Saab shifts up a gear

NT News - Motoring - - FRONT PAGE - By PAUL GOVER

The Saab come­back plan for Aus­tralia is fi­nally kick­ing into gear. The 9-3 range is al­ready head­ing back to lo­cal show­rooms, the 9-5 sedan is set for April, the 9-5 SportCombi will ar­rive late this year and the 9-4X SUV will be in early 2012.

The Swedish brand only de­liv­ered 16 cars dur­ing 2010 but is tar­get­ing more than 500 de­liv­er­ies through 2011.

‘‘We’re look­ing some­where north of about 500 cars as a gen­tle eas­ing back into the mar­ket. We’re not talk­ing about a re­launch, we’re talk­ing about a rein­vig­o­ra­tion,’’ says Stephen Ni­cholls, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Saab Cars Aus­tralia.

The com­pany is now op­er­at­ing as an in­de­pen­dent dis­trib­u­tor af­ter Gen­eral Mo­tors sold the par­ent com­pany to Vic­tor Muller through his Spyker su­per­car busi­ness and GM Holden ended its time as im­porter.

‘‘The board ap­proval to re­form Saab Cars Aus­tralia was taken in late Oc­to­ber,’’ Ni­cholls says.

‘‘We had a few plans ready at that stage.

‘‘What you see now is the re­sult of us work­ing since early Novem­ber to get things in place.

‘‘We’d been keep­ing in touch with our core deal­ers. It was a fairly quick process to get cars or­dered and on the boat.’’

Ni­cholls is a 30-year Saab vet­eran who was the com­pany’s Asi­aPa­cific re­gional di­rec­tor be­fore tak­ing on re­spon­si­bil­ity for Aus­tralia.

He says he has been sur­prised by the groundswell of in­ter­est in Saab and is happy with the re­sponse to the show­room re­turn.

‘‘We’ve got cars on the ground now. We’ve had them for about 10 days,’’ he says.

‘‘We have all 9-3s, Sports Sedan, con­vert­ible and SportCombi in­clud­ing the new 9-3X.’’

The new-model roll­out be­gins with the 9-5 sedan, which has had a luke­warm re­cep­tion in Europe, fol­lowed by the sta­tion wagon and the SUV.

‘‘We’re tar­get­ing the mid­dle of April for the 9-5 sedan,’’ says Ni­cholls. ‘‘We’re go­ing to call the wagon the 9-5 Es­tate in Aus­tralia.

‘‘That prob­a­bly won’t be with us un­til Oc­to­ber-Novem­ber.

‘‘The 9-4X is start­ing left-hand drive pro­duc­tion now.

‘‘We won’t start right-hand drive pro­duc­tion un­til Septem­berOc­to­ber, which means a launch date very late this year or early next year. The 9-4X is def­i­nitely in the plan and is go­ing to be an im­por­tant car.’’

Ni­cholls is not spe­cific about prices for the whole range but con­firms a sub-$50,000 start­ing price for the re­turn of the 9-3.

‘‘With the car­ry­over prod­ucts, if I can call it that, we’re pretty much line-ball with where we were be­fore. ‘‘Against Audi and BMW we have a pretty good story to tell.

‘‘It’s $46,900 for the 9-3 Sports Sedan Lin­ear with a 2.0-litre turbo petrol en­gine. That’s 147kW.’’

Saab’s new-model roll­out be­gins with the 9-5 sedan

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