I’m Phelan the love

The Detroit Free Press’ Mark Phelan has a couple of superb Saab articles online today. Most likely you’ve already seen them as they’re 12 hours old as I write this post. One of the curses of being on the other side of the world and without 24 hour PC access (due to a housefull of other users).

Mark dissects the current position Saab and GM find themselves in and basically, it’s ‘do-or-die’ time. The investments have been made, the models are on the slate and the next 5 years or so will have a lot to say about whether I’ll still be blogging about my favourite ride in 2015.

“Saab draws unique buyers,” said Jay Spenchian, general manager of Saab U.S.A. The brand dovetails into GM’s brand lineup just below Cadillac as an entry-luxury brand to take on the likes of Acura, Audi and Volvo, he added.

Despite that, Saab is in trouble. It sold a minuscule 135,000 cars worldwide in 2003, the best year in its history. Honda sold more Accords than that in the United States alone in the first five months of this year, and a year of U.S. sales for all Saabs wouldn’t amount to a decent quarter for the Honda Civic.

Saab will never be a million-selling brand, but it must grow or die.

GM has yet to make a cent off its investment in Saab, but it aims to change that with a wide range of new vehicles.

If not, the automaker will pull the plug on its Swedish patient, despite Saab’s mouth-watering demographics and the brand’s precious status as a global player in the luxury market.

The challenge is to win new owners without alienating existing ones, said Jim Hall, vice president for industry analysis at the Southfield office of consultant AutoPacific

Whilst the consequences are ominous, the good news is that the model lineup slated for the future looks quite promising. Regular commenter Allan has already ponied up $5K for the first 9-6x off the line as long as the interior is given the Saab treatment. Me, I’ll be gunning for the next 9-2x, the so-called 900-successor, provided it really is co-developed by Saab and also given the full Saab treatment inside and out.

9-3x grey.jpg The 9-6x is rumoured to be based on the 9x design, though I’m kind of hoping this 9-3x design will make it’s way to the next 9-2x platform (and I’m getting confused with all these x’s).

I guess all this conditional promising brings out one of the lines in Mark Phelan’s article:

The challenge is to win new owners without alienating existing ones

We’re a finicky lot, us hardcore Saab people. But not without good reason. The fact is that Saab vehicles are always well thought out, well engineered, fun to drive, unique to look at. Saabs of the future need to maintain these characteristics.

The current 9-2x scratched the surface of what could be done with alternative platforms, but it’s been widely covered here and elsewhere that the job was only a half-baked attempt. Despite this, sales of the 9-2x are now increasing at speed, to the point where finding a manual Aero with your choice of extra packages is becoming very, very difficult indeed.

A better attempt at Saabification was carried out with the 9-7x. Despite all the screaming and shouting from the ‘purists’ (and yes, I was one), the SUV seems to be gaining a fair level of acceptance and I’ll definitely be keeping my eye on the June sales figures.

The 9-7x is the centrepiece of Mark Phelan’s other article in the DFP today. The interesting part of the article is Phelan’s information on the development of the vehicle.

9-7x.jpg click to enlarge

Upon hearing that Saab were rebadging a Trailblazer to build an SUV, my thoughts naturally pointed toward a US-only development process and that the car would have basically no Swedish input whatsoever. I’m pretty sure that many others would have had the same thought process in the front of their minds as well.

To coin a phrase: Move Your Mind.

Many observers assumed GM would simply slap a new grille and a griffon badge on a TrailBlazer and call the result a Saab, but the company went to great lengths to avoid the badge engineering that has blurred the distinctions among its American brands……

…….There’s no doubt Saab needed an SUV to boost its U.S. sales, but all the Swedish engineers knew about GM’s midsize SUVs was what they’d read in magazines, so they rented a TrailBlazer in Sweden for a test drive early in 2003.

They decided it could work, but the ride and handling had to become more controlled and responsive, said Per Jansson, Saab’s chief chassis development engineer.

The story goes on further about the development of the vehicle, but the point is, there appears to have been a lot more Swedish input into this vehicle than I’d given GM credit for.

Maybe if they’d let this be known from the get-go, the early hecklers like me would have thought twice and shut their respective pie-holes. I’m still no fan of SUV’s, but a Saab is a Saab and I’m cheering this one on just like all the others.

UPDATE: Here’s an owner’s testament as to the build quality and ride of the 9-7x. To give you all some context, he’s responding to some criticism of the vehicle concept on SaabCentral, a Saab bulletin board.

