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Saab to push 9-3 upmarket

The new look: How our artist Bernie Walsh envisions the new Swedish contender.

You'll pay more for the next 9-3, but it will be worth it says Saab

23 Oct 2001

SAAB is expected to wave goodbye to sub-$50,000 pricing in Australia when it replaces the 9-3 range with a new generation sedan in October next year.

The much-anticipated 9-3 will be the first all-new car from the smaller Swede since the introduction of the 9-5 in 1997. It will have a longer wheelbase and be wider and roomier inside than the current generation cars, and retain an all-turbo four-cylinder engine line-up in Australia.

It will adopt the new Saab "forms" nomenclature - Arc, Linear and Vector - although like in the new 9-5, Aero is expected to be retained as the name for the sports model.

A group of cars will spin off from the sedan, which is built on General Motors' new Epsilon platform. They are expected to include a convertible, a wagon, a three-door hatchback and a crossover wagon with a Magna Steyr four-wheeldrive system.

Most of these cars will carry the stamp of Saab's brilliant design chief Michael Mauer, the German poached from DaimlerChrysler in 2000.

But Mr Mauer has had virtually no influence over the styling of the sedan, which was signed off before he arrived. As our illustration shows,based on insider information and spy photos, this is a conservative car with similar lines to the 9-5.

It is a far cry from the styling revolution Saab promises on the basis of the 9X concept car unveiled at Frankfurt in September and shown in Sydney this month. But that does not concern Saab Australia managing director Tony Jennett.

"If you were going to enter the prestige-luxury segment in Australia and you had to identify what segment you would like to be in in terms of volume potential, the small executive sedan market is the biggest," he said. "A4, 3 Series, C-class, S60, X-Type, Lexus. It's the biggest segment, it's the fastest growing segment in terms of volume."But with the 9-3 convertible accounting for a third of Saab's total volume in Australia annually, it is expected to be kept in the range alongside the new sedan until the new generation drop-top arrives sometime in 2003.

However there are no plans to keep the current hatch 9-3 alive, even if it provides a point of difference for Saab in a crowded part of the market.

"If it (hatchback) was such a fantastic point of difference we'd be selling 200 a month - and we're selling about 60," Mr Jennett said.

"Yes, it's a point of difference, yes that appeals to some customers, but we believe there's more potential in offering a conventional sedan."The absence of the three-door hatch virtually guarantees Saab will cross the prestige-luxury pricing line and not offer a car below$50,000.

It is a move Mr Jennett will make without qualms. "I don't think it's important to be under $50,000 as long as it's (9-3) seen to be specced, equipped and offer performance that would be better than our competitors," he said. "We want to maintain a value for money position and we have that at the moment in termsof spec, equipment and pricing.

"I think if you look into the numbers, the key clusters are early $50,000s and then very late $50,000s and early $60,000s. There's a couple ofpeople with pricing which starts in the $40,000s but they don't sell many cars there. BMW certainly doesn't."Mr Jennett said there was debate about the specification level of the new 9-3 and whether all-leather would continue to be part of the range.

Saab is forecasting to sell 5000 cars in Australia by 2005, up from about 2800 it expects to sell in 2001.

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