As Saab looks ahead to a future without GM, its MD reflects on a new owner, the importance of new product, selective collaborations and the brand management lessons that GM may have learned with Saab. Rebecca Wright caught up with Jan Ake Jonsson in Geneva.

Jan Ake Jonsson, the Managing Director of Saab Automobile says that the next owner of Saab could be tentatively decided upon in the next month.
“I think we’ll see by the end of the next couple of weeks how many interested parties there are in Saab and who are the serious contenders,” Jonsson told just-auto.
In terms of companies that have so far shown interest in the Swedish carmaker, the split between other automotive companies and non-auto enterprises – such as private investors or equity houses – is “about 50/50,” Jonsson said.

Citing the success of Toyota and PSA’s joint venture for the development and manufacture of city cars, Jonsson sees the potential for various non-ownership cooperation agreements with other vehicle manufacturers.

“I trust that going forward we will have a lot of different relationships with different manufacturers. The benefit that we will have in the future by not being part of GM is that we can select which ones we would like to work with, providing of course that they will work with us, so we will have a much broader opportunity.”

Jonsson also has in mind other benefits of no longer being owned by GM, namely an enhanced product portfolio that never quite came to fruition under its American owner.
“The key will be our new products. The 9-5 is now 12 years old, the 9-3 is 7 years old and we don’t have anything else yet. So of course with fresh products, we will be in a totally different situation.” This, combined with other factors – including a fully-utilised plant in Trollhätten, a fully-utilised engineering organisation and the fact that costs and overheads are lower in Sweden than in Germany  – can all combine to make Saab profitable in the future, Jonsson insists.

When asked what, if anything, GM has learnt anything from Saab, Johnsson cited Saab’s technological strengths in the areas of safety, turbocharging and alternative fuels such as bioethanol E85.

However, Jonsson believes that the biggest lesson that GM will take away from the ownership experience is how to manage a brand. “We’re probably a little bit unique in the GM portfolio of brands in having a pretty consistent approach to how we communicate our brand, how we manage it, and how obsessed we are with the brand. That’s a little bit different when you have a multi-brand environment like GM has where you rebadge vehicles with hardly any changes. I think Saab’s brand management in general is seen as a role model within GM.”

Despite their obvious differences, Johnsson says that Saab and GM will continue to work together in the future.

“GM has clearly stated that it is prepared to provide us not only with components and products but also technology. Of course, it is also in GM’s interests to do this; we already buy a lot of engines and components from GM. I’m sure that it wants us to be successful so that we’ll buy even more from them in the future, but this is something we will have to negotiate as part of the separation.”

Rebecca Wright