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Saab 9-3X finally set to touch down to Oz

Here at least: Saab's 9-3X all-wheel-drive wagon is finally about to arrive in Australian showrooms.

Swedish car-maker back in business Down Under with fresh arrival of 9-3 – and 9-3X

21 Jan 2011

SAAB effectively will be back in the new-car business in Australia within a week with the imminent arrival of the first shipment of stock from the new-look Swedish company, including the first examples of the 9-3X all-wheel-drive wagon in this country.

New factory-owned distributor Saab Cars Australia, which took over the brand from the Holden-based GM Premium Vehicles on January 1, is planning to truck the freshly-arrived stocks of 9-3 sedans and SportCombi wagons to the new, pared-down dealer network as soon as possible.

However, the arrival in Australia of the first stock shipment since the sale of Saab by GM to Dutch niche sportscar-maker Spyker Cars a year ago will be a quiet affair, with the fledgling importer keeping the advertising powder dry until the arrival of the all-new 9-5 flagship sedan in April.

Saab Asia Pacific Region director Stephen Nicholls told GoAuto that Saab dealers needed a broader range of models before the new company – owned by Saab Automobile AB – could make “too much noise”.

“With these 9-3s, we are planning it very close to our chest,” he said.

“We are doing a lot of direct marketing with our existing customers, so we are taking it one step at a time.

“With the new 9-5 sedan – we have some of those being built – we are looking at having some sort of a launch event, which would be in early April by the time we get all the homologation done.

38 center imageFrom top: Saab 9-3, Saab 9-4X, Saab 9-5 and Saab 9-5 Estate.

“That’s the time we feel we will have a proper story to tell, to introduce ourselves and explain what we are doing. That’s the big story for Saab.

“We are trying to position ourselves in such a way that we never really went away.

“Strictly speaking, we haven’t – we have been supplying service, warranty etc to all of our customers. So it is really a handover, from the GM days to an independent Saab set-up.”

Last year, Saab dealers sold just 14 cars from old stock – down from 1862 in 2007.

The arrival of the new flagship 9-5 sedan – launched in mid 2010 in Europe – will be followed by the 9-5 Estate in about October-November after its debut at the Geneva motor show in March.

The Saab 9-4X SUV will be added to the range late in the year or early 2012.

So far, Saab Cars Australia has signed letters of intent with 11 dealers around Australia, mostly existing Saab dealers who kept the flame burning with the help of Holden through the dark days of 2009 when it appeared that owner GM might throw the brand on the scrapheap as a result of its Chapter 11 bankruptcy troubles.

Mr Nicholls, who ran Saab Asia-Pacific under the GM regime and has signed on to guide the new independent operation, said Saab Cars Australia was hoping to sign a few more dealers, particularly in Sydney where it currently has only one, at Artarmon, in Sydney’s west.

However, he said the network would be kept deliberately tight to ensure that each dealer achieved profitability as soon as possible.

“We are very anxious to right-size the network to start, because the last thing we need is to plant flags everywhere and have them all fighting each other and not making any money,” he said“We are looking to set up a viable franchise with a smaller number at first. Our volume ambitions are to grow conservatively. We are looking to sell cars profitably rather than go for volume at first.

“We are happy to get a good, small number of dealers, and if we can get those going, and profitable, than sure, two or three years down the track when we get the new-generation 9-3, there will be an opportunity to look at a wider network and certainly much bigger volumes.”

The arrival of the 9-3X – a crossover version of the 9-3 SportCombi – comes almost two years since the vehicle was unveiled at the 2009 Geneva motor show in the darkest days of the global financial crisis.

The 9-3X gets Saab’s XWD all-wheel drive, although it is not yet clear what engines will be available with the Australian models.

A 2.0-litre E85-compatible petrol four-cylinder turbo is the most likely starter, although 1.9-litre TiD diesel engines are also on offer in SportCombi in Europe.

The 9-3X rides 35mm higher than the regular 9-3 SportCombi, and is distinguished by black wheel-arch extensions and chunkier matt-grey front and rear bumper designs and aluminium-look skid plates.

Standard black roof-rails, oversized front foglights, twin round exhaust outlets for all variants, new 17-inch multi-spoke alloy wheels and alloy-look lower door strips complete the rugged new 9-3 look.

The 9-3X was launched in Europe about a year ago after production resumed at Saab’s Swedish plants following the take-over by Spyker.

The bigger 9-4X – built in Mexico on a GM platform that also spawned the Cadillac SRX – will also get a Holden-built 221kW/400Nm 2.8-litre turbo V6 that will also arrive in the new 9-5 sedan and 9-5 Estate.

Mr Nicholls said the 9-4X rollout would start in the US – the vehicle’s main target market – in the second quarter of this year, with right-hand drive production scheduled for September.

“So by the time we get the thing through (to Australia), it will be right at the end of this year or perhaps slip into 2012,” he said.

Mr Nicholls said the 9-3X and 9-4X would help to establish Saab’s XWD sub-brand in Australia.

“We have imported some of the XWD cars into Australia in the past, but that was really only on our Turbo X model, which was the top-of-the-line model at that time,” he said.

“We are very proud of the XWD system and we are hoping that we will get a few more people to try it out.”

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