A counterpoint to quality

Bob Lutz’s most recent post on Fastlane touted GM’s reported quality improvements, but unfortunately from a Saab perspective, recent results in this area have been unacceptably low – or non-existant.

The survey that Bob is publicising, by Strategic Vision, did indeed praise GM’s improvements in quality and customer satisfaction and overall, that’s a good thing. But from my point of view, it’s got to be worrying when you’re left hoping that the quality improvements at Pontiac ‘trickle-up’ to the company’s stated premium global brand – Saab.

UPDATE: Bob has also addressed the good news for GM as a whole in the JD Power results, dealt with here below.

A look past Bob’s initial post, into the actual survey results themselves, exposes the reason why Saab couldn’t be included in Bob’s tome. Saabs were not made available for the study. Click on the link and go to the ‘near luxury’ part of the TQA winners section – you’ll find it. Unfortunately you’ll also find Saab 9-3 and 9-5 listed in the “unavailable” section.

Why would GM not want it’s premium brand included?

A quick trip over to JD Power will answer that question. JD power have just released their annual survey results and Saab rated a disappointing 136 problems per 100 vehicles sold. Incomparison, BMW rated just 95. The industry average was 118 problems per 100 vehicles, down from 119. A full list of winners and results is here (pdf)

I decided to do a comparison on the JD Power website between the Saab 9-3, the BMW 3-Series, the Audi A4 and a Mercedes C Class. So how did Saab go?

Well, almost as good as Mercedes, but way, way below BMW and Audi. See for yourself (click to enlarge).


There was a time not so long ago that I can recall Audi as a name not quite so synonymous with quality. The fact that they’re reaching these lofty heights in a realively short period should be an indicator to Bob that not only is the competition streaking ahead, but that catching them up again is achievable.

Saab was cash-strapped for a long time until the GM buyout. I’d venture a guess to say that tight budgeting based on sales performance would still have them well and truly under-resourced in comparison to the market leaders. If GM are really serious about Saab being the premier global brand, then this situation is going to have to change. You can’t keep locking up the Saab sheds (or gagging your Saab customers) every time the quality testers come around. What you’ve got to do is BUILD. BETTER. CARS.

I really do believe that GM sees a bright future for Saab. The proposed model lineup that I outlined just yesterday is a poignant indicator. If it’s going to be the case, though, they have to take on the competition and prove themselves better.

Isn’t what the customer will want?

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  1. I believe the JD Power stats may reflect quality issues within the first 90 day of ownership. I would prefer more long term information when it comes to quality – like the first 3 years.

  2. B, that’s true. However I don’t believe it would do any harm to be able to provide a vehicle for the customer that they would like from the outset. You only get one chance to create a first impression.

    Those JD Power ratings I featured for the compared vehicles, with the possible exception of mechanical quality – which could be influenced by a breakdown or failure in the first 90 days, should be rated higher if the quality is there. It’s encouraging that body and interior rate equal with BMW and Audi, but the fact that features and accessories are rated so low should be disappointing to GM and a point to address.

  3. How about real owner information from more than three years. I have had more problems with my 97 900S than with my three prior cars combined (Two of them were POS Fords… so that is saying a lot!) I drove my last car, a 1989 VW Jetta, for 340,000K with none of these problems. It still had the original clutch when I sold it. Last I checked the person who bought it is still driving it. Stupid me for selling it.

    I have owned my Saab since new and have done the maintenance myself or let the Saab dealer do the maintenance if the required repair was beyond my capabilities.

    I had to have the transmission rebuilt for a $50 seal. It must be the first part into the transmission because its the last part to come out. $950 labor. I had to have an engine main seal installed… another $700-$800 or so for labor. Fuel pump went, another $850. Shift cable (Who ever heard of one of these things breaking?)

    I have had to replace the radio/computer display four times and the 5th one is already on the way out. AC Compressor went right after warranty, $1000 installed. Prices include Saab NJ Labor which is about $100/hr give or take a few bucks.

    Seat heaters went right after the warranty expired. I miss them, but the dealer won’t take responsibility for skins if they rip under repair, so I will do without.

    Lost the radio (replaced twice under warranty), the headlight wipers (out of warranty)

    Cloth Seat skins are ripping at the seams… I thought this kind of problem went the way of vinyl seats. Carpeting on the floor is worn through and has been since just after warranty.

    Last is SaabUSA. I wrote them a letter detailing my “ownership experience”. I found the correct person to send it to. I asked for some remedy from Saab if they thought that my experience was atypical. I received a canned response. Further attempts to reconcile my situation with Saab ended up wasting more of my time and therefore contributing even more to the cost of Saab ownership. This is quite a shame given Saab’s long standing reputation for customer service and superior engineering.

    On the plus side, it gets great MPG for a large vehicle. I average about 31-32 MPG and am routinely up around 70-80 MPH on the highway. And I can haul stuff that wouldn’t fit into most SUVs.

    While I love my Saab and it has never let me down on the road, from a maintenance and ownership standpoint, it has been a money pit. This is very likely my last Saab unless I see two things.

    1) Absolute proof that the quality has improved immensely.

    2)A company that is willing to stand behind their product instead of treating the customer like an annoyance.

  4. Wow john! That’s quite a list. I’m sorry to hear you’ve had a bad run with your 900S.

    I don’t know a whole lot about the model, to be truthful. It would quite likely be the least likely car for me to buy.

    But the treatment from dealerships is very, very disappointing and probably still representative of some dealer experiences in the US today. I’m guessing at this because I live in Australia, but the fact that they didn’t want Saab customers as part of the Strategic Vision survey could be indicative of this.

    The impression that I get is that the 9-3 is a vast improvement over the NG900. I hope you can find a dealer you can trust and then maybe trying it out before choosing another brand.

    Good luck and thanks for dropping by.

  5. It is quite disapointing….

    in 2003 Saab was among the first with the japanese, and the first of the European brands. In 2001 the 9-5 win the Lexus in the premium segment, and during many time Saab was one of the few brands that fight for the first positions against the japanese and other premium brands, but this year the jump to under the average it is quite big, as made Porsche, Volvo and others….

    in 2004 Saab was in 14th….and this year the japanese begun to plump, and this year it is impressive how disperse they are in the list.

  6. Does anyone here actually know Strategic Vision’s methodology? Can you explain their “Tree of ValueCentered Knowledge”? Do you know that the winners of 18 out of the 20 categories are Strategic Vision Clients?

    The SV survey means less than nothing. Using it to defend GM’s sliding posisition in the marketplace is a cynical move by a desperate company.

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