The Medicine

UPDATE: Vector lends some balance to this report in comments. Make sure you check them out.


Been a while since I’ve written a letter to GM…..

GM likes to do a song and dance when they get good vehicle quality results in. And deservedly so. Good results should be acknowledged and celebrated. A company works hard at improving their designs and processes and deserves a bouquet when things go right.

The great sales data from Sweden today (scroll down or click here) is the “little bit of sugar” to help this bit of medicine to go down.

Aftonbladet have published a list of the 10 best and 10 not-so-best (i.e. worst) cars in terms of breakdowns. Unfortunately, our favourite Swede is on the wrong side of the ledger and it’s not. bloody. good. enough.

The top 10 were, somewhat predictably, dominated by Asian carmakers. Those that we used to scoff at not so long ago are now handing the west their own asses when it comes to satisfying customers through the build quality of their vehicles.

The top 10’s on Aftonbladet’s list are as follows:

The Best:

1 Lexus
2 Toyota
3 Honda
4 Mazda
5 Nissan
6 Volvo
7 Kia
8 Subaru
9 Suzuki
10 BMW

And (drumroll)……the worst:

1 Range Rover
2 Mcc (not sure who this is)
3 Rover
4 Alfa Romeo
5 Fiat
6 Jaguar
7 Renault
8 Seat
9 Chevrolet
10 Saab

The fact that the cars on the bottom list generally have heaps more character about them is one good thing. But repeat business is based on good experiences, and only a certain number of people are going to forgive a persistently bad service record because of the joy of driving a car with plenty of character.

We’re talking about the premium global brand for what is still, by volume, the world’s biggest carmaker. There are certain things that Saab have little control over when it comes to GM. On thing they do have some say about, however, is quality design and reliability.

I received a comment yesterday from a guy in Arizona that’s a case in point. He has a long list of repairs done on his car. I can’t vouch for the service history or the manner in which the car has been driven, but one thing’s clear – he’s a lost customer for Saab – and that’s one thing that’s got to stop.

Here’s hoping that a renewed effort will be made to improve Saab quality over the coming years. I’m quite sure they’re working on it. There’s a new 9-3 and 9-5 coming, not to mention the 9-4x. The 9-3 will most likely remain as the staple product in the Saab range in the future. All Saabs, but the 9-3 especially, need to begin to exceed customers’ expectations when it comes to build quality and reliability.

They’re the best cars in the world to own and drive daily. I own one that’s 12 years old and one that’s now 7 years old (hard to imagine the Viggen’s seven years old). The difference between the two is like light and day and here’s hoping that the build quality trend between those continues on today and into the future. I just want more people get to share in the wonderful experience I’ve had with them. As an owner, I have a role to play in the longevity of my car. I just hope Saab and GM pay as much attention to their role as I do to mine.

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  1. This list in Aftonbladet is from one (1) insurance company. If you look att the official statistics from Bilprovningen (The Swedish Vehicle Inspection Company) who test ALL car in Sweden, Saab is rated among the best.

  2. Unfortunately it’s not the first one that’s had Saab below par. It’s undoubtedly an area that has to lift in the future.

    Do you have a reference for Bilprovningen?

  3. That is true, but not the whole truth!
    An insurance company (which did that survey) only looks for what they will be forced to pay to repair shops.
    On the yearly check-up, the safety and condition of the car is checked. And this shows us a completely different list and it concerns 3 year old cars:

    Top 10 family car class is:
    M-B S-class
    Volvo C70 Con./Cab.
    Honda CR-V
    Saab 9-5 2.0
    Mitsubishi Galant
    Saab 9-5 Kombi
    Volkswagen Passat
    Volkswagen Passat Variant
    Mitsubishi Galant V6
    Mitsubishi Galant Kombi

    The bottom 10 in the same class is:
    Citroën Evasion
    Ford Galaxy
    Seat Alhambra
    Chevrolet Trans Sport
    Volkswagen Sharan TDI
    Chrysler Voyager
    Land Rover Freelander
    Chevrolet Tahoe
    Volkswagen Sharan
    Opel Zafira

    If we look at 7 year old cars the same list looks like this:

    Top 10:
    Toyota RAV4
    Toyota Camry
    Saab 9-5
    BMW 7-serien
    Saab 9000 Turbo
    Land Rover Discovery
    Saab 9000
    Toyota Hi-Ace Traveller
    Volvo 940 GL
    BMW 5-serien 6 cyl.

