Saab Vs……..?

One of the most popular areas of my old site was the Saab Vs posters, which I’m hoping to load up on here again soon. I am missing a few of these though, so if you have a copy of the ‘Swiss Army Knife’ poster or any others that you didn’t see on my old site, please let me know. I’d love to get the whole set.

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I felt compelled to write about the posters, but that wasn’t the reason behind the headline.

Who is Saab’s competition?

I was disappointed to read the following over at SaabCentral, in response to a comment I’d posted there a couple of weeks ago (I’ve been thinking about this for a while, but illness and my work schedule conspired against posting about it).

Originally Posted by Swade
I’m a little concerned by this. if Caddy is being aimed squarely at BMW/Merc/Audi, then where is Saab going to aim at? VW? Whatever happened to the “global premium brand”?

Saab was never as prestigious as BMW, Mercedes, or even Cadillac in it’s current form.

It’s more of a “quirky, dare to be different” type of brand that appeals to a limited number of consumers. GM has to work hard to figure out how to make a brand with limited appeal ( like Saturn) profitable.

Mercedes and Cadillac, I’ll give you. My comment in reference to these marques was based on my ideas of future competition.

But never as prestigious as BMW? Granted, Saab fell behind the hun in the 90’s. Bob Lutz’s work with BMW bore fruit as the money they recouped and the investment it allowed finally bore fruit.

Prior to the 90’s, however, I’d be happy to hold a good condition classic 900 Aero up against any 3-series BMW and see how they stack up. I’ll have to do some digging in terms of performance, but in terms of styling and design I’d say the Aero was all-that and more!!

drewedit.jpg YES PLEASE!!

Take a good look at Drew Bedelph’s sensational 900 Aero, above. Click on the picture to enlarge it. The classic shape, which stood firm right from the early Combi Coupe’s of the 1970s until 1993 when the classic 900 was replaced. Now, let’s take a peek at a BMW, circa mid 80’s – and to be fair, I’ll us a stock photo of a (as it was then)pristine new model (the photo of Drew’s car is a new photo of an 17 year old car).

318i.jpgNO THANKS

Now, which car would you rather have? Which car looks more dated? Which car would be more fun to drive?

And do you still think Saab were never competitors to BMW??

Back in the day, the 900 was not only a stylish vehicle, it was an innovative vehicle too. Leading the way in turbo application and enhancing the model with the beautiful convertible in the mid 80’s,
Saab were a very desireable vehicle at the time.

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UPDATE (2/6/05)
I’ve been called in comments by Peter (and rightly so) for picturing a crappy basic 318i against a c900 Aero. Fair enough. So thanks to Eggs n Grits, here’s a 1988 M3. From a styling perspective (and from any other) I’ll still take the Aero, no question.

e30m3_blue.jpg

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The problem?

Although the sales levels for Saab were records at the time in the mid 80’s the reality was that comparitively low sales volumes meant low profits, which meant low investment compared to the larger-scale competition. BMW has moved ahead in leaps and bounds since this time, whereas the financial difficulties at Saab continued through the 1990’s until the final sale of the brand to GM in 2000.

So where does this leave Saab going forward? This is what I was commenting on at SC.

Some people seem to be thinking that Saab can create it’s own niche in the motoring market. The line of thought seems to be that somehow, Saab can create *grrrr* quirky vehicles that people will buy when they can’t quite afford a BMW or an Audi.

They also seem to think that in a modern auto-manufacturing world, accepting the crumbs that fall off BMW’s table will be enough for the marque to survive.

Dead. Set. Wrong.

Let me tell you this: I believe that if properly managed and financed, Saab can not only compete with BMW, Audi, Alfa, Volkswagen, Volvo, the smaller Mercedes classes and Cadillac, it can top them.

40 years or so ago, Swedish engineers developed the 99 out of absolutely nothing and developed it into one of the best and most versatile cars of the 1980’s (as the 900). With proper management and investment, I have no doubts whatsoever that the innovation and quality brought to market in the classic 900 could be regenerated again.

Not only is it a case of it COULD be done, it’s a basic necessity. If GM are going to be persuaded to keep the Saab brand alive, then it’s place in the world is as a competitor on the global scale against these other players. Being a bit player just under the class is NOT going to cut it – and who’d be satisfied in a car that’s acknowledged as being the one you buy if you can’t get another? Saab could be the Euro equivalent of a Hyundai (i.e. I can’t afford a Honda)???

No thanks.

Bob Lutz – I take pride in my Saab ownership and I always want to do so. I’ll gladly run my 99 Turbo against anything a 3 series Bimmer could offer in 1979. I’d gladly take Drew’s 900 Aero against a 3-series of the equivalent year and I want more than anything to be able to say the same thing about Saabs and BMW’s in 10 years, 15 years and 25 years from now.

