Saab USA on Diesel

Getting answers to specific questions from Saab can be difficult sometimes. I’d like to thank them for providing a straight-up answer in a reasonable period of time in this instance.

Last week, I emailed some questions to Saab USA regarding whether or not the US market would see the diesel variants of the 9-3 and 9-5 that have sold so well in Europe. This is a current issue as changing US laws regarding the makeup of diesel fuel will make the fuel itself a lot cleaner (from October 2006), opening the door for much cleaner running diesel vehicles that currently sell so well in Europe. Several companies have announced plans to bring diesels to the US market in MY2007 – the aim was to find out if Saab would join them.

Saab USA’s response was sitting in my inbox when I got up this morning:

Steven – Thanks for your patience. Here’s our most recent position on this topic.

First and foremost, it is important to understand that in the United States, diesel fuel is significantly more expensive than regular gasoline. Together with the fact that diesel is simply not available at many fuel stations, this makes it much less of an obvious alternative from a public perspective than, let’s say, Europe.

However excellent and frugal they may be, modern diesel engines like the 1.9 TiD in the Saab 9-3 aren’t exactly cheap to manufacture (big difference with the Saab BioPower/E85 initiative in this respect…). Before we make a strong – and expensive – push to make Saab diesels compliant with US regulations and bring it over here, we have to make sure that it is worth the effort for the relatively small brand that we are.

Currently, we are not convinced that such is the case. Also keep in mind that the fuel economy of both the 210 hp 2.0T in the 9-3 and the 260 hp 2.3 T in the 9-5 consistently puts Saab among the best in its segment.

Having said that, we continue to remain interested in alternative fuels and we keep monitoring the situation. If need be, we can move quickly and re-examine our current position towards diesels – but we do not expect that to happen soon. Quite frankly, we think that Saab’s entrance in the ethanol arena here in North America may be clearer on the horizon.

We will keep you informed about further developments, with kind regards,

Jan-Willem Vester
Manager, Saab Automobile USA Corporate Communications

Whilst I can see their point on several fronts, my first instinct says that this is a mistake. There are two separate and distinct groundswells over diesel and ethanol in the USA, from my reading anyway. The difference between them is that one is mostly coming from the corn lobby and the car companies (ethanol), and the other is mostly coming from an enthusiastic automotive press eager to see what all the fuss is about on the other side of the pond (diesel).

I’ll gather my thoughts and write more about this later. Your thoughts, as always, are welcome in comments.

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  1. Diesel may not be sold at all stations, but it isn’t as if it’s hard to find.

    It’s also not as cheap; usually between regular and plus. (At least it was last time I bothered checking the price of Diesel…) I’d say the added MPG would make up for it though.

    The question is however: If I had enough money to afford a new Saab, would I really be all that worried about MPG?

  2. I am very disapointed that Saab doesn’t come out with a diesel for the US. I think choice is the important thing here, and the customer wants to choose. So go ahead and jack the price up and give us what we want, a diesel!! 66MPG at only 2.89 a gallon, I will take one today!!

  3. And that is the BEAUTY of diesel…when youre gettin 35+44 mpg, ie over 500 miles per tank, one doesnt worry about that. Its always available, especially on the interstates (only ULSD soon, as compared to E85? available at maybe 10 spots in metro Chicago?) And it shouldnt be an either/or (do both), or just Saab…there are many vehicles in GMotors line-up that could benefit from a 4/5cylTD.
    FWIW in our 16-county area there are 10 Saab dealers, as compared to countem 83 Chevys, 44 Buicks, 40 Pontiacs, 39 GMCs, 21 Caddy, 17 Saturn, 5 Hummer…and their all twiddlin thumbs.

    My obselete 03 has over 60K now…would Saabusa consider selling another? Swade…Im amazed you got a response…where do I send that 20?

  4. Fred,

    I’d expected more fireworks. Looks like your car could be without compadres for the term of its natural life.

    Gotta say, I’m really surprised. The more I think about it the more surprised I am.

    Send the $20 to Bob Lutz. I hear he’s a little skint nowadays.

  5. Swade, hes too busy sniffing JetA and flying his fighter planes.
    BTW according to SaabUK the diesel is 600 LESS than the 2L petrol.

  6. I had to re-read the comments from SAAB USA to convince myself that this was not coming from the US. Even in Namibia and South Africa, with our less then perfect diesel, we have diesel powered vehicles from engine sizes as small as 1.4liters to the gas guzzling SUVs the size of mammoths. Your traditional German trio (VAG [Audi], BMW and DC) including the oddball Volvo and the rest of the manufacturers and importers are flooding the markets down here with diesels galore. You reckon the USA is too refined for that? In Namibia, petrol is now only 8 cents more than diesel and hence the advantage of owning and running a petrol- powered vehicle has almost evaporated.

  7. Ok it looks like Saab aint going to arrive with first diesel wave of 2007 models but most likely when new 9-5 is ready.

