Reasons Saab MUST make the Aero-X

I don’t know if it’s just me and my surrounding circumstances, or if the explosion that was the Aero-X release really was so powerful that it swallowed up its own aftermath.  But I can’t help feeling that the commotion has come and gone.  The occasional article about the car is trickling through, but how much attention can one car (not one model, but literally, one car) generate and maintain?

That’s the question forming the basis of this post – reasons why GM and Saab would be absolutely nuts to leave this sensational concept vehicle as a concept only.

Reason 1 – Capitalisation

As a struggling carmaker, you only get so many oppotunities to shine.  You have to capitalise on these moments and build the momentum. 

Saab make fantastic motor vehicles but a fair portion of their potential customer base see them as a little homogenised and ho-hum.  It’s different when you drive them, but that public image is a barrier to getting bums on seats.  The BFJ campaign seems to be working in relevant markets, but ads are a small shimmer in the water compared to the waves that a genuinely exciting product can generate.

The Aero-X has turned Saab into the flavour of the month, and right on time too.  Saab’s enjoying perhaps its best start to a sales year ever, and attention like that generated by the Aero-X can only help.  The degree of continued interest will be governed by whether they choose to put the car into the production process, or the museum.

Generate something real and tangible from this concept and there’ll be a definite level of interest maintained in the brand by some who would have previously sniggered.  Pull off a production model that’s realistically and appropriately equipped and you’ll fulfil the next reason: the halo.

Reason 2 – The Halo Car

How many Audi A3’s and A4’s have been sold from interest generated years ago by the TT?

Right now, depending on the taste of the individual, Saab’s premium vehicle is either the 250hp, V6 Saab 9-3 Aero, or the 260hp, 4 cylinder Saab 9-5.  Both are fine cars, brilliant tourers and inspirational drives.  But are either of them halo cars?  Do either of them have the WOW factor necessary to really drive outside interest and growth in the company?

Tangent: As a Saab enthusiast, one of the things I love about them is that when you’re driving one, you don’t see your own car on the road all the time.  Low volume gives a certain amount of individuality that an owner can take some measure of pride in.  Discernment. 

I’m not for making Saab a mega-volume company, but economics would dictate that if Saab are to remain, and remain effectively as a brand with a genuine Scandinavian identity and some goodly quantity of R&D for future models, then a greater degree of success is required.

The Halo (cont): A halo vehicle needs to have some balls.  Some attitude.  It has to demand some attention and then fulfil all expectations, even exceed some.  Can an understated company like Saab make a vehicle that’s comfortable in the spotlight?  Aggressive even?

When times were somewhat quieter Saab took the world on with the Turbocharger.  Then they upped the ante and gave customers the Aero.  Years later they took it further still with the Viggen.  The Aero-X would be a substantial progression, lifting Saab to a new level of performance.  Perhaps even more importantly, they would do it with a new level of innovation.

Reason 3 – Technology and Innovation

Substantial advances in technology and innovation have primarily been the boast of the Germans in recent times.  Historically speaking, Saab punches well above its weight in this regard.  A release like the Aero-X can show how far.

The engine: Biopower compatible, able to run up to 100% ethanol or 100% gasoline, or any mix of the two.  Tuned for performance, taking full advantage of the twin-turbo setup.  And while I’m here, why speed limit it to 250 km/h?  If it’s going to be a limited edition super-Saab, let it be a bahn-burner!!

The insides: It may be, for practical reasons, that the full LED treatment inside has to be toned down.  But the best practical applications for this technology apparent in the Aero-X should be retained.  This is one car that shouldn’t be dumbed down.  Let the innovation in this car drive development in Saab’s regular model line.

The body: It may well be that the canopy setup has to be ditched in favour of the skinniest A-pillars available and regular doors, but the glass expanse should be retained as much as possible, as should the lines of the body.  And it’s just my humble opinion, but the Sonett rear on this car is a must-have.

Reason 4 – Leadership

Saab make the best damn vehicles in GM’s European stable.  I’d actually say they make the best cars under the GM umbrella, but some Caddy and Corvette owners may care to disagree.  Anyway, I believe it’s the case and I reckon Jan-Ake Jonsson would agree.   

