GRAZ, Austria - Steyr-Daimler-Puch has won a key contract to design and build two new Saab derivatives, according to Steyr sources.
Production of the cars - presumed to be the next-generation 9-3 coupe and convertible - is likely to begin in 2003.
The news appeared to surprise Valmet Automotive in Finland, which makes the current 9-3 convertible. A spokesman denied knowledge of any change in Saab's plans.
The deal is a coup for Steyr, which is owned by Canadian supplier Magna International. The Austrian vehicle maker has been heavily dependent on DaimlerChrysler business. It builds such models as the Chrysler Voyager, Jeep Grand Cherokee and Mercedes-Benz M-class in Austria.
Steyr will be responsible for the design and construction of prototypes - similar to its agreement with Audi for the TT roadster/coupe. However, Steyr will also produce the new Saab models. The TT is built by Audi in Hungary.
The 9-3 successor is expected to be launched in 2001. About 20,000 Saabs are expected to be built annually in Austria.
Steyr will revamp a components operation in Graz for the Saab work. A new parts plant will be built about 10km away, in Lannach.
Steyr sources said they are pleased to have the General Motors subsidiary as a customer. They said Steyr's dependence on DaimlerChrysler could have led other automakers to avoid business with the company.
Saab is understood to be talking to its trade unions before it announces the deal.
Valmet's plant in Uusikaupunki, Finland, currently produces 30,000 cars a year, of which 18,000 are Saab 9-3 convertibles.
The remaining 12,000 are Porsche Boxsters. Production of the Lada Samara ended last year due to falling demand. Valmet formerly built the GM Calibra.