And with the launch of the heavily revised 9-5 next month, with its new styling both front and rear and updated dashboard, executives at the manufacturer expect to fill up a few more spaces in company car parks.
Although at eight years old the Saab flagship is long in the tooth in ‘car years’, the company is confident that the revised model will give big corporate hitters like Audi and BMW a run for their money.
Fleet interest will be concentrated mainly on the new diesel engine in the range – a 150bhp 1.9-litre TiD, which replaces the current and outdated 2.2-litre version.
Instead of giving the car a quick brush-up to keep it fresh as it enters the final two years of its life, company bosses have taken an aggressive stance, making almost 1,400 improvements, some obvious like the new bumper, grille and cabin features, and others out of sight and tucked away in the depths of its mechanicals.
Bosses are candid when talking about previous underperforming fleet sales. But their fortunes changed when these sales were taken on by a central Vauxhall sales team, which now offers fleets a portfolio of General Motors brands, including Chevrolet.
So far this year, Saab has already reached its all-time yearly sales record, selling more than 20,500 cars, exceeding its best yearly total of 20,294 set in 2004, and fleet sales are up 121% compared with last year.
Saab’s UK managing director Jonathan Nash credits the company’s sales leap with the brand’s growing popularity among companies.
He said: ‘The 9-3 has been very well received in the fleet sector, competing well against the Audi A4 and BMW 3-series.’
Previously, sales of the 9-5 were equally split between fleet and retail but bosses expect fleets to account for the lion’s share of sales for the new model.
Nash said: ‘Our expectation with the new car is to establish it more successfully with fleet. With the new 1.9-litre diesel engine we are quite optimistic it will do well – it’s up there with the competition. The outgoing diesel engine was not quite as strong as it should have been.’
Diesel sales accounted for 42% of total 9-5 sales in 2004, increasing to 55% this year. They are expected to account for up to 65% of sales of the new model.
In terms of fleet, diesel sales will account for about 70% of fleet orders for the new model. Total sales to fleet should account for about 3,550 estates and saloons.
On the move to integrate Saab’s fleet sales into the central Vauxhall team, Nash said: ‘Our growth in fleet has been quite significant and that’s due to how our sales have been handled by the team. Three years ago about 30% of our sales went to fleet when our competition was doing 50% or more. Now we’re about right.’
He expects this sales success to continue with the launch of the revised 9-5, adding: ‘It has been competitively priced and the model already has a reputation for being well-engineered and reliable with good residual values. We will build on that.’
Trim levels include Linear and Vector for all engines, apart from the top-of-range saloon and estate, which is badged Aero.
Pricing starts at £22,105 for the linear 9-5 TiD saloon, rising to £28,336 for the 9-5 Aero.
Behind the wheel
THE new 9-5 is unmistakably Saab. Climb aboard and you’re greeted with comfortable seats and a snug cabin – but one which now has a much more modern look and feel.
The aggressive and sportier exterior styling with the use of chrome, sleeker lines, new front and rear lights, new bumper and fiercer looking grille and light clusters won’t suit all tastes, but executives were keen to stress that pleasing everyone wasn’t part of the remit when redesigning the car.
‘There’s nothing cautious about the new 9-5,’ one said. In fact, it looks the current model’s harder, older brother.
The interior changes have brought the model up to date and are very classy and clean with good fit and finish. The black interior and brushed metallic finishes are very cool – with touches like the white-on-black dials set in chrome surrounds being particularly pleasing on the eye.
The console now has separate buttons for the infotainment system and automatic air-conditioning, making them easier to navigate and use.
The car’s suspension and steering have been retuned and bosses claim its electronic stability programme, standard throughout the range, is one of the most sophisticated and ‘intelligent’ systems on the market.
At the car’s launch on the outskirts of Milan, we tested the top-of-the range 260bhp 2.3-litre petrol model and the 1.9-litre TiD, the car which company bosses hope will win the hearts and minds of drivers in the corporate sector.
The diesel engine was quite noisy under low revs but much quieter at motorway speeds, the ideal driving environment for this type of car.
Put the automatic gearbox into drive, put your foot down and cruise. More power is available by selecting the sport option. Under both options, gear changes were smooth while steering is responsive.
Engineers have revised the suspension using new springs and dampers and it gets a wider track for better handling.
During our drive on motorways and town roads, steering was responsive and body roll were noticeably improved over the old model.
What hasn’t changed is that the car is still fantastically comfortable, making long journeys a real pleasure.
With 260bhp under its bonnet, the top-of-the-range Aero model swallows up motorway miles at a fair old pace. Its incredible acceleration not only ensures safe overtaking – it is also great fun.
A combination of competitive pricing, modern exterior looks, a stylish interior and now a decent diesel engine should ensure keys to the new 9-5 find their way into many executives’ pockets.
|Model (source):||1.9 TiD||2.0t||2.3t||2.3 Turbo (Aero)|
|Max power (bhp/rpm):||150/4,000||150/5,500||185/5,500||260/5,300|
|Max torque (lb-ft/rpm):||236/2,000||177/1,800||206/1,800||258/5,400|
|0-62 mph (sec):||10.1 (10.7)||9.8 (11.6)||8.3 (9.5)||6.9 (8.2)|
|Fuel consumption (mpg):||44.1 (38.1)||31.4 (27.4)||31.7 (28.2)||32.1 (28.8)|
|CO2 emissions (g/km):||174 (199)||214 (244)||212 (238)||209 (232)|
|On sale:||November 12||Prices (OTR):||£22,105 – £28,336|
|Estate (as above except):|
|0-62 mph (sec):||10.7 (11.7)||10.2 (12.5)||8.8 (9.9)||7.3 (8.5)|
|Fuel consumption (mpg):||41.5 (37.1)||30.7 (26.6)||31.0 (27.4)||31.4 (27.9)|
|CO2 emissions (g/km):||184 (204)||218 (251)||217 (246)||214 (240)|
|(Automatic figures in brackets)|