Radical restructuring of the way Saab sells cars is being developed with the unveiling of 'Saab Unlimited' which will launch in the UK later this year.
The new Europe-wide strategy comes as Saab plans to launch a string of new models in the next few years to give the brand its largest model line-up in history and almost double sales.
While the UK importer says it has no plans to either take control of the network or shrink its present 100 outlets four new showcase and sales formats are being unveiled.
Saab president and chief executive officer Peter Augustsson said: “The UK is leading the way in the development of Saab Unlimited because the dealer structure is probably the best we have.”
With the phasing in of the new marketing and retailing strategy Augustsson hopes dealers will sell on average 350 new cars a year. He said: “We need to invest in our dealers and develop new ideas ahead of launching new vehicles.”
The concept will see the launch of 'brand centres' in the world's leading cities particularly aimed at attracting business people to the Saab brand.
Owned 100% by Saab, rather than by individual dealers, the finishing touches are now being put to brand centres at terminals one and two in London's Heathrow Airport and at Birmingham Airport.
The outlets are designed to enable potential Saab buyers to use internet and virtual reality technology to explore the manufacturer's vehicle line-up. It will be possible to book test drives at the brand centres.
A UK spokesman said: “The purpose is not only to sell cars but to raise the profile of Saab and its brand values.”
City Centres, which will be jointly run by Saab and major dealers, will be opened in major cities - the first one has recently opened in Berlin.
During the next three years Saab aims to create 100 City Centres worldwide with Saab City, the importer-owned outlet in London's Piccadilly, being revamped ready for a June opening.
In addition Saab is looking at opening other City Centres in locations such as Manchester and Glasgow which are also expected to be operated by the importer.
Aimed at attracting high volumes of city centre pedestrians - particularly user-chooser company car driving businessmen and women working in the area - they are expected to display maybe just one Saab model although test drives can be booked.
“The key to their success will be the location. We are taking the brand to the customer rather than waiting for the customer to find the brand,” said the spokesman.
In the future all Saab dealers will operate either as Unlimited Partners or Certified Partners.
Unlimited Partners will be exclusive Saab dealerships located in major towns and cities offering the full range of dealer services including a fleet of test vehicles and aftersales.
Certified Partners will offer similar services to the other new formats but will be located primarily in rural areas.
Accompanying the new sales approach will be an overhaul of Saab's image with the spokesman saying: “Out goes poorly focussed mass marketing; in comes targeted niche marketing.” The UK is leading the development of the new sales strategy as the Saab dealer network is mature and will change little in make-up. While Brand Centres and City Centres will lead the new approach traditional dealerships will undergo a design makeover.
Saab launches product offensive
A major product offensive is to be launched by Saab with at least one all-new vehicle a year entering the market between 2002 and 2008.
While the Swedish manufacturer, wholly owned by General Motors, is saying little about its new model plans it is understood that 4x4s, MPVs, so-called crossover vehicles (MPV x 4x4) and a roadster will be among the up to seven expected new vehicles.
President and chief executive officer Peter Augustsson said at the Geneva motor show that the size of vehicles would be similar to the existing 9-3 and 9-5 and said a small car was 'not a priority'.
'We will be looking at developing the 9-3 and 9-5 model ranges with new models,' he said. 'We will not produce vehicles larger than the 9-5.
Last year Saab sold 132,300 cars globally of which fractionally under 17,000 units were in the UK. Worldwide Saab has a five-year target to sell 250,000 vehicles a year with at last 25,000 units being in the UK.
The first new Saab vehicle is expected to be revealed at September's Frankfurt International Motor Show.
Meanwhile, Saab is to double its diesel engine vehicle line-up with the summer launch of a 170 bhp 3.0 V6 common rail unit sourced from Isuzu entering the 9-5.
Presently in the UK Saab only offers one diesel model - the 9-3 2.2 TiD SE five-door powered by an Opel-sourced diesel engine.
The new unit will power both saloon and estate 9-5 variants with vehicles badged 3.0 TiD. It produces 350 Nm of torque at 1,800 rpm.
The 3.0 V6 turbo diesel engine will subsequently appear in other General Motors' vehicles following its Saab debut.