Where does Saab sit?

I’m feeling a little reluctant to write this post, but a quick look at Autoprophet’s VW post urged me to address the topic wth reference to Saab. Autoprophet writes as follows:

VW has poor quality, high prices, and perhaps the biggest sin of all–bland styling. They are neither a premium brand, nor a performance brand, nor an economy brand.

I’ve made plenty of references in the past to GM’s claim that Saab are their global premium brand. Usually the reference is accompanied by a plea for GM to actually treat them that way. Are GM really positioning Saab to be a player in the premium segment of the market? We’re talking about being players with BMW, Audi, MB and others. I know Saab aren’t there yet, but are they on the right path?

One of the key elements to figuring this out is the quality of the products on offer. As I’ve taken a peek around several spots on the web, I have noticed several concerns that people have with the Saabs they’ve purchased. And to be honest I’m surprised.

CarSurvey.org is a site where people can write in their own reviews of cars they’ve purchased. The review can be good, bad or indifferent and there’s a good mixture in there. Of particular concern to me were some of the reviews of the 9-3 Sport Sedan. I had never, ever heard of anyone complaining about Saab seats before. To me, they’re one of the most enjoyable things about owning a Saab.

Yet there’s this, about a 2005 model Vector:

The seats are terrible. There is no adjustment on drivers seat (on this model) for leg support… none at all on front passanger seat! You can actually feel the metal sub frame through your backside after driving for over 30 minutes.

And this, again written about a 9-3 Vector:

Drivers seat has “Sagged” already and developed a frustrating squeak! (and I am not a heavy person)

This review has multiple comments attached and many agree with the observation about the seats.

The other disturbing element I found among these reviews is the poor quality of the stereo system. Given that I don’t own a 9-3 and have only ever driven them for short spurts, this hasn’t been an issue for me to observe. The owners that provide these reviews are quite critical, however…these are taken from the post noted above (link here) and associated comments.

The sound quality from even the seven speaker upgrade on this model is dreadful, almost pathetic…..

The Audio System is terrible. No depth to bass, muffled sound at volume. £20+ k for this car and fitted with what appears to be a early ’80’s Amstrad… at best!!…..

I was really shocked by the disgracefully poor stereo system installed in what is supposed to be a luxury car. Saab seems to think that installing two 3.5 & two 4 inch dual cone speakers & no tweeters is a stereo system…..Incidentally my drivers seat sagged.

The Sound System (if you can call it that) is so, so terrible. Rubbish in-fact.

Returning to Autoprophet’s assessment of VW, I don’t think anyone could ever accuse Saab of having bland styling. They’ve always evoked a reaction from people, either good or bad. For the size of the engine, they certainly do squeeze out a lot of performance, and package it in a manner that suits safe, yet fun, everyday driving.

What that leaves, then, is quality. If Saab really are to become the premium player that they are more than capable of being, then basic issues like the ones noted here should be addressed and overcome. Premium cars don’t last long in the segment if they’re found wanting. If GM really do want Saab to be it’s global premium player (and despite all that’s been said by GM, it’s no certainty in my book – if it were, then why would there be such a big push for a 9-3 sized Cadillac in Europe?), then they need to invest in the product and ensure that it’s worthy of it’s placement in the segment.

Saab has so much upside potential. Here’s hoping the nodding heads at GM realise it.

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  1. Giving Saab a AWD Cadillac to turn into their flagship sedan in Europe might be smart. I don’t think Europeans (except Euro-trash) 🙂 will ever want to own a Cadillac. But a high-end luxury Saab sounds agreable.

  2. First and foremost, Saab needs to add 93 integration into their stereo systems. I mean REAL iPod integration, not just plugging into the AUX port, but the ability to control the music through the SID.

    The comment about the radio has been brought up before and I agree completely. Saab needs a premium stereo in the car, not the same one in Buick or Chevy cars.

  3. FWIW i am yet to have a quality based problem with a Saab, maybe i’m lucky. They feel well built to me, as good as Subarus & Toyotas that i have owned.
    With all this talk about premium this and luxury that ( & I too wish that GM would actually put some thought, strategy and $$ behind these kind of bland, nebulous statements) I would hate for Saab to become a car only for the wealthy. There is always a place for high-end flagships or premium ranges but think the cloth-seated, 16 inch wheeled, base 20litre turbo 95 that is currently selling is a great example of a car that saab could do so much more with on a global level. In Sweden they are everywhere and this is partly because they are not insanely expensive. They are great, practical cars which are also stylish, clever, fun to drive…all those things that make Saab what it is. THis end of the market is also where they could find the much-needed volume to give their business case a slightly rosier hue.

    In Australia, new Saabs don’t give you much change from $50k and these days you can buy an MB, Audi or BMW for low 30s if you aren’t fussy. Sure they are the smaller models but thats part of my point. Quality is one issue, as is having lxu-barge flagships but I would think there is some good business to be had by looking closely at the lower end of the market and pricing accordingly.

    thoughts anyone?

