Saab’s future: only 4 years?

Automobile.com have an interesting article today analysing the future for Saab. Their opinion is that despite recent reports, Saab will likely stay in GM’s hands at least until the production slated for Trollhattan through 2009 runs out. After that it appears that all bets are off (from their viewpoint).

Over the past few weeks there have been countless headlines in car magazines and newspapers across the globe stating that Saab is doomed, and for good reason. Lacking a clean bill of health due to ever-sliding sales, hampered by a miniscule product lineup and extremely strong competition, it looks as if Saab has little more than a dim future.

Their basis for this is Saab’s ageing lineup. The 9-3 is now three years old without a significant revamp and the 9-5 will be 10 years old by the time the new model is due in 2008. The medium-term future of the 9-7x is unknown and now that the partnership with Fuji has been dissolved, the current 9-2x will expire after the 2006 models are sold. It should be noted that in the early 2000’s, Saab had a full model range in the design stages under the oversight of Michael Mauer. The 9x and 9-3x concept cars were the first evidence of this and the 9-3 SportCombi is the most recent release from this portfolio.

So what happened?

A quick recap is necessary to grasp an understanding of the issues that Saab has been facing. While its true that pointing fingers after the fact isnt always fair, plans made by upper management with respect to the brand dont seem all that bright.

It seems there were two major factors that fit into the ‘not all that bright’ category. The first was the blowout in costs in the design of the 9-3 Sport Sedan. The electrical systems couldn’t be shared with other vehicles, thereby spreading the cost. All up, cost controls seem to have thrown out the window and without huge sales to enable recovery, GM went to the beancounter’s business manual and did what most companies would do: it applied the handcuffs.

That new model range was canned and substantial investment dried up to a trickle. The AWD plans that were slated for the 9-3x went into the trash and we recently got a ‘refresh’ instead of a new 9-5.

Automobile.com gaze into their own crystal ball and see several new models for Saab’s future. Here’s hoping they’re right as the brand certainly needs some new blood. What do they see? Well, it’s pretty much what we’ve been hearing for the last little while. What we need is for someone, anyone, at GM to come out and deliver.

The first vehicle off the rank will most likely be the 9-4x, based on a similar design ethos as the Saturn Vue.

….the potential answer to Saabs financial problems is the 9-4X. As insiders have suggested, it would be a compact SUV built up from the Epsilon architecture, or more specifically, the 9-3s platform. With production of the 9-5 slated to move from Sweden to Opels HQ in Russelsheim, Germany, this would free up space on the Trollhattan assembly facility to produce it, and its Cadillac equal, the BLX. This solution is popular with Saab; giving the Trollhattan plant enough of a production schedule to avoid closure.

The other popular vehicle theory is a 9-2x replacement engineered around the Astra from Opel in Germany. This was also hinted at by Auto Express back in May. The car was said to be a spiritual successor to the 900 (good marketing, but the proof will be in the pudding, friends).

Automobile.com:

A second model, perhaps called the 9-1 or 9-2 would be Saabs entry into the compact hatchback market, and would act as the successor to the Impreza-based 9-2X. This has long been suggested by enthusiasts, and frankly would be a very practical and financially conscious one as well. This vehicle involves reworking the European Opel Astra hatchback and its components, including a redesign to fit into Saabs model lineup.

Finally, there’s been allusions to a reborn Saab Sonett based on the Kappa platform that underpins the Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky. Automobile.com cite this as the least likely to see production anytime soon, though it has been mentioned a few times now, most notably by Jay Spenchian himself back in June.

Automobile.com:

If all goes well, a third, and perhaps final vehicle could be instituted, not so much a money maker but more of an enjoyable sports car. When the Kappa lightweight RWD sports car platform was still in its concept car form, GM produced many different prototypes for its brands, from Vauxhall/Opel to Pontiac, Chevrolet and Saturn. A production version for Saab could eventually arise from the Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky duo, slotting into the range as a modern day Sonnet.

I firmly believe that Saab are positioned to really take off in the next 5 – 10 years. Given the rising costs of fuel, Saab’s knowledge of turbo technology and flexfuel vehicle development, its reputation as an innovator and as a pacesetter in safety should position it for a real assault on the marketplace. The potential for growth is enormous providing that everything’s done right.

GM – you’ve got to spend money to make money. I think Saab’s future will extend well beyond the Trollhattan four-year deadline as long as the next 4 years are spent profitably. Not profitably just in terms of the bottom line, but profitably in terms of development. The crucial development years under Michael Mauer were reduced to a very limited output. That’s a real shame because the potential, as exhibited by the 9-3x, was almost without limit. It’s vital for Saab’s future that that sort of waste doesn’t happen again.

Maybe they’ve only got one shot in the locker before GM throws its hands in the air and sells the brand. Maybe that wouldn’t be a bad thing either. I just hope that the carnival ride that Saab seem to be on at the moment ends soon and we get a batch of fresh, innovative and progressive models to challenge the Germans with.

And soon.

