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Saab 9-5 set to arrive Down Under about March

Comeback kid: Saab's all-wheel-drive 9-3X wagon is on the agenda for Saab's return to the Australian market from February 1.

New Saab distributor lays out plans for new-model rollout as GM exits stage left

Saab logo6 Oct 2010

SAAB’S own distribution company is planning to kick off Australian operations in early 2011 with fresh stocks of 9-3 models before switching up a gear with the arrival of the all-new 9-5 flagship in March or April, according the man tasked with re-establishing the Swedish brand Down Under.

Saab Asia Pacific Region director Stephen Nicholls – a long-time Saab executive who held the same role under the previous General Motors ownership of the Swedish car-maker – said he also expected the all-new 9-4X SUV to arrive in Australia in late 2011 or early 2012.

Saab Automobile AB, which was sold by GM to Dutch niche sportscar-maker Spyker Cars seven months ago in the wake of GM’s chapter 11 bankruptcy, decided to handle its own distribution Down Under after first considering appointing an independent distributor.

 center imageFrom top: Saab 9-3 Convertible, Saab 9-5 and Saab 9-4X.

Speaking a few hours after Saab head office in Sweden formally announced Saab’s return to Australia and New Zealand, Mr Nicholls said today that Saab Australia was in the middle of transferring its operations from previous importer GM Premium Brands – a branch of GM Holden – to its own control.

He said the new subsidiary, which will also continue to look after New Zealand, was planning to establish its own headquarters in Melbourne where he would act as Saab Australia managing director – a role he held 15 years ago.

“There are a load of things to be decided, but that is the sort of direction we are heading in,” he said.

Mr Nicholls said he was in the process of meeting with various existing dealers as a prelude to re-appointing the dealer network, adding that Saab’s proposal was for “fewer, better dealers”.

“There is a good core of dealers around the country, and we are looking to build on that,” he said.

“We are not looking to set up a large dealer network. We would like to ensure that both they and us make some money out of it.”

Mr Nicholls also confirmed that Saab was considering entering into the retail market itself in Australia, but not in the short term.

“That is something that other manufacturers have done with varying degrees of success,” he said. “It is not the first priority we have, but it is something we would consider. It is on the table for discussion – yes.”

Mr Nicholls said he was expecting to appoint about 12 dealers across Australia – down from the previous 16. As well, there would be three in New Zealand.

Major Melbourne Saab dealer Philip Mance told GoAuto he was confident his Saab retail franchise would simply continue on under the new distribution arrangement.

He said he and several other key Saab dealers in Australia had already negotiated directly with the Saab factory in Sweden to order fresh stocks of Saab 9-3 models in readiness for sale under the new arrangement from January.

“We have ordered stock already,” he said. “We pre-empted this decision (Saab Australia appointment) and negotiated with Saab directly to get things happening,” he said.

Mr Mance said orders for the new 9-5 were also imminent, for launch later in 2011.

Mr Nicholls said the exact launch date to for 9-5 – which is just being rolled out across Europe – had not been locked in as “we haven’t proven the build of that particular combination through the factory yet”.

“But I would imagine we would probably be looking at an end of quarter one or beginning of quarter two launch next year,” he said.

The Saab 9-4X SUV – to be built in Mexico on the same production line as the closely related Cadillac SRX – would follow some months later.

“Given that we are a right-hand drive market and that production for right-hand drive markets is at the back end of the launch schedule, it will probably be at the end of next year or maybe the beginning of 2012 by the time we get that we get that launched locally,” he said.

The production 9-4X, with the top-of-the-range model fitted with a Holden-made 2.8-litre turbocharged V6 that is also fitted to a high-end Saab 9-5, is set to be unveiled at the Los Angeles motor show next month.

The formal announcement of Saab Australia comes just days after Saab’s return was foreshadowed to GoAuto by Saab Automobile AB’s executive director of sales, Adrian Hallmark, at the Paris motor show.

There, Mr Hallmark – a former Volkswagen executive – said Saab had elected to run its own operation in Australian and New Zealand instead of operating through an independent distributor.

He said eight Australian Saab dealers had been in direct contact with the company’s Trollhattan headquarters to secure supplies of the existing 9-3 and all-new 9-5.

He said those dealers would be the first to receive Saab vehicles from Sweden and others were currently undergoing an evaluation process as Saab reviews their business plans.

Last night’s statement from Saab Automobile AB headquarters in Trollhattan, Sweden, said Saab Automobile was continuing to enhance its international sales organisation by setting up Saab Australia.

“Transitioning over the coming months, it will assume all marketing, sales and distribution responsibilities from GM Holden Ltd, following the purchase of Saab Automobile from General Motors by Spyker Cars NV of the Netherlands seven months ago,” it said.

“The new subsidiary will be responsible for supplying and maintaining nationalnetworks of dealers, including existing Saab dealerships and new outlets, in Australiaand New Zealand.

“The existing dealer network will continue to serve customers during the transition period.”

Saab fan and co-ordinator of the Save Saab website that helped to save the brand, Steven Wade, said the return of Saab to Australia under the new distributor was news all Saab's Australian customers had been waiting some time to hear.

“We knew they'd be back, it was just a matter of when,” he said.

“It's hard to see all of this activity happening for Saab elsewhere in the world without knowing when we might get to share the excitement.

“The other great thing about this news is that Saab are going to be running the operation themselves.

“It removes a layer of red tape between the dealers and the factory and ensures that the people working for Saab Australia are going to be super-motivated. It's great news.”

Meanwhile, GM Holden has been clearing out the last dregs of its Saab stock, offering large bonuses to dealers to take the handful of cars left.

After selling only two Saabs all year, five Saab 9-3s – two sedans and three convertibles – were registered by three dealers who offered to clear them.

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