We anticipate with the rollout in particular of the new 9-3 they will see a big difference -- being a little bit more provocative and unique.
I think you should see us as an alternative to the Big 3 -- Audi, BMW and Mercedes -- as a well-qualified premium brand competing head-on with them.