Dave Leggett | 27 May 2005
New 9-3 Sportwagon (or SportCombi) is an interesting stretch for Saab, taking it into the 'compact premium sport wagon' market for the first time where it will be slugging it out with the likes of the BMW 3 Series Touring and Audi A4 Avant. Naturally, they found a nice one for us to drive - the 2.8L V6 sports variant. Certainly does go, though there were a few complaints about torque steer - something that may be a little bit inevitable when you have a great deal of power fed through the front wheels. It didn't bother me. The car is a nice design I think, though it is up against some pretty serious competition and I guess the question becomes one of what brand people are ultimately attracted to in that segment. The Saab people seem to think that the 9-3 SportWagon holds the key to significant volume growth in 2005 and 2006. And it will be competitively priced to hit various market sweet spots. In that respect it will be interesting to see how the sales go in Europe.
It is always interesting to see who you get talking to on these sorts of trips. I found myself next to an Opel chassis guy who worked on the Delta platform at dinner last night. Nice chap and it was interesting to hear how the platform development cycles work in a company like GM. Jonathan Browning (GM Europe's sales head) was around last night too. Enthusiastic as ever and he'll be spending more time in Britain now that chairman of Vauxhall has been added to his portfolio. I quizzed him about GM's brand strategy in Europe and he drew a wonderful little chart looking at customer groups; income levels on the vertical axis, 'mindset' on the horizontal, mapping the discrete areas where the brands sit and are moving. That chart is logged in my head (although I am still not convinced that Cadillac will really fly in Europe).
One of my colleagues jokingly remarked that I should get the chart on ebay, a place where the press kits and goodies given out on these things sometimes end up. Snazzy Nokia phones given out by Audi on the A4 launch at the end of last year a few weeks ahead of the phones' public market intro apparently made one or two people a few bucks. Some people really have no scruples.
As far as Trollhattan is concerned, the outlook is perhaps not as bleak at the end of the decade as it at first appears, with a number of niche models being lined up for the plant. A Saab 'crossover' vehicle is being talked about by journalists (perhaps XC90-sized) as well as Caddy and Chevy lines to swell output a little further. I certainly get the feeling that the plant has a future, although I suspect that is not a future that has the people of Trollhattan dancing in the streets.
By the way, this is coming to you from a laptop on the 19th floor of the Gothia Towers hotel in Gothenburg. This place is as windy as I remember it from the last time I was here. But the countryside is pretty - nice, well ordered villages, strangely devoid of people. Today we are out in the Vauxhall/Opel Zafira. The panoramic roof (not standard) is certainly striking. There's a raised central spine that gives a visual impression not unlike that of a mohican haircut. Maybe that's what they mean by 'compact MPV with attitude'.
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