PURCELLVILLE, VA – Saab Automobile will not outfit the auto maker’s new-for-’11 Saab 9-4X with a diesel-engine option for markets outside the U.S., saying conservative sales targets for the cross/utility vehicle make an oil burner cost prohibitive.
“You never know what can happen, but there is no current plan” for a 9-4X diesel, says Anders Svensson, Saab’s vehicle line executive.
The 5-passenger 9-4X arrives at U.S. dealers in June with a standard 3.0L gasoline direct-injection V-6 engine or an optional 2.8L turbocharged gasoline V-6 using sequential fuel injection. Saab offers multiple diesel choices in its 9-5 and 9-3 line of cars for markets outside the U.S.
Svensson admits selling a diesel option in 9-4X markets such as Europe and Asia, as Saab does with the 9-5 and 9-3 ranges, could raise the luxury CUV’s calendar-year volume forecast of 12,500 units globally “several times.”
But as the Swedish auto maker restructures from its near-death in 2010, Saab must keep its production levels conservative or risk carrying costly inventory and burning cash it doesn’t have.
The auto maker doesn’t even build the 9-4X, but rather pays former-parentto produce it alongside the Cadillac SRX in Ramos Arizpe, Mexico.
In short, Saab must keep a sharp eye on its wallet or it will not make it through the critical next 18 months.
“If we were to have a diesel option, then the volume potential in Europe would be considerably higher, but that business equation is not easy,” Svensson tells Ward’s during a rest stop here while test driving the 9-4X. “Even if the business equation worked, we have to prioritize what we do.”
GM choosing to offer a diesel in its Cadillac SRX, with which the 9-4X shares a platform, would help that business case. But as it stands, the SRX’s global launch does not include a diesel option.
“Our business is not sending a list to Santa Claus and you get whatever you want,” Svensson adds. “You have to prioritize, and a diesel has not made the priority list.”
Outside the U.S., buyers of vehicles such as the 9-4X do not necessarily clamor for a diesel variant. Svensson does admit penetration rates in Europe of engines using the cheaper diesel fuel on competitive models such as theX3 and Mercedes-Benz GLK are great. But Saab thinks those buyers are wealthy enough not to care.
“Because prices of a car like this are so high anyhow, they are beyond that problem,” he says.
Saab also will continue to use the 2.8L V-6 for the 9-4X and other models, despite GM’s decision to dump the engine from the SRX. GM Holden in Australia builds the engine, and the U.S. parent uses it elsewhere globally, but Cadillac will offer a 3.6L direct-injection V-6 as optional on the SRX in ’12.
“Further down the road, we might change; there might be an opportunity for us,” Svenson says.
The 9-4X was first shown as a near-production concept at the Detroit auto show in 2008 with an off-the-shelf 2.0L GDI featuring flex-fuel capability.
Svensson tells Ward’s GM recently showed a new willingness to spend more money to differentiate products built on the same platform than it ever has before.
The result is evident in a number of current GM products, such as its lineup of large CUVs, but also with the 9-4X and SRX. Two of GM’s more dubious “badge-engineering” stunts were executed at Saab with the 9-2X and 9-7X, and the cars did some damage to the brand.
Much of the development of the 9-4X was performed before GM’s U.S. bankruptcy, and although the CUV shares some bits and pieces with the SRX, their interior and exterior designs are markedly different.
“GM understands (badge-engineering) won’t work anymore, not in the U.S. and not anywhere,” says Svensson, who has spent more than 20 years working at Saab and elsewhere at GM.
“Before, it would have been one hell of a struggle just to get a unique steering wheel. That was behind us with the 9-4X.”
The 9-4X did benefit from GM’s decision to bring Saab engineers onboard early in the development of the Theta Epsilon premium platform to offer some European flavor.
“This was done the right way,” Svensson says. “Much better than in the past, where there were silos for (GM’s global) regions. This was an international team.”
Svensson reports of high morale among workers back in Trollhattan, compared with the dark days during GM’s efforts to divest the brand.
Saab parentCars lost millions in 2010 and expected losses again in 2011 before returning to profitability in 2012.
But the workforce remains all-in, Svensson says. Last month, Trollhattan celebrated its one year of independence from GM
“We spent one year on a rollercoaster in the dark,” he recalls. “You didn’t know the next turn, or if you were headed up or down, and that was very, very hard on morale. Over this last year, it was a big, big difference. You don’t have to convince anyone why sometimes we have to do a little bit extra hours or effort.”