Is it just me or is the common denominator among the 9-7 haters the fact that NONE OF THEM HAVE DRIVEN THE VEHICLE!!!!!? It stikes me as rather odd that anyone can be critical of a vehicle they have not driven. Where do the detractors get their information? Do they get it from the web-site pictures? Or is it from a brochure? Or, did they see the pre-production product (behind a barrier) at an auto show. Regardless, they have not driven the vehicle and hence their critique of it is worthless.

I recently took delivery on an 9-7 Arc and can tell you it fares very well against its competion – both foriegn and domestic. I took extensive test drives on just about every small/medium sized SUV out their, including the Volvo XC90, the BMW X5, VW Taureg, and the Merc M. After a week in the 9-7 I can testify to the fact that it compares very favorably to the aforementioned vehicles. And to those of you who continue to call it simply a rebadge of the Envoy/Trailblazer think again! It drives so much better than those vehicles its a wonder that it shares the platform. Think of it less as a sister vehicle and more of a distant cousin. Where the 9-7 really shines is in the value category. All of the aforementioned import SUVs would come in at or above $50k loaded up like the 9-7. With the GM Employee discount I paid right around $37k. In fact, my lease payments are $55/month less than those on the 9-5 Aero wagon I just turned in!

I (or my wife) has owned a Jeep Grand Cherokee, A Suburban, and now a Toyota Forerunner. The 9-7 runs circles around all of them. I also own a dozen or so GM vehicles at work (full sizes vans, Yukons, Yukon XL) and they are absolute workhorses – in fact they have all been more reliable as a rule than my Saabs – all 7 of them.

The bottom line is if you are going to be critical, at least take the time to take a test drive first – I think you will be surprised and perhaps even won over. And if you “dont get” the whole SUV thing than simply don’t buy one. And please…spare us all the preaching. Some of the people in this forum have been indoctrinated by Sierra Club types to believe that SUVs are the sum of all evil! Some feel that the larger ones should be outlawed (note: there are still a few communist countries left where the “government” would be glad to tell you what to buy.) In a free market economy the market – consumers – determine what is bought and sold. To date consumers have sent a strong message that they like the SUV format. If that changes the market will tell auto companies to make something else if they want to continue in business. Worse still, some project their loathing of the SUV onto those who buy them – “they only buy them for the sense of power and other BS” Yeah, right – my 5’4″ 110 lb soccer mom wife and my 67 year old aunt bought them for the “sense of power” and to be bullies on the road…pleeeease!

Saab has come out with a first class SUV capable of being mentioned with any of the best of the bunch – foriegn or domestic. If you don’t like the vehicle don’t buy it – but also don’t criticize it from a position of ignorance either. From the initial traffic at my dealer it seems they will sell well, and perhaps that will insure that the Saab name will continue – is that such a bad thing?

Just my 2 cents.

Sensational stuff and a testament to the engineering changes effected by Saab’s input into the vehicle. Rock on, KenW!!!

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3 Comments

  1. Lots of directions to go here, but I’ll stick with the middle for the most part: if GM can’t make a go of Saab, someone else will. That simple. There is too much cache, too much history for the brand to die. In other words, the sky is not falling. Changing, perhaps. Falling, no.

    On the other hand, if the 9-2x Aero is so hard to come by, why is Saab retaining only the Linear for the next model year? This bespeaks the lack of patience and foresight by certain decision makers in the GM palace. I fear that this type of decision will spell doom for the ‘good stuff’ in favor of the ‘volume stuff’ that will dilute the Saab brand. That’s the real issue to me. Death by blandness rather than death by the corporate knife.

  2. It’s still far too optimistic. OK, all of us who read this blog are SAAB enthusiasts – otherwise we wouldn’t be here. Still the question remains what are we loyal to – a three-piece front grille or SAAB’s true identity?

    I came across this one recently: “When Saab’s 9-3 production is transferred to Germany in 2008, just how Swedish will Saab be? The 9-2X is based on the Subaru WRX and is built in Japan. The 9-7X is based on the Chevrolet TrailBlazer and will be built in Loraine, Ohio. So where will Saab’s Swedishnish come from? Ohio?”

    Too true…

  3. Pavel, my thoughts on your query are now posted in the entry “Bob, I think I could have your kids”

    (I’m not serious about the kids thing, though)

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