Bob, I think I could have your kids…

I argued long and hard with my ex-wife, AND her mother, for a prolonged period of time, that if you’re going to spend X-thousand dollars on a car, it should be more than just adequate transport. It should be fun. It should move you a little (or a lot). If you enjoy driving as much as I do then your car does become an expression of your preferences and your personality. Why spend so much money on something you don’t really have any interest in?

They never got it.

My ex-MIL spent $20K on a Camry. If it’s just adequate transport you’re after then why spend $20 grand?? Why not spend as little as you can, or take the bus?

$20K is a lot of money and if you’re going to spend it, you’ve GOT to enjoy it. Which is why I drive a Saab.

Bob Lutz backs my point on his latest post over at Fastlane, and any support against those two women is appreciated. OK, physical inability aside, I don’t really want to have his kids, but it’s an expression of my appreciation and about the fact that someone high up at GM gets it.

This topic gives me the chance to tie up a few loose ends. First, what is it that defines a Saab?

I said yesterday that I’d ponder the question of what makes a Saab? What does the brand stand for and inspire in it’s customers? (And if you say ‘quirky’ I’ll stab you to death with a blunt spoon!!)

To me, Saab has always been defined by optimal design and function. Given no prior experience and a limited budget, a bunch of aircraft engineers successfully spawned a small car company in 1937 that has a fanatical following right up until today. If that isn’t optimising your opportunities, I don’t know what is!!

Saab has always been a small company, but has punched well above it’s weight when it comes to design, innovation and safety. My 99 turbo is possibly the best exponent I can think of to demonstrate this.

In design terms it rivalled cars in larger classes in terms of interior cabin space and of course, the exterior Combi Coupe design continued on until 1993, and still looks good today.

Innovation? How about being the first successful mass-produced turbocharged passenger vehicle? If that’s not enough, here’s a list of Saab’s innovations over the years.

Safety? The 99 was by no means the pinnacle of safety, possibly even at the time, but it did have disc brakes all round, dual circuit brake distribution, side impact strengthening and a slew of other features that may be ho-hum now, but certainly weren’t at the time.

Let’s tie all this together, shall we?

Saab was a unique manufacturer that exists today as a lesser personality than it was in its days as a stand-alone entity. The watering down of the marque is inevitable and unavoidable, but it doesn’t mean that the future won’t be worthy of the history that preceded it. In my humble opinion, ‘Saabness’ is something that isn’t geographically bound, but rather is philosophically bound in the tradition of good design, the maximisation of value, resource optomisation, safety, innovation and function. These qualities are transferable, and it’s up to GM to adopt them and integrate them into all future automobiles that carry the Gryphon moniker.

Loose end no. 2: an update on the possible future vehicle lineup.

One of Bob’s promises at Fastlane is that GM won’t bring a product to market that takes a back seat to anyone (and don’t think we won’t hold you to it, Bob). This augers well for us Saabophiles as we have some catching up to do and all the recent rumours swirl around the possibility of an expanded product range that will compete with the big boys on a global scale.

In numbers terms, let’s go from the top-down:

Theories have been circulating that the The 9-7x will be a short-termer only. It’s being delivered to new owners right now and all the feedback that I’ve seen has been very positive so far, but it looks like the thought that this was just a bridge model could be true. But how long is the bridge? I wouldn’t be surprised to see it continue on for a few years, especially if it gains acceptance. Tooling up for a new-ish model ain’t cheap and there’s a certain return on investment that any sound business model requires.

Contrary to popular opinion a few months ago, the 9-6x is production bound. There’s still stories of trouble fitting a diesel engine into a boxer-designed engine bay, but in spite of this it looks like Saab will have it’s first crossover vehicle in 2006/2007. We’re still demanding that the 9-6x will have a Saab-ified interior. Bob, this is not negotiable.

The 9-5 will get a facelift unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September and it’s production will shift to Russelsheim in 2008. Popular opinion was that this model needed a genuine overhaul rather than just a facelift. Let’s hope that the definition of ‘facelift’ in GM’s dictionary is quite expansive.

Then there’s the rumoured 9-5x crossover vehicle. Targeted to take on the slightly smaller Landrover Freelander class, the initial word is that would be based on the Chevy S3X platform. I’ve only seen one report about this vehicle and covered it here (including photoshopped pic), but it’s an interesting concept.

Then there’s word just yesterday of another corssover model, designated tentatively as the 9-4x, based on an Epsilon platform and slotted for production in 2009. Little more is known at this stage, but it’s my humble 2c that says that either one of the proposed 9-4x or 9-5x won’t get off the ground as they’d be too similar (either with each other or with other models) in terms of size and target market.

The already sensational 9-3 range will get the SportCombi version in the immediate term, the 2.8l V6 in the Sport Sedan very soon and a facelift in the near future. This model still cries out for AWD in order to maintain power and torque improvements.

The 9-2x is slated to be re-developed by 2008, again in conjunction with Suuby but with more Saab input from the get-go. This is supposed to be the spiritual successor to the Classic 900 of the 1980s and 1990’s, but we’ve got plenty of time between then and now so let’s not get too excited, huh? (*secretly drops another few coins into the 9-2x piggy bank*)

It’s good to see sales of the 9-2x increasing as people realise the value for money this car represents in North America and the improvement it is over your garden variety WRX.

Finally (Ken, get excited), there’s the rumours swirling about a new Saab Sonett, based on a similar platform to the coming Pontiac Solstice. Jay did mention it last week (see the link), though as a concept car only. No firm plan in place for production.