    Bottom 10:
    Ford Scorpio 4 cyl.
    Audi A6 Quattro TDI Avant
    Mercedes E-Klass CDI Kombi
    Audi A6 TDI
    Pontiac Trans Sport
    Volkswagen Sharan TDI
    Audi A6 TDI Avant
    Volkswagen Passat TDI Variant
    Renault Trafic
    Volvo V70 TDI
    Volkswagen Caravelle TDI

    This list is taken from the yearly book “Cars best and worst” published by the government agency that is responsible for the yearly check-up of all the cars in Sweden

  4. Good work, vector220. Had some other thing to do here at work so I couldn’t get the list right away… 🙂

    Remember last year, when the whole BMW 3-series was at the bottom of the list together with some Korean brand (me think). That was funny… 🙂

  5. Sounds like it’s a publicity issue then. There’s plenty of scepticism about Saab’s reliability. Maybe this is something that needs to be countered more publicly.

    Despite this Aftonbladet list being filtered by, shall we say an “incomplete perspective”, it does represent the fact that there’s issues there to be addressed.

    Any ideas on how to counter it are welcome…..

  6. Great comments, guys! Since you’ve done the homework on the reliability….

    What’s up with the Aftonbladet story about Cadillacs made in Trollhattan? Picking through the article, this is a vehicle based on the 9-3? I don’t readily recognize it as a vehicle available in the US. Did I miss something here, or is this a new car?

  7. New car on a fine car. Robert Collin says this is the best caddy so far.
    But it’s a bit expensive and there for not fore sale in the US.
    The price tag is higher than a bigger US made caddy. And that’s not good for business
    This car is supposed to sell en great numbers in Europe

  8. Isn’t that sales target by 2010 or something. Initially they were aiming at 20,000 per year. Personally, I think it’s been beaten a little too hard with the ugly stick, but that’s just me. Not a fan of Caddy styling at all.

  9. It should be notised that Länsförsäkringar who has published these figures only has about 20% maximum of the cars in Sweden insured.

    So how reliable are they? I would say not reliable at all… Like someone said above the government controlled cartesting company Svensk Bilprovning places SAAB at the top 5 every year.

  10. I suppose that Cadillacs are very ‘American’ in design because they retain those angular styling cues from the Cadillacs of the 1960’s. I’ve always liked them in a ‘stately’ sort of way.

    The STS and CTS are good-looking vehicles, I think. What seems to annoy me on the ‘EuroCaddy’ is the way that they’ve grafted the angular front end onto the more rounded body derived from the 9-3. At least they could have softened the egg-crate grille a bit as they have on the STS/CTS lines here in the US. Even better, they could have taken the opportunity to use the mesh-style grille from the Cadillac V-series performance models.

    Much better-looking IMHO.

  11. I don’t know if it has to do with quality or reliability, but I remember reading last year that Korean carmaker Daewoo (of which GM owns a 50.9% stake) has the lowest mechanical tolerances in the industry.

    There was word that the technology for accomplishing this was going to be spread throughout all of GM’s subsidiaries. I wonder if SAAB will benefit from this.

    Will lower mechanical tolerances lead to better quality and/or reliability?

  12. Speaking from experience, lower mechanical tolerances lead to better repeatability.

    That is, your manufacturing process more faithfully executes the intended design.

    So, then the question becomes this: Did you start with a high-quality, reliable design? If you did, then tight tolerances are the icing on the cake.

    If the design is poor, then tighter tolerances don’t help that much.

    Making great automobiles is a difficult task. Speaking as an engineer that’s seen the design and execution practices in other industries, there are times that I’m amazed at how good cars are for the money that we spend on them. It is truly a feat of massive proportions.

  13. I wonder how many reliability failures were due to the D.I. Cassette?

    I understand that this single failure is one of the most common reliability problems in recent years for SAAB.

  14. Unfortunately Saab shoots itself in the foot with and without GMs help. That DI problem would never have escalated if there were seperate coils. Now one slight failure causes a bigger $/warranty headache. Those clutch cables were just plain dumb…good riddance to them. Sadly Im sniffing some bad news concerning automatics…it seems Saab finally has a great reliable trans and theyre starting to fail because the radiator is leaking internally, comingling coolant/ATF. $$$. Even though theyre warranteed, this will not bode well. Other than that, a minor problem most manufacturers are having (Saab usually rarely)…a Check Engine or other fault code with no real problem…and no solution…other than pull the fuse, reinstall fuse (reboot?). Anybody have an insight on whats up with those Euro TDIs?…its not blown timing belts is it?

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