* First model since Saab take over by Spyker
* Goal is to “rebuild confidence and trust”
* Entire line-up to be overhauled within two years
TROLLHATTAN, Sweden, June 1 (Reuters) - Saab is launching its first new car, the flagship 9-5, as it hopes to restore buzz and sales to the iconic Swedish brand after its rescue earlier this year by Dutch luxury carmaker Spyker SPYKR.AS.
Amid anaemic demand -- global auto sales sank 13 percent in 2009 to a seven-year low -- Saab is aiming to more than double yearly sales to 85,000 by 2012 to avoid losses. Last year, it sold nearly 40,000 cars.
At Saab’s headquarters in Trollhattan, where thousands of employees gathered in January to cheer Spyker Chief Executive Victor Muller’s gutsy $400 million deal to buy Saab from General Motors [GM.UL], Saab’s chief executive promised to restore the brand and the company at a launch event on Tuesday.
“The biggest challenge we have right now is to rebuild confidence and trust,” Saab CEO Jan Ake Jonsson said.
“We have a workforce that has an extremely high motivation level,” said Jonsson, who took the helm in 2005 while Saab was still owned by GM.
The Opel platform-based 9-5, which replaces a 13 year-old line, is mainly aimed at buyers of Audi’s A6 and making it distinct from the smaller 9-3. One criticism leveled at Saab was that its older 9-5 and 9-3 models were far too similar in size.
With a base price of around 35,000 euros ($42,520), the 9-5 finally brings Saab’s flagship model up to par with rivals, with lower emissions, features such as keyless entry and active four-wheel drive, and luxury comforts.
“For Saab, this is the most important product,” said Muller, speaking at the launch event. “It means we are alive.”
Jonsson said newer Saab models will reflect more of Saab’s heritage, particularly its distinctive styling and turbo-driven engines, that has attracted affluent and design-conscious customers.
Despite its hopes, the company is keeping expectations in check, saying that it plans to sell 50,000 cars this year, compared with yearly sales of over 130,000 just five years ago.
Saab hired Adrian Hallmark from Volkswagen this year to be its chief salesman with instructions to rebuild the company’s global distribution.
Saab is nearly done with replacing GM’s distribution network in 23 countries, either by buying existing intermediaries or building out its own, positioning it to sell cars directly to dealerships instead of through an intermediary which should help improve the profit margin on each car, said Hallmark, who left a position heading up Volkswagen Asia to join Saab.
Saab’s sales organisation will be completely separated from GM by September, and by the end of the year Saab is also planning to launch or re-launch in China, Russia, Japan, Australia, Canada, Brazil and Mexico. ($1=.8231 Euro) (Editing by Jon Loades-Carter)
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