By the time you read this blog, the ink should be drying on the contract for a new HQ for Saab GB in Milton Keynes.
This move to the spiritual home of the UK’s car distribution industry is a significant one for Saab, since it marks the physical as well as spiritual separation from GM.
With a planned compliment of 300 staff, the new head office should be fully operational by the end of the year, the time lag accounted for by the not inconsiderable task of unravelling Saab’s operations from those of Vauxhall and Chevrolet.
In a GM-inspired drive to boost productivity, workers in back room functions had become multi-taskers, constantly juggling projects for the three brands. Now many of those people are pondering their futures – stay with GM or move to Saab?
The new Saab GB will be a more conservative company when it comes to sales. Its medium-term goal is to reach a modest 20,000 UK registrations around 2014/15 – about one per cent of the market to put it on a par with Jaguar rather than Audi/BMW with nearly six per cent.
Saab’s peak years were relatively recent, in 2005 and 2006 when it registered 27,500 and 27,000 units respectively, helped by fleet sales pumped through Vauxhall’s well-connected corporate sales office.
New Saab is promising to steer clear of fleet sales in the early years, which makes the climb to 20,000 a bigger challenge considering that sales are forecast this year to reach around 10,000 units.
At least 10k is a welcome increase over last year’s grim 7000 sales, which has been held back by a shortage of supply, according to the company spokesman.
Saab says stocks of cars in the UK have just about dried up thanks to a slowdown in output from Trollhattan. At one point this year the central compound held just 13 cars, instead of the usual hundreds.
To get to 20k units, Saab will still be mainly reliant on the 9-3, which will generate around 8-10k units, hopefully boosted by the arrival of the new model in late 2012/early 2103.
The predictions for the 9-5 remain conservative with around 2000 to 2500 units in the first full year in 2011. When the station wagon arrives in late 2011 and into 2012, Saab is talking 4k to 5k a year for the 9-5, two-thirds of those saloons, one-third estates.
Added together the 9-3 and 9-5 are forecast to add-up to around 15,000 units, the bulk of the 20k target.
The balance of 5k units will be largely taken by the new premium small hatch, the 9-2, inspired by the Mini and styled like the 1950s 92.
Saab is remaining conservative with projections for its other new model, the 9-4X soft-roader. A version of the Cadillac SRX and built in Mexico, the 9-4X arrives in 2011/12, but may not be available for a few years after that with a four-cylinder diesel engine, which will limit sales to around 1000 a year.
The plan certainly looks conservative and sensible, although not without its challenges for the bread-and-butter cars — the ageing 9-3 has to hold on to a respectable level of sales, while the new 9-5 has to nudge into the mainstream.
At least there’s one thing in Saab’s favour. Despite various ups and downs over the past few decades, the British business has always been profitable, I’m told. Which is a boast few other competitors can make.