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Car confidential: GM produce helps satisfy Saab hunger

Saab is the European car industry’s Oliver Twist. While BMW and Mercedes dealers are spoiled rotten with new product, Saab’s retailers have been wondering where their next meal ticket is coming from. The company’s new president, Carl-Peter Forster, is acutely aware of the problem. “We need to put new product into our dealerships to keep them happy,” he says.

He knows Saab must break its vicious cycle of building 9-3, 9-5 and nothing else. It needs a broader product range to become profitable, but without becoming profitable it struggles to fund new models. However, the Swedes should benefit from GM’s creation of a global product planning team, to foster platform sharing among its outposts.

The 9-6X, a crossover SUV like the Lexus RX300, embodies the new joined-up thinking. It rides on Japanese underpinnings, co-developed with Subaru and already unveiled as the ugly B9 Tribeca.

Saab’s version was expected at least month’s New York Auto Show, although insiders say it was pulled after underperforming in customer clinics. The seven-seater is undergoing a mild reworking, ahead of its launch later this year and European sales in 2006. 

The next all-new Saab should be the 9-5 replacement. Today’s pensioner gets a reskin for September’s Frankfurt show, with its successor still a couple of years away.

The plan was to base the 9-5 on the rear-wheel drive Zeta platform, developed in Australia by Holden, but the bean counters have nixed a plan to export the chassis to the States. Now, it could get a stretched version of the 9-3.

The next 9-3 – again twinned with the Vectra – arrives in 2008; an Audi A3 and Volvo C30-chasing hatchback could follow in 2009. This is not a successor to the 9-2X, but a smaller hatch probably spun off the next generation Astra. Meanwhile, the rebadged Impreza, the 9-2X, is not selling well in the US, and is unlikely to be replaced by another ‘Saabaru’ joint venture.

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