So there you have it, the potential Saab lineup to 2009. Pretty impressive in my book. Now the next thing is to make sure all these potential vehicles are more than Saab in just name only. This is where Bob’s promise and no small amount of thought and hard work has to come into play.

Let’s hope the designers and engineers at Saab are given the freedom to roam and create the best vehicles they can for the money.

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6 Comments

  1. YES! I truly think that deep, deep down inside all Camry owners cry each time they drive because their vehicle is so boring.

    I’ll spare you the details right now, but my mother was NOT happy when my father purchased his Saab. In short she convinced herself he just got it because he was going through a mid-life crisis and wanted a fun car to drive, also I think she’s jealous because her car is, well, dang old — but his needed replacing worse than hers did.

    Fast forward a few months. She still acts like it’s silly to buy a car that is fun to drive at perhaps the expensive of ultimate reliability and great-plains flat depreciation, but she does refer to the Saab as “the fun car” and is even getting to the point where she can spot them on the road.

    She’s too stubborn to admit it, but I think she’s finally coming around…

  2. Yeah, Ryan. Maybe it’s a ‘she thing’. Although my wife now (as opposed to my ex and her mother) was quite accepting of my Saab straight away, and didn’t complain one bit when she inherited my 900 to replace her Holden. She actually misses the 900 now that we’ve replaced it with a 9000.

    I’m blessed.

    Funny thing, immediately after writing this post I went outside and ran into one of my ex’s bridesmaids.

    I live in a small city.

  3. I’m truly sorry to break it to all of you but Saab right now is one of the biggest embarassments in the auto industry. GM really messed things up if you ask me. Saab used to be a manufacturer of higher-end, fun-to-drive, safe vehicles which drove and felt European and had that Scandinavian twist that made them kinda cool like IKEA. That personality and constant innovation is what made people choose Saab over the other brands in whichever price segments.

    As of right now, in mid 2005 their product line disgusts me. Lets start with the worst; the 9-7X. I’m not against SUVs, I actually like them and one of my cars is one. But why would anyone be interested in spending $40K+ on a Chevy Trailblazer/Ranier/Envoy/Bravada with a sportier suspension, Saab headlights and a few premium features. Seriously! This vehicle just sucks in every way. Would people be buying Mercedes-Benz M class SUVs if they were just rebadged Jeep Grand Cherokees or Dodge Durangos? No. They would just get a Grand Cherokee or a Durango. The luxury car segment attracts buyers who want well-made high end vehicles, not overpriced versions of lesser ones. The 9-7x is closest to the Buick Ranier out of all the different vehicles it shares its underpinnings with. The marques Saab and Buick should represent almost complete opposites, but GM really messed than one up.

    Next up, the 9-2x. I just dont get it Saab, if you cant come up with cars on your own, you shoudnt be making cars in the first place. This is a Subaru Impreza. Everything about it is Subaru. The only differences are a few tweaks here and there, a little styling, a couple better ingredients and bam! I’m not saying its a bad car, its probably pretty fun to drive too, but its still a Subaru. You should be ashamed GM! Would the BMW 3 series be so successful if it were in fact a Honda Civic with better styling?

    The 9-3 and 9-5 are the only 2 Saab models worthy of any respect at all, but unfortunately the 9-5 is way overdue for a redesign. Not a facelift. A REDESIGN. We’re in its 7th year of production with no real changes and theres nothing to be anticipated any time soon.

    The 9-3 is my favorite of all current Saabs. Its got the style, the fun, the personality which used to make Saabs, well Saabs but its still a little behind in its game. All wheel drive is something it should be offering to keep up with the competition.

    How come nobody else sees what serious trouble Saab is in? I know cars and the automotive market. If Saab doesnt start making its own vehicles that can hold their own against the competition, they will see an end soon. Also.. STOP BASING YOUR CARS ON BUICKS AND SUBARUS!!

  4. Kramer.

    If I may, please let me relieve you of your burden. You’re not breaking anything new to me with your comments.

    First up, the 9-7x and 9-2x are bridge models, devised to open Saab up to new customers that wouldn’t have considered the brand before. The models that replace them (see the story again) will be designed with platform sharing in mind again, but with much greater Saab input from the get-go.

    For what they are (including the limitations that the phrase implies), they’re well executed and becoming more appreciated. Go try to find a manual 9-2x Aero on the West Coast of the US right now. Can’t? Sold out?

    And you can’t compare a 9-2x with a BMW 3-series. Firstly, they’re a completely different class of car. Second, BMW is a very profitable company selling over a million cars a year and is owned in it’s own right. The fact that various Saab models have been competitive with various Bimmers over the years is more a credit to the tiny Swedish company that anything else.

    Now with GM, Saab has to grow or be sold off. It’s that simple. And the quickest way to grow the brand is to expand the model range. The most cost effective waay to do it is the way they’ve done it. I’m not saying it’s the best way to do it, but it’s the way that makes a fair bit of business sense given GM’s current overheads and marketshare crisis.

    Before Saab can start making those IKEA-mobiles again, they have to turn a profit. It’s that simple.

  5. Swade, that was straight to the point! I wish everyone else was that loyal, patient and optimistic as you are. In this case Saab wouldn’t have lost so many loyal customers over the recent years. The community is in a kind of crisis, it seems to me, it’s split in two parts: those loyalists like you are and “concerned”, like Kramer. This is another danger yet to realize, since the SAAB community power has always been very important to the brand. You can read more about it here http://www.brandchannel.com/features_effect.asp?pf_id=159#more

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