Unclear thinking required

You might remember a short time ago there was a passing remark somewhere that with quality controls in place etc etc, a Saab 9-5 could be made in Korea as well as anywhere else. Saabists everywhere were having pink fits about the notion, but maybe we should be looking to the Koreans more for some automotive leadership….

This sensational piece of automotive commentary from Eric Bryant at Autoblog.

The CEO of Kia Motors America is pretty darn proud of the upcoming second-generation Sedona minivan. That, naturally, is his job, but the vehicle does seem to boast some impressive features and specifications such as surround sound and a 240 HP V6. The price has yet to be announced, and that will probably be the single most important factor in determining whether the vehicle will be able to increase its 6% share of the market. What’s most impressive, though, isn’t the vehicle itself – it’s the rationale for not selling a Hyundai-based version of the same vehicle. There was internal concern about the two brands selling two nearly identical vehicles, and so the Hyundai version was scrapped. I’m not sure what the Koreans are smoking while thinking up such radical ideas, but this sort of clear thinking has absolutely no place in the auto industry.

Is anyone in Detroit listening?

A big hat-tip to Ted for giving the heads-up on this one.

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  1. It’s a little off-topic but…

    I can understand why SAAB owners would be outraged at the notion of a SAAB being made outside of Sweden, or even Europe proper. Especially their flagship automobile. However, SAAB already makes cars in Austria and used to make cars in Finland. There was rumor a while back that they were considering manufacturing somewhere in Eastern Europe as well. Then there’s the GM-verified news that 9-3 production will be moved to Germany in a few years.

    The thing is, as long as you have the quality, it really doesn’t matter where the car is put-together. The design and raw materials are what really makes the car. I understand Swedish steel is of exceptional quality.

    Daewoo has exceptional build quality (unheard of tolerances) and GM intends to use their know-how to improve quality in other GM brands. So a SAAB assembled in Korea by Daewoo, using design and raw materials from Europe could concievably be a better overall quality product than one manufactured in Trollattan or Germany.

    I understand the reluctance one would have about buying a US$40K+ car manufactured in Korea though. It’s a perception thing. It used to be you’d never buy anything made in Japan.

  2. Grip,

    I agree in terms of geography, though a sentimental side of me would rather maintain as much Swedishness as possible, which includes manufacture. The main point was a tongue in cheek stab at GM on the subject of product differentiation.

    A Saab should be Saab, not just a car. Toyota make cars.

  3. I think the point here is not just about geography,its that someone in Korea realised that having multiple versions of the same car with different names is not always good for business. Eric is taking a swipe at all the dominance of marketing over sense that goes on in the car biz.

    If we are going to discuss the site of manufacture vs where a car comes from spiritually……well thats a good one for a few beers around a campfire. Saabs are already built from parts that come from all over the place so its hard for me to get too sentimental about Trollhattan. Even though I’ve been there and would love it to continue as the heart of Saab, my experience in business is that pragmatism is often a sound base for business and that pragmatic, not romantic, reasons should keep Saab in Trollhattan.

    As for Toyota…lets discuss that another time.

  4. Funny that – the matter of manufacturing geography AND rebranding/reworking off-brand vehicles for SAAB both cut to the heart of the matter. Its about authenticity. The word “SAAB” means something to us. Among those things is (a) that is designed and built and drives like a SAAB should, the way SAAB company people have (until recently) been doing things; and (b) that is built in Sweden (or thereabouts). Rebadging Subaru’s and/or building them in Asia both undermine the authenticity of the claim that its a Swedish vehcicle that holds the same meaning and value to us. A Saab designed in Japan and built in Korea just isn’t Swedish or Saab-like in enough ways to satisfy us. A Japanesse/Korean Saab might be a good car (like a Toyota), but it certainly dilutes the brand, what it means to us, and our committment to it as Saab-driving-consumers.

  5. I think GM had taken heed

    I do believe at one point the 9-7x was to share Cadillac’s Escalade platform. But apparently Saab’s prototype had the better engineering. GM could afford for Saab to be better than Cadillac and allegedly pulled the plug because Saab does not hold no1 spot for GM’s premium brand.

    GM Reason: We shouldn’t have two brands competing in the same market.

  6. Maybe GM is confusing “market” with “price bracket.” Sure, both could be so-called premium vehicles, but Cadillac is as American as it gets, while Saab is European. I would think they attract two very different kinds of consumers. I suppose it’s a business decision: do you risk cannibalizing some of your own brands, or do you just let the competitors have ’em?

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