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11 Comments

  1. Isn’t the “spiritual successor” to the classic 900 the 9-3? If SAAB wants to “enter” (I’d argue it’d be a RE-entry) into the compact hatchback market, wouldn’t that vehicle be more a successor to the 99 than the 900? The Classic 900 was actually a pretty large car. This is why I advocate a smaller Sonett convertible as the 9-3 convertible is quite large. The Epsilon platform the 9-3 is based on is a mid-size FWD platform. I would like to see a Sonett and/or 9-2 hatchback based on the small FWD Delta platform. FWD is SAAB’s forte and you don’t need more than 250 bhp in a small, light Sonett convertible car. With FWD you get superior inclimate weather performance and with a small turbocharged I4 engine you get excellent fuel economy. The Kappa platform of the Sky and Solstice is RWD, something very “un-SAABy”.

    This talk about “reworking the European Opel Astra hatchback and its components, including a redesign to fit into Saabs model lineup” sounds a heck of a lot to me like more “badge engineering”, this time with an Opel Astra. I have no problem with SHARING a platform and engine, but I object to badge engineering. When will GM learn this strategy doesn’t work? SAAB buyers are not stupid. We’re reportedly the most well educated owners in the segment.

    “A production version for Saab could eventually arise from the Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky duo, slotting into the range as a modern day Sonnet.” More badge engineering? Oh yeah, someone’s locked onto a successful strategy! I was hoping SAAB would be given the Kappa platform and engine to work with building their own car around. Apparently now they’re just supposed to badge engineer a Sky or Solstice.

    “Challenge the Germans”, Swade? More like “if you can’t beat them join them”. The 9-3 and 9-5 are slated to be built by Opel in Germany. The next 9-2 is likely to be a rebadged Opel Astra. The 2008 Saturn Vue is the same as the Opel Antara, so if the 9-4X is to be based on the same platform as the Vue, doesn’t that make it an Opel as well?

    Welcome to the “new” SAAB. Born of Opel.

  2. I have barely read half of the first page and I must say this is one of the most crappiest Saab related article I have seen in a long time.

    Obviously this ‘Justin Couture’ is not in the position to write about Saab. I hope that he didnt get money for writing that rubbish.

  3. TuuSaR, a little harsh, I think. It’s not the best article I’ve read, but it wasn’t that bad, either. It certainly got better and I didn’t find it to be factually incorrect (except to the hyundai reference, if I recall – that was one I hadn’t heard before).

    Gripen – I think there’s a common overraction that takes place whenever another model is mentioned in the same sentence as a new Sab model. The 9-3 and the Vectra share a platform but ride in the two and they’re different beasts all together.

    I think when these types of things are mentioned there’s more focus on the model name (eg. Astra) that the notion of sharing a platform. I know this is most likely due to the 9-2x and the 9-7x. Pre those cars I don’t think people wouldn’t have thought too much about it.

    This is Saab’s challenge for the next 5-10 years. model development off shared platforms whilst retaining character.

    If they do it well, which I think they can given adequate resources, then there should be some fine cars coming up.

  4. Well lets analyze first page:

    “Over the past few weeks there have been countless headlines in car magazines and newspapers across the globe stating that Saab is doomed”

    Has been predicted to doom last 15 years.

    “ever-sliding sales”

    Globally not

    “looks as if Saab has little more than a dim future”

    Anybody who has followed GM bosses latest thoughts knows that its quite opposite.

    “To make matters worse, with the unexpected sale of General Motors share in Fuji Heavy Industries”

    Fantastic news for Saab

    “Epsilon-chassis based 9-3 is already starting to sag around its edges”

    What are you smoking?

    “twin-turbo V6”

    Doesnt exist

  5. Well have to agree to disagree on this one. I can forgive a gaffe about the twin scroll turbo if the overall tone of the article is OK, which I think is the case. I’ve heard worse mistakes (and some from Saab salespeople!)

  6. Swade, I agree with you that many people overreact when hearing the name of another model in the same sentence as SAAB. However, the text which described SAAB’s supposed relationship with the Opel Astra sure made it sound more like a rebadge than a plaform share.

    I have no problem with the fact that the 9-3, the Chevy Malibu and the Pontiac G6 share the same (Epsilon) underpinnings. However, like most SAAB afficianados I object to “badge engineering”. It’s wrought disasterous results so far and I think they should learn from their mistakes and abandon the idea as fast as they dumped the Fuji relationship.

  7. The author of the article has obviously red Swedish magazines, I recognize most of the statements from another article (just can’t remember which one).

  8. Maybe GM’s reason for dumping Saab would be the quality problems? I would like to be directed to the appropriate Blog topic or group to discuss issues I’ve been having with poor quality of my 2000 Saab 9-3 Convertible. Can you point me in the right direction? Everything from the engine blowing up to failing hydraulic cylinders for the top mechanism!

  9. The question is not whether Saab has four years left, or not. The question is whether GM’s current management, or even GM as we have known it, has four years left, or not.

    GM in bankruptcy, or GM under severe pressure from shareholders, could exhibit all manner of inconsistent and strange behavior.

    It would be typical of Saab’s recent run of bad luck to have a product development schedule cancelled or delayed **again** due to instability or neglect on the part of the corporate parent.

  10. Jim,

    Disappointed and a lttle surprised to hear of your troubles. I don’t have any sort of discussion area for that sort of thing here, but SaabCentral or Saabnet may be good places for you to discuss issues. I have a link for SaabCentral on the right sidebar.

    Another site for owners to relate their buying experiences, good or bad, is http://www.carsurvey.org/

    You might like to try there too, though it seems like more of a place to vent than a discussion area where you might get suggestions as to possible resolutions.

    Good luck.

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