  4. PT, I’d love for Saab to bring in an entry level model. i’ve written a post about it. but I think they need to be taken as competitive with the Germans and value priced, to boot.

    If it’s stupid issues like te stereo and seats that are letting them down, that sort of thing is unforgivable.

  5. I have already written about my personal disappointment in 9-3. When I was seriously considering getting myself a brand new Saab, I took a long test-drive and finally found this car wanting in too many areas. Stereo was one of the issues for me too, BTW. However, I was about to post on something completely different. And this is about Saab being a premium brand.
    For me personally this question can be divided into at least three parts:
    1) Is Saab a premium brand?
    2) Should or could it become a premium brand?
    3) Would I like to see it a premium brand?

    And my answer to all these three questions is “no”. And now I’ll try to explain why.
    1) I don’t think Saab has ever been a premium brand. If we think about it’s history, all the models from 92 on to 900 were far from premium. The first attempt of the manufacturer to enter this premium segment was 9000. And I don’t think that either 9000 or 9-5 were premium class sedans. They are fairly good sedans, but pardon me, not premium. No one dares to call FIAT Chroma a premium car. So, why call it 9000? And if we think of the Saab brand’s core values, “premium” is not gonna be one of them. Swade usually names “innovation, design, safety”. For me it’s a bit more complicated. I think of original construction/technical solutions, distinctive personality and dynamic character. All these have nothing to do with premium class.
    2) Should or could it become a premium brand – very unlikely. 9-2x is not the way to do it right, if GM was ever about to. Saab is not now perceived as a premium brand by anyone except GM, and the problems it faces now are too complicated to add the objectives of repositioning.
    3) Would I like to see it a premium brand – definitely not. But PT was very good on this one, so, I wouldn’t repeat him. Affordable cars, like 9-2x, to my mind are the right direction to go. If better done (interior obviously included here), this car could be the best representative of Saab brand essence taken into new market realities. BTW, I never took time to comment on this, but as far as 9-2x is concerned, I’m very much in favor of this car. First of all, if we admit that Saab has to share platforms with some other manufacturer, I’d rather see it a Subaru than Opel. Actually, Subaru is the company that definitely has something worth borrowing – I mean not only AWD, but also opposite engines and overall build quality. Besides, there are those aviation roots…

  6. If this were Slashdot, I’d say “Mod Pavel up to a +5!”
    Speaking of entry-level cars. I remember reading somewhere that, when SAAB stopped importing the 96 to the USA, a US group tried to convince SAAB to supply parts so they could make them in the USA. But SAAB thought the 96 would detract from the reputation of the upscale 99. I always thought they should have continued developing the 96 as an entry-level car.

  7. What a great set of contributions!

    I’m inclined to agree with all the comments about an entry level vehicle. I’d really love to see Saab do a car that you can get into for $30K here in Australia.

    The problem is that the 9-5 we’re speaking of is $60K+ here in Australia, and you’re in premium price territory whether you like it or not. The most basic Saab you can buy here, a 9-3 Linear, costs $47K before ORC, so you’re over $50K on the current entry level car. It’s base level premium, but premium nonetheless.

    Therefore, the build quality just HAS to be there. Crazy things like underperforming stereo systems just won’t cut it.

    I’d like to see Saab providing great value for money in that sub-premium market, but also with cars that can take on the big boys. The arrival of AWD in a few years will help with that.

    Think of it as succession planning. As your customers get older, earn more money, want greater experiences – you’ve got to provide them or they’ll go to your competitor. Saab needs real premium and entry level vehicles to make this happen.

  8. I think some of what is behind our thoughts is the lack of attention to a “range”. Two models (in Aus) doesn’t really give you much to work with. The americans have done a little better but it still has huge holes. I recall Swade postulating on some of this a while back. What could a Saab range look like?

    * Small car hatch & wagon
    * medium sedan, wagon, coupe & convertible
    * large sedan, wagon & coupe/flagship
    * 4 x 4 ( preferably in two sizes with proper *features like low range transmission, not pure luxury sports extravagances)
    * or 4 x 4 x new generation people mover crossover?

    Points of focus ( for starters)
    Build quality
    Innovative design
    innovative powertrain combinations
    Attention to detail

    I don;t have a real problem with platform sharing if the platform works. The 92 x is fine with me and by all accounts the Saab engineers actually made the 97X a reasonable car ( except the old school engine)The 9000 came from a shared Saab/lancia/Fiat platform and it has worked for countless other manufacturers who are not just pumping out sausages ( Tourag/Cayenne etc.
    Shared components are fine provided they work and do not detract from the basic concept of the vehicle. Crappy seats or sound in a Saab is not a good idea.

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