ec: How exactly do you plan to undo what GM did to Saab? Can you do better?
VM: First let me remind you that GM did let Saab build the Aero X concept for the 2006 Geneva show. And despite all of the troubles over these 19 years, they sold us the entire company for $545 million, which is basically the price of a wind tunnel. We have the luxury of a fully developed new 9-5 model to launch right away, then there will be a 9-5 SportCombi, a terrific 9-4X crossover, and then the next 9-3 that we'll show as a concept in 2011. All of this is paid for in the deal. What we need to help add back in to Saab is the building of totally Saab Saabs, the quirkiness and coolness and unique pride that have been visibly lost over the years. And by the way, the naming goes back to the original pattern, too, with the 2012 Saab 93 being the first to remove the dash.
ec: Is the 2012 Saab 93 completely paid for through to start of production?
VM: Not through to that point. But all of the development has been done and we're at the point of design freeze. You'll be happy with how far we bring the core Saab back to being more like a Saab. And even though this new 9-5 family and next year's 9-4X don't have much of my input, they start the ball rolling back to what Saab has always stood for. I love the new 9-5's looks with the clean exterior and the aeronautics-influenced interior. I'm also a big fan of the midsized GM crossovers and the 9-4X really made an impression on people when it was shown in Detroit at the start of 2008. I feel very fortunate to be inheriting this existing portfolio.
ec: Which markets are your immediate priorities to get sales numbers up from the 8,680 total sales in 2009, down from the 2007 near-record of 133,000?
VM: The numbers need explaining. First, the press has been using the adjective "loss-making" when talking about Saab for nearly five years and it simply wasn't true. It was frustrating for Saab fanatics like me. Not only did we have to wait 13 years for this next 9-5, but we waited a ridiculous amount of time for four-wheel drive, all while GM Europe took whatever profit Saab was making and threw them into the Opel/Vauxhall black hole.
Another thing is that Saab has never been bankrupt; GM went bankrupt, and Saab was sacrificed for it. So since the high sales of 2007, it's been a steady downhill spiral. When GM got into serious trouble at the start of 2008, it was almost happy to announce that it wanted to dump Saab, Pontiac, and Saturn. (And don't get me started on Pontiac.) But the yanking away of Saab profits, the endless delay for the 9-5, the decision to get rid of Saab and others, the GM bankruptcy, and then the Swedish government's attitude to not help save the company-all of it ruined any chance Saab may have had to maintain sales. By mid-2009 suppliers stopped delivering parts to Trollhättan and all production ended in July. We've only got about 300 cars left on the ground to sell in the United States.
To answer your question, though, we're focusing hard on Sweden, the UK, and the United States as our three major markets to sell between 50,000 and 55,000 units over the rest of 2010 once 9-5 deliveries start in mid-spring.