IMPORTANT NEWS: National Electric Vehicle Sweden has agreed to buy the assets of Saab Automobile and the sale is expected to be finalized during the summer.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Vi Bilägare interview with Jan Åke Jonsson from a few weeks back

Here is a breath of fresh air with no loans, banks, government agencys etc.

Swedish car magazine Vi Bilägare has published an interview with Saab's retiring CEO Jan Åke Jonsson on their web page. Note that this interview was done before Saab's latest financial difficulties became apparent to the outside world, so there is (thankfully!) no talk about financial troubles. Below is a translation of the interview:

Jan Åke Jonsson on Saab's future
Incurable optimist Jan Åke Jonsson has decided to leave his post as CEO of Saab. But the business plan is unchanged.

Why are you retiring?
- I have worked here for nearly 40 years, the last six as CEO. As you can imagine the last three years have been extremely demanding - I have hardly had time for anything but work. Now it's time for me to devote myself to other things, mainly my family. I want to emphasize that there is no conflict or other sudden situation behind this decision - my departure has been planned for some time.

Last year, the sales forecasts were 60,000 cars, but you only reached 31,000. What happened?
- Several factors affected the result. Of around 800 subcontractors, we had difficulties to re-start relationship with a handful, and unfortunately precisely these subcontractor turned out to be difficult to replace. It resulted in disruptions in deliveries and long lead times. But it was far more difficult on the marketing side. GM took care of 90 percent of the distribution before the sale of Saab, and to set up the logistics, the systems, and to motivate the dealers turned out to be much more difficult than we thought. Nor did we realize how long it would take to regain the buyers' confidence.

What makes you believe you can raise the forecast to 80,000 cars in 2011?
- Again, several factors come into play. First, we can now sell the new 9-5 for a whole year, also the launch the 9-5 SportCombi and 9-4x will happen this summer. But equally important is the fact that our efforts to re-start new markets have advanced since last year.
- But 80,000 is surely a challenging sales goal. Among our major markets the US has a weak currency and the economy is shaky and the same applies to the UK. Thankfully the Swedish market is moving in a positive direction. In 2011, we will still not be in a normal mode, it will take some time yet. But in 2012, when the new 9-3 arrives, we have a completely renewed product range and the car buyers’ confidence in us have hopefully normalized.

You turning the traditional truth that a manufacturer must have large volumes to be profitable up side down?
- Yes. Seeing that we develop products jointly with others, not having our own engine production, generally buying an unusually large part of our product value and also have a flexible production, we can survive with much less volume than other manufacturers.

- The extreme example is the 9-4X where we buy the whole car from GM. When we source components such as engines from other manufacturers, our small size will be also an asset - we are never seen as a threat. This low volume strategy is affecting the whole management of Saab. We are not going to become huge and will never chase volume at the expense of profitability.

How can you act differently now when you are not a part of GM?
- We can make decisions on your own, we may enter into alliances with whomever we want, we can take on production duties for other manufacturers. The list goes on!

Are you going to concentrate on certain markets or be present everywhere?
- We currently have 60 percent of our sales volumes in Sweden, USA and UK. This means that we are too dependent on these few markets. For this reason we now aim to restart in some European countries, Australia and emerging markets in Russia and China.

As a low volume manufacturer Saab can of course never be everything to everybody. How will you find your niche?
- We must dare to stand out more in terms of design and continue to build on our relationship with aviation. We will also be more clear than before that we produce exciting "driver's cars. They should also be safe, practical and combine good performance with low consumption.

But Saab can hardly be a technology leader with its limited development budget?
- We shall be leading in some areas of focus such as turbo charging, while we become "fast followers" in others. On the environmental side, we will focus more on improving and refining existing engine technology, aerodynamics, and so on than to invest in technology leadership in electric or hybrid technology.

- Our new 9-3 with 180 hp and 119 g of CO2 emissions proves that we already have come a long way. To minimize the costs of developing new models and model variants, we will in the future follow a clear modular approach according to the Scania model.

There are rumors about the forthcoming Saab 9-2. What sort of car will it be?
- The model is not in the current business plan, and its unlikely that development work will begin before the new 9-3 is launched in late 2012. Size-wise, it's probably a car in the B-segment (like a VW Polo or Mini Cooper, editor's note). To keep control of the development costs, the car must be developed together with someone else.

Will there be a motorsport venture of Saab?
- We support some private drivers, particularly in rallying. But there is noe plans for a factory team today. It would require a huge investment in both energy and money to have any chance to win - we can simply not afford it today. Moreover, our target group is not so interested in motor sport.

Favorite Cars, a Saab and a non-Saab?
- Must be the 9-3 convertible, it has been an icon from the start and continues to be popular. As for other brands, I must admit that I always had a weakness for Porsche 911!

What happened in the historic Mille Miglia rally that you and Victor Muller raced in last year?
- It was a fantastic experience to be part of the race - I wish that everybody who is interesting in motors could have participated in the competition at some point in their lives. But best of all, I beat Victor!