DETROIT -- Saab executives said they're optimistic the struggling brand will be able to attract customers despite production stoppages at the company's Trollhaettan, Sweden, plant and cash flow problems.
The Swedish automaker aims to target consumers and instill confidence with a grass-roots marketing campaign that focuses on the "heart, brain and wallet," Saab Cars North America President Tim Colbeck told reporters at Saab's North American headquarters in suburban Detroit Thursday.
Colbeck said the company must move away from selling vehicles based on price and focus more on making customers enthusiastic about driving Saab's vehicles.
"Our goal is to find ways to connect with our owners and connect on that emotional level so we instill this passion," Colbeck said. He said eventually Saab aims to sell 30,000 vehicles annually in the United States.
Hurdles remain, though, as Swedish Automobile NV, Saab's parent company, had to scramble last month for funds to pay staff in Sweden, and production at the Trollhaettan plant has been stopped most of the summer because suppliers stopped shipments after their bills went unpaid.
Aug. 9 plant restart
Swedish Automobile said Thursday that production at the plant is expected resume Aug. 9 after the Swedish government approved a 28 million euro ($40 million) deal for the automaker to sell 50.1 percent of its plant to a group of Swedish real estate investors.
Swedish Automobile and Saab also say that in "additional funding commitments" have been secured over the past few weeks.
Production of the 9-4X, Saab's new crossover being built by General Motors Co. in Ramos Arizpe, Mexico, has continued as scheduled, Colbeck said in an interview after the event.
The first 2011 9-4Xs, which share a platform with the Cadillac SRX, were delivered to U.S. dealers on Saturday, Colbeck said.
Saab is optimistic that the 9-4X and other new models scheduled for release over the next two years will help reignite interest in the brand and draw consumers to dealerships.
Tom Backes, general manager of Guilford Saab in Guilford, Connecticut, said the dealership hasn't received any 9-4Xs yet, but the vehicles "can't get here soon enough."
The dealership sent out e-mails to 3,500 customers interested in the 9-4X to let them know that the vehicles will be arriving "shortly," Backes said, adding that the dealership has received "interest from a cross section of demographics that never would've [previously] walked into our store."
Saab hopes to replicate that excitement with advertising campaigns targeted at the automaker's niche audience, Executive Director of Marketing David Rooney said at the event.
Most Saab drivers are highly educated, independent-minded and have household incomes of more than $100,000 (about 70,175 euros). Rooney said the key is to make drivers feel like Saabs are premium vehicles that fit their lifestyle.
The company has launched Internet campaigns on Facebook, car Web sites and other lifestyle sites. Saab also has print ads in six select markets -- including cities in the Northeast, Chicago and Denver, Rooney said.
Saab also is showcasing vehicles in high-end malls and is offering extended test-drives for interested customers. Still, Colbeck said the company has no immediate interest in expanding into TV advertising.
"TV is down the road for us," he said. "It's a scale that's not necessary for us right now. You're paying for too many eyeballs that aren't interested in you."
Saab sold 323 vehicles in the United States in June, which was a 50 percent gain over June 2010. During the first six months of the year, Saab sold 3,471 vehicles, a 370 percent gain over the first half of 2010 -- a transition time just after the automaker split off from its former owner General Motors.