    I can fully understand Saab USA in this matter if
    1)diesel is more expensive
    2)not everywhere available
    3)diesel Saab is costing more to make
    4)it would take some shine away from E85 Saabs
    5)there has already been problems to meet demand of diesel Saabs, opening new market would not help it

  8. Like most of you, I don’t really agree with the overall logic but at least we got a response from the top dog. In the era of press secretaries & spokespeople, its nice to see someone who can walk the walk as well as talk the talk. Really appreciated Mr Vester.

    When you go into detail, theres a fair bit of commonsense there but…..not much guts. Sometimes you gotta know when to hold em…and this is a good time to hold. Not a time to fold.

  9. This is laughable, diesel is readily available in the US, while ethanol is not sold in 1% of fuel stations here. The real answer is that Saab is supplying Europe with the desireable models because of shipping costs, warranty costs, marketing costs, and other cost factors.

  10. I completely agree with the diesel availability comments. It can’t be that hard to find, as all heavy trucks in the US are running diesel, and there are a lot of trucks here.

    The thing I pulled out of SAAB USA’s response is this “Before we make a strong – and expensive – push to make Saab diesels compliant with US regulations…” This implies that SAAB could not just ship the current 1.9TiD to the states, even with the lower sulfur fuels.

    If this is truly the case, it’s a business decision based on investment and payback.

  11. Max is on track here.

    I’m afraid Mr. Vester is singing from the GM North American hymnal of Ethanol & hybrids.

    Diesel is readily available in most U. S. markets if you seek it out, and will become more available as the low sulpher content fuel arrives in N.Y. & Ca. MB, BMW, & VW/Audi are all ready to exploit this.

  12. Diesel is readily available everywhere – ridiculous to argue otherwise. Not every filling station sells diesel but there plenty do.

    Right now diesel is cheaper than premium gas in New Jersey. Gas prices have spiked because the refineries are forced to blend in ethanol by Congress and the price of ethanol is sky high right now.

    Diesel, on the other hand, is not subject to this giveaway to corn farmers. Sounds like GM will miss the diesel boat the same way the missed the whole Hybrid wave. Once again, this is how you drive the largest company in the world into the ground.

  13. I have owned several diesel Mercedes from the ’80’s and I’ve never once had a problem finding a diesel filling station. I travel a lot for my work and I thought my ’04 9-3SS would be the answer to my horrific monthly gas bills. It’s a great car but I only average 26MPG on combined city/hwy driving. I just drove a new 2006 VW Jetta 1.9TDI for a week and I loved it! I got 42MPG on my combined city/hwy trips and it’s performance was awesome! If Saab does not come to the US table with a diesel before my lease expires in early ’07, this long-time Saab fan is off to the VW store for a Jetta TDI! Hurry Saab and stop pushing E85 when there is little to no infrastructure to support it.

  14. If GM thinks that its customers would be turned off by the economy and efficient of todays diesel engines because of lack of fuel availability, they are just wrong. Many people want to be part of the trend towards smaller, efficient, dare i say “greener” vehicles. All the double talk will only result in GM showing up too late to address a market trend in which they could have a chance to get a head start. Its sad , because may of the components, be it technical, design or marketing are in the worldwide GM pipelne, so to speak. To bad there is not the vision to bring it all together and lead the market.

  15. I have a 1999 Saab 9-3 convertable and a 2006 Mercedes Benz E-320 CDI. Guess which car is faster and has much better gas milage and power? The much larger Mercedes of course. My Saab is a gas engine and it is nowhere near as impressive as the diesel. I was originally considering a Saab 9-5 wagon, but the more I learned about the power and economy benifits ofdiesel, I wanted one. Mercedes and VW were my only choices in the USA. So I spent the extra money on the Mercedes because THAT IS WHAT I THE CUSTOMER WANTED (GM/SAAB-THE CUSTOMER IS ALWAYS RIGHT REMEMBER THAT!). My Mercedes averaged 41mpg on a trip from Allentown PA to Canada! A Saab 9-3 Diesel will average 43mpg at 130mph! 60mpg at 70mph! And yes, Diesel is not hard to find, and in some places in the USA (California) it is a dollar cheaper than regular gas!

  16. I own 2 Saab cars. !996 900S 2.3 non turbo and a 2004 9/5 Aero. Both are great cars and no real problems. My son owns a 1996 VW Passat TDI. It has different maint requirements and with the ULSD at the end of last ear he developed a leak on his injection pump. We had it repaired and the car runs great. Diesel hasnt been hard to find and we add additive on every tank. His mpg is 35-37 arround town and 51 on the highway traveling with his friends at 65-80 mph speeds. If Saab had a Diesel as an option I would buy it. Saab does have low production numbers and testing and government compliance would be expensive for the limited and the return on investment. I think in 03 they made only 140,000 units total, they build more Ford explorers in a week….

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