A leader should inspire.  A leader should create.  Whilst this will sound like quite a paradoxical analogy when applied to Saab, it’s not the place of a leader to struggle along accepting crumbs from the table. 

Given that the costs are down and that the plant is now "super-productive", I think it’s time Saab was given a chance to over-achieve.  The Aero-X could be a wonderful marquee vehicle for GM in Europe and Saab worldwide, establishing it well and truly in its stated position as being GM’s global premium brand.

Reason 5 – Fulfillment

Alfa Romeo were able to fulfil the promise in the Brera concept earlier this year, when the car was officially released.  It’s since been modified to produce a new Spider for the company, lauded as best drop-top at the Geneva show.  Alfa are now going one step further and producing the 8c Competizione concept as a real vehicle, figuring that the money siphoned off the advertising budget would be better spent on the sexiest rolling billboards money could buy.  That, my friends, is Cuore Sportivo.  Cohunas.  Proof that the passion behind the cars is shared by the company as much as by the fans of the cars.

The Aero-X is, officially speaking, Saab’s 5th concept vehicle.  I say ‘officially speaking’ as the 9-3 SportHatch concept was somewhere between a toned down 9-3x and an incomplete-for-market 9-3 SportCombi (in my eyes at least). 

So, if my theory about the SportHatch is to be indulged, out of three previous ‘real’ concepts, Saab has managed to bring to market a much-diluted version of one of them (9-3x —> 9-3 SportCombi).  I don’t mean that to be a slight against the 9-3 SportCombi as I think it’s one of the most genuine Saab vehicles available to buy today.  And a one-out-of-three record isn’t too bad as far as concept cars go, either. 

But given that Saab aren’t so blessed in terms of resources that they could justify spending time developing cars for fun, why not produce it as faithfully as is practical, as well as allowing styling to trickle down to the model range?

The point is this: Saab enthusiasts and others around the world have been stirred up enough in the last 5 years.  It’s time to prove the capability to actually make a viable production model out of one of these cars, and the Aero-X is the perfect candidate.  Whether as a regular production model, or more likely as a limited edition Super-Saab, the Aero-X would be a great advertisement for Saab worldwide.

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12 Comments

  1. Swade, once again you are highlighting the key factors of the commercial realities in which the whole world operates under. In simple terms: any organisation need to maintain high viability to stay in business. Weather we like it or not this applies to Saab. Your points on the draw effect that an innovation will have on future sales and the ability to raise brand awareness is key for Saab to maintain the momentum they are riding on a high for a longer period. I hope GM is reading this analysis that has excellent and valid points as presented. Great reading Swade.

  2. Remember the Saab EV-1?

    Need I say more?

    The Aero X is a great concept car, but that’s all it is. It was created on a parallel but ultimately separate design thread to production Saabs, which increasingly have to demonstrate ‘commonality’ with other GM vehicles. Unless someone can rehash the Aero X skin into a Pontiac, it’s not going to happen.

    We can only hope that certain design elements of the Aero X make it across the line into real world production Saabs. As I was reminded by Wikipedia when I searched for the name of the EV-1, it was the first Saab to introduce a speedo that illuminated only the area around the current speed at night time… the first example of Saab’s night time lighting option for the dashboard. They may seem like small things, but the best we can hope for of this concept is that the little nuances and ideas work their way into production cars.

  3. Swade,for all that to happen we need Renault to buy SAAB from GM. Bean-counters at GM live on stuff like saving dollar using same radio in 9-5 and Chevy Impala.Building new SAAB from scratch, that would be against their religion.

  4. Jacek – while your thoughts certainly bring a smile to my face…some people in my company are part of that same religion……any business must have growth to survive and even bean counters know that. You can trim and save and economise all you like but if you don’t grow sales you are just re-arranging deck chairs on a Titanic. I have seen companies make their earnings targets without growing sales ( ie – internal savings & efficiencies) and as admirable as that is, its usually been a sign that the tank is empty, no-ones got any freash ideas and it all gets pretty ugly soon after.

    What a project like the Aero – x needs is a sound business case that is driven by people who have enough clout to make it happen. People like JAJ , The Pharmacist and Sideshow Bob. From my distant observation point I can’t detect that but, the wheels within Saab/GM may just be working on it right now. Look on ths bright side – we got this far!

