AM Online

Saab needs technicians

After two years of record new car sales, Saab’s 94-strong UK dealer network is facing a struggle to prepare for the resultant growth in aftersales business.

Saab GB managing director Jonathan Nash says the network is short of between 100 and 150 qualified technicians, but it needs to be able to increase service provision by mid-2006.

“This year will be when the benefits of the big increase in volumes will come through, as most Saab customers want their car serviced by a Saab dealer. To take advantage of aftersales growth we need more technicians, but there aren’t enough of the high quality technicians we need.”

Nash says Saab GB is looking at how to attract them, and retain existing staff. But he is also asking his retailers to consider how to extend their present service capacity. His concern is that booking times for servicing could extend if action isn’t taken.

“If lead times drift out to 10 to 14 days we’ll have a real problem. Customers want their car seen within the week,” Nash adds.

Much of the growth in Saab’s new car registrations has been from lower-margin fleet sales, which have more than trebled since 2003, thanks to a cross-brand corporate sales structure with Vauxhall.

This integration has helped Saab compete harder against Ford’s PAG rivals. But its retail sales have held steady at around 10,000 units in the same period, so dealers who are not involved in fleet sales have suffered.

Nash admits the network needs to become more profitable. “Overall, 2005 wasn’t a bad year but I’d like to see more net profitability. We need to be at about 1.5% average return. We’re some way below that.”

Praise for the GB operation

The UK is now Saab’s second largest market, behind the USA. Jan-Ake Jonsson, Sweden-based managing director of Saab Automotive told AM that Saab GB and its franchised network have done “a tremendous job over the last couple of years”.

Now the growth must be sustained, as he expects the UK to top 30,000 units in 2006. Dealers now have diesel options, a revised 9-5 and the 9-3 range extended with the Sportwagon. And they can expect an image-boosting crossover vehicle within two years.

“The key elements of the Saab brand – design, performance and functionality – are really coming through. Now we can compete directly with BMW, Audi and Volvo. Our image is probably the best we’ve had,” says Jonsson.

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