Give those lads in Sweden some time, some freedom and the appropriate finance – and watch them go.

The 2.8 Aero and the Sport Combi are just the beginning, folks. From what these vehicles promise, and from what the model lineup in the future could look like, there’s going to be much more to buying a Saab than sheer loyalty.

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7 Comments

  1. saab is a premium european brand, just like merc, porsche, and bmw. it just doesn’t seem to “beg” for that distinction, which is another reason i love saab. its class is understated and reserved. it’s for the sophisticated “palate,” one who doesn’t aspire to “class” by a cliche presumption.

    ultimately, i think what hurts saab’s stature is 2 fold:

    1. the rushed 9-2x–having an awd saab is a wonderful idea, but gm went at it the wrong way (by rebadging a subaru); and

    2. the media (television and movies) using saab or “comic relief.” “seinfeld” and, more recently, “sideways” gave saab a wider audience but at the expense of ridicule and/or abuse. who in one’s right mind buys an expensive premium european car just to treat it like dirt? i’d much rather see them tear up a merc or bmw. (even the t-mobile commerical, where the college-aged kids manage to get a 900-convertible stuck under _moving_ semi-tractor trailer, is comical but displays the wrong way to treat a beautiful, “premium” car.) this only shows the public that a “saab” is pompus and, thus, needs to be “debunked,” _or_ that “saab” is for the moneyed goofballs and putzs of the world that are too stupid to buy a “real” premium-brand car. either way, it doesn’t help saab’s “street cred.” (i’d love to see seinfeld’s face if someone ragged out a prized porsche. i don’t think he’d find it all that “pfunny.”)

  2. Swade,

    I like what you have to say about the state of Saab in the 1980s. I must say though, that comparing the styling of a 900 Aero to that of a first generation e30 318 is not really fair. The Aero (Correct me if I’m wrong here) was the nicest 900 model available, and the most performance oriented. (I realize that different markets saw different cars, and that the US got the SPG, but I’ll assume that the Aero shown is completely factory spec as far as aesthetics go, which is quite different than the US SPG, which is a great looking car any way!)

    I think that a fair comparison would be either a base model 900 to the 318, or, the Aero to the M3. At least a later generation (’89+ in the US) 325iS.

    On another note: I too, would love to see Saab continue to have enough funding to devlop new and inovative designs. I also feel that Saab has the potential, if properly managed, to be a distict brand which completely and adequatley competes with anything that Europe or any other market has to offer.

    Happy Saabing, and thanks for the site. Always good info and discussion.

    ~Peter

    ’93 9000 Aero 5spd

    (My Dad has an ’89 M3, which is preferable from a handling standpoint to the ’87 900 Turbo that I’ve driven. But don’t think that I think that these two cars are directly comparable…they are vastely different cars, and both are supurb in their own right.)

  3. Hi Peter,

    Yeah, I skewed it. Guilty. Part of it was time constraint – i.e. finding a pic of a mid-80’s M car. I’ll try and update the post with a more appropriate pic, but I think in terms of styling the Aero would still be a winner.

    I’ve never driven an M3 from that time so I can’t speak as to the driving experience, but I’m sure that a well looked after Aero (SPG) would be a great driving experience, like the M.

    My main contention is with those that don’t place Saab in the competitive field with BMW and Audi. Quite simply, they have to compete with these makes. If they don’t, GM will trim the lineup accordingly. The thing that really gets me is that the cars ARE good enough to compete and will only get better.

    Gonzaga, eh? I hear John Stockton still resides around those parts. Please say hi from me if you ever happen to come accross his path.

  4. Great writeup. I really wish Robert Cumberford of Automobile Magazine or similar would do a look back at the design and shape of the classic 900.

  5. I appreciate your enthusiasm for the mid 80’s saab styling and I have always liked it myself but being an avid e30 fan I would just say how many mid 80’s Saabs are still around compared to how many BMW’s of the same era? And that is why I love my E30.

  6. Good comments all, but…
    I test drove a 2006 Saab 9-3 and Saab 9-5 (among other cars) when looking to replace my ’93 325is a while back. Guess what: I still have the Bimmer. Saab will always have a tough time competing against the rear drive handling of BMW and the status of MB. BMW’s really are the driver’s machine, no doubt about it.

    Now, I’d say that Saab’s most comparable Euro-lux brand is Audi. My wife’s A4 seems comparable to the Saabs I drove, although I like the styling of the Audis better.

    Perhaps Saab is destined to be the granola munching, sandal wearing, philosiphising non-conformist’s automobile of choice…

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