  5. I agree that the Aero X would have the same affect as the Audi TT (a great example, by the way) and I think that common components may be used successfully as long as they are quality components.

    Therefore, I don’t agree that a concept car must be produced as is to have a positive impact as a halo vehicle. To use the cited example, I doubt that the Audi TT was produced directly from an Audi concept car. In other words, use engineering and economic sense to create a car like the Aero X ASAP!!

  6. Regarding the A-pillars, I think that SAAB would need to retain the strength in case of rollover or moose-strike. How about the perforated A-pillar like in the Volvo SCC? I know, it’s sacrilege to “copy” a Volvo idea, but if it’s a good one, why not assimilate? See the pics on this page to see the A-pillar I’m talking about: http://www.familycar.com/Future/VolvoSCC/VolvoSCC.htm

    Also Swade, you mention keeping the Sonett rear. I do like the look of the rear, but think they could retain the look even if they extend the hatch down to include the rear of the car so when you open the hatch you have knee-level loading/unloading capability for more utility. I mean keep the same look, but move the hatch seams to include the rear of the car.

    While stealing ideas from Volvo’s SCC, why not nab that great idea of using a radar system (like the one in those active parking assist systems) to patrol the car’s blind spots and light a series of signalling LEDs in the side rear view mirror if a car is in the blind spot? SAAB’s all about the safety. Don’t let arrogance keep from using a good idea someone else came up with. In the immortal words of Skinny Puppy, “Assimilate!”

  7. eggsngrits: I think I remember that the TT concept was based on the AUDI A4 or a VW platform or something. So it was more production-ready than the Aero-X is, being based on a non-shared platform. That would also make the Aero-X much more expensive to produce than the move of the AUDI TT from concept to production. What, is SAAB going to start just making this one-off Aero-X platform themselves?

    I just don’t see SAAB being a handmade car manufacturer. They don’t have the resources, the money, or the expertise.

    Even if they were to substitute the carbon fiber for steel or aluminum and put traditional doors on it, run a cost reduction program on the interior, the thing is still going to be VERY expensive being sold in small numbers. Look at the Subaru SVX. They had a dedicated niche following, but the car was so expensive that it cost the same as the Acura/Honda NSX. Most who could afford the SVX would buy the NSX instead. Who’s going to buy the Aero-X when they could buy a Porsche or Aston-Martin or something? The general public isn’t as “into” uniqueness and standing out from the crowd as we “SAABisti” are.

  8. The Audi TT? the new Beetle? (Born from VWs) may be somewhat viable concept/halo cars…but having driven both (OK but no love) and the big#s available used indicate “flash in the pan”.
    Saab still has not made a true AWD car…perhaps they shouldn’t. Maybe stick with the transverse FWD(imho the best)…but ad a electric/hybrid rear drive option. And an APC-like system…for turbodiesels. Remember Saab financials wont start looking good unless it sells 200Kpy.

  9. PT has also highlighted another factual reality of being in business: if you do not motivate continuous organic growth at the end of the day your tank will run empty. As much as we hate to admit, Saab’s tank has been running on empty for a long time with the exceptions of very small new developments like the 9-3 SS, Sport Combi and……….the tank is empty. Hence the endless hammering of the brilliant (but perceived old/outdated) 9-5. The prospect of creating something new even if it isn’t creating that very same Areo X as the concept will no doubt motivate new sales and send the company in to respectable growth. This is what Audi, BMW and even Volvo have done much better. I am feeling pain when typing this other factual reality. PT your analogy of re-arranging the deckchairs is brilliant on the real impact of cutting cost vs growth. I’ll borrow this phrase from here on onwards.

  10. Well, it looks like they will bring 900-1000 units of AERO X to US.That is a rumor from Los Angeles GM meeting two days ago.I like that kind of rumors !!!

  11. Jacek, I just emailed your rumour to SaabUSA and got a reply that, unfortunately, put it in the “wishful thinking” category.

    Still, the timing is right. New York is coming up and it’ll be Saab’s 50th Anniversary in the US. And guess what car was on show for the first time back in 1956?

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