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May 13, 2008

UK: Will Trollhattan get next Saab 9-3?

When GM finally decided to stop sitting on its hands and invest in its Saab premium brand the consequences for the brand’s Swedish manufacturing home looked ominous.

When GM finally decided to stop sitting on its hands and invest in its Saab premium brand the consequences for the brand’s Swedish manufacturing home looked ominous.

Production of both mainstay 9-3 and 9-5 models appeared to be heading away from Trollhattan to Russlesheim for reasons of economic efficiency – the German plant being GM’s European centre of production for cars on the next generation Epsilon (Epsilon II) platform/architecture.

That apparently consigned Trollhattan to a role as a lower volume niche plant producing across several of GM’s European brands (for example, it currently makes the Cadillac BLS).

But while the next 9-5, due in 2009, will certainly be built in Russelsheim, it now appears that the next all-new 9-3 – due to commence production in the 2011 model year – may be made in Trollhattan after all.

Industry sources say GM has now decided to put the next 9-3 on the smaller ‘global compact’ Delta platform rather than Epsilon II. In that case, it would therefore be made at another European plant and quite possibly Trollhattan.

Saab GB’s Managing Director Jonathan Nash confirmed that Saab’s Trollhattan plant is in the running to make the new 9-3 model.

“The current 9-3 continues in Trollhattan, the next 9-3 may well be built in Trollhattan, the next 9-5 will be made in Russelsheim and the 9-4 will be made in a North American plant,” he told just-auto.

If the next 9-3 shares platform with a further out 9-1 entry-model, it will raise the question of maintaining sufficient differentiation between the two models. However, the possibility of more Saab production being retained in Trollhattan would please Saab enthusiasts as well as workers at Trollhattan.

German labour unions, who have been pressing GM Europe for an answer on the 9-3, may be concerned about the implications for capacity and manpower planning at Russelsheim.

Nash maintains that big car companies have to select manufacturing locations on the basis of economic efficiency and that customers are more influenced by other values inherent in a brand besides a particular model’s place of final assembly. 

“I do not believe customers care where vehicles are built. What they care about is that the brand is reflected in the product. If we built a rather bland Saab in Sweden it would be a rather bland Saab. If we build a very distinctive and pure Saab in Russlesheim it’s a genuine Saab. The trick is to keep that relevant product differentiation and that comes out through the design, the execution, use of materials and lots of small tunes.

“Is platform sharing or powertrain commonality critical? I don’t think so as long as the vehicles are attuned to the brand. A Saab should always be slightly more dynamic, sporty and tense to drive than another GM brand.”

He’s also eagerly anticipating the impact of the next Russelsheim-produced 9-5.

“We are going to be pretty fanatical about making sure that a Saab is a Saab, wherever it is made. And I’m very excited about the new 9-5 which will be very uncompromisingly Saab.” 


Dave Leggett

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