LOS ANGELES -- Saab Automobile AB plans to begin distribution to China some time in 2011.
A deal is expected to be signed by year end, CEO Jan Ake Jonsson said last week.
“Until we launch the new 9-3 at the end of 2012, it will be just a couple of thousand units (annually), all based on imports. As we lead up to this, we have to make a decision if and when we are going to introduce local manufacturing in China,” Jonsson said on the sidelines of the Los Angeles auto show.
Among the issues to be resolved by the end of this year is “defining the dealer network” in China, he said. Saab needs to be present in five or six cities, with a total of 10 to 15 dealers, he said.
A distribution deal for Russia also is expected to be announced by the end of the year. Details were not revealed.
If a decision is made to assemble vehicles in China, production would begin with the next-generation 9-3. The 9-5 and the upcoming 9-4X crossover would be imported.
Victor Muller, Saab's chairman, said, “You need to get to a volume of 10,000 cars (in China) before you can start manufacturing locally.”
While the U.S version of the 9-4X model goes into production in April, 9-4X models for markets outside of North America will be built starting in August.
Jonsson said it is unlikely that a diesel engine will be offered in the 9-4X. Diesel engines are offered in Saab's other vehicles sold outside the United States.
“If you then look at the life cycle of the vehicle, typically five or six years, before we actually have a diesel engine, we have to find one, we have to test it, we have to install it, validate it, and you are two years into the life cycle.
“And then you have a very short payoff period,” Jonsson said. “So I think it is unlikely.”