Look who’s back.
Not that Saabs really went away: you could still buy them, but you pretty well had to know that you wanted to buy one.
Because for the past couple of years they’ve been as visible as a white car in a snowdrift.
Holden, which markets Saab in New Zealand and Australia, is out to change that, and is waking Swedish brand from its long Antipodean hibernation.
Initially, Holden had seemed unsure about how to handle the Saab brand when it inherited the Australasian distributorship (General Motors owns the Saab car brand). Traditionally Holden has struggled to know how to market anything that didn’t wear a Holden lion badge.
It failed to ignite much interest when parent company General Motors took over Korean manufacturer Daewoo’s car range. Holden dealers seemed to have little enthusiasm for the GM Daewoo marque, and Holden eventually pulled the plug and withdrew it from Australia and NZ.
Holden is back in the Daewoo selling business, of course, though the cars are now re-branded as Holdens (Barina and Viva), with minor styling changes to given them a more Holden face, a line-up of bolder colours, and bargain basement pricing.
And Holden NZ managing director Peter Keley says he can sell as many Vivas and Barinas as he can get his hands on. So the Holden badge counts for everything, especially with the Aussie brand’s dealers
But there’ll be no re-branding of Saabs as Holdens.
Keley says Holden NZ is providing the infrastructure for the brand, selling it from key dealerships and providing servicing and after-sales care.
Saab is being run as a separate entity from Holden, under the banner of Saab Australia and New Zealand, and led by Melbourne-based Ralph Stevenson.
Holden re-launched the Saab brand – specifically the volume-selling 9-3 range – in Auckland last week.
Stevenson says 2006 is “proving to be somewhat of a turning point for Saab” in this part of the world.
“In the last 12 months, we finalised out behind-the-scenes integration with Holden…which has enabled us to set firm foundations to rebuild the brand.”
Stevenson says there are “very positive” feelings within Saab Australia and NZ, and among its dealers.
There is a “real sense of optimism and purpose.” That’s fuelled by new models like the 9-3 SportCombi station wagon, new technology and “extremely competitive new pricing.”
He says Saab is back on the global automotive map. “Globally, Saab recorded an all-time record (sales level) for the first quarter of this year.”
NZ and Australia contributed to that, with combined sales 38 percent up on the same period of 2005.
Saabs will be marketed here in four model grades: the entry-level Linear, the more luxurious Arc, the sporty Vector and the high-performance Aero, the last-mentioned with the new turbocharged 2.8-litre Global V6 motor.
The 9-3 range will comprise the five-door Sport Sedan which will be sold in all four spec levels; the stylish convertible (Linear, Vector and Aero), and the new SportCombi wagon (Linear and Aero).
On top of that are added-cost Sport and Luxury pack options.
All Saabs sold in NZ will be turbocharged, and Stevenson says the company’s “guiding principle is that luxury features must be standard, not costly optional extras” – a swipe at German brands that start with a basic car at a basic price which rises (often dramatically) as buyers add features.
“Our goal is to offer customers vehicles which are highly-specified, competitively-priced, with five-star safety and luxury as standard, not optional,” Stevenson says.
“And to offer a clear alternative in the premium segment.”
Well, Saab is definitely alternative. Keley and Stevenson say the brand appeals to a distinct group of buyers – usually professionals with a strong interest in technology and design.
That’s why Saab is a major sponsor of the arts in Australia with its flagship event the annual Melbourne Art Fair.
“Saab values this relationship enormously, and the role it plays in promoting contemporary art,” says Keley. “Saab sees parallels between the enduring principles of art and the brand’s own history.
“Saab is a brand steeped in a history of distinctive design and thinking outside the square.
“After the Second World War, a team or aeronautical engineers (Saab is an aircraft manufacturer: its name is an acronym for Swedish aircraft factory) with no automotive experience were asked to design a motor vehicle. And, in fact, only two of the engineers had a driver’s licence.
“The result was a beautiful, aerodynamic, vehicle that rejected conventional wisdom and changed the way we think about cars. (Their design combined) form and function.
“Those ‘genes from jets’ as Saab calls them, have been passed down to ensure Saab remains focused on creating cars with distinctive design; (cars) that are objects of desire, and recognise customers as individuals.”
Keley says Saab will be involved in the visual arts in New Zealand: six local art dealers will attend the Melbourne Art Fair in August.
He says car stocks for New Zealand will be held in Australia, and Stevenson says most models will be available soon after order, drawn out of Saab Australia stock.
Cars that have to be ordered from the factory will take around 11 weeks to get here – six weeks from order placement to roll-out and another five weeks for shipping.
How many cars will the rejuvenated Saab sell in New Zealand?
It’s not saying. Neither Keley nor Stevenson would make a prediction, saying Saab is not in the numbers game. The underlying suggestion is – enough.
For now the big task is to convince NZ buyers that Saab is back and is back for the long haul.
Keley points to the number of Saabs that come in and are bought as used imports. He says that’s evidence that New Zealanders like Saabs and their individuality: the challenge is to turn those used car buyers into new-car customers.
Aggressive pricing stance
Saab is pricing the 2006 model year 9-3 range aggressively, pushing the message of luxury and specification at a value-for-money price.
The complete 9-3 range pricing has been reviewed, with most models now cheaper than 2005 model year equivalents. For instance, $8000 has been cut from the sticker price of the entry level Linear Sport Sedan which is now $48,900 with manual gearbox.
Saab Australia and NZ boss, Ralph Stevenson, says the new "sub-$50,000 price point" allows Saab to compete more successfully with traditional and new premium brands.
He says the sharper pricing is aimed at "essentially attracting the same type of customers to Saab, but at a younger age."
The 110kW Linear Sport Sedan gains Electronic Stability Program (ESP) and automatic climate control air-conditioning, which are now standard across the entire Saab range. The Linear also has side curtain airbags, heated seats and cruise control.
The 2006 Linear replaces leather seats with leatherette and woven textile; and alloys with steel wheels. Leather upholstery and alloy wheels are available on the $51,900 Linear Luxury which is $5000 cheaper than the equivalently-specified 2005 model.
The 129kW Arc is now $57,900 - a$6000 reduction on the previous model.
The high-output turbocharged 2.0 litre engine from the 2005 Aero range moves to the Vector Sport Sedan and Convertible. Power increases from 129 to 154kW and peak torque from 265 to 300Nm.
The more powerful new Vector undercuts the 2005 model by $4000.
With the addition of the V6 Turbo, Aero Sport Sedan becomes the only 9-3 model to increase in price: the manual Aero Sport Sedan is now $2000 more expensive, at $80,900.
The Linear Convertible, at $74,900 basic price and Vector droptop, at $81,900, are each $2000 cheaper than the previous models. The V6 Turbo-powered Aero Convertible, with the price remaining at $96,800 (manual).
Linear SportCombi prices start at $54,900 in manual form and the V6 Aero SportCombi manual begins at $83,900.
A five-speed manual transmission is standard on the 9-3 Linear, Arc and Vector models. A five-speed automatic transmission is optional. A six-speed manual transmission is standard on 9-3 Aeros, with an optional six-speed automatic.
The automatic costs an extra $3100 on all models.