I’ll probably be dismissed as an obscure, clueless blogger, but what the hell….
I’ve had a recent rant over the proposed interior of the 2007 9-3. I won’t rehash the whole thing, but in summary I don’t think it’s particularly true to Saab’s heritage and I think GM are losing the beancounter-imposed battle to retain Saab’s brand authenticity.
1985 Gripen, in comments, has a decent rant over Saab’s model range and it’s consequent lack of interest:
GM has tried to position SAAB to compete with brands it has no chance against, IMHO.
I really think that GM needs to stop trying to take sales away from BMW and concentrate on “finding their own road”. They’ve diluted SAAB to try to be a cheaper BMW clone to compete (killing the hatchback, for example) and all people see SAAB as is a weiro’s wannabe Bimmer.
I’m hardcore SAABisti as they come and I wouldn’t even buy the current versions of the 9-3 and 9-5. If they can’t even make a car that I can desire, where do they think they’re going to get their new customers?
Whilst I wouldn’t necessarily concur in terms of the 9-3, particularly a 2006 Aero, I can certainly see where Gripen’s coming from. It’s that love for the brand that’s been formed by distinctiveness and is now being crushed by a still-small yet increasing homogeneity. A love that will wither and one day allow the eye to wander unless there’s some return to that special something that gave it life.
Call that overly flowery if you like, but it’s the essence of truth. Cars have an emotional connection for many and it’s quite likely that if you’re spending your time on the internet reading about them then that statement’s as true as ever about your good self. It has degrees but It’s undeniable.
Another truth about cars is that the more eccentric they are, the more people either love or hate them. Saab built up most of it’s loyal following with the somewhat eccentric 900 turbo. It did what a bunch of other manufacturers chose not to. It made a beautiful (to some), turbocharged, sporting and yet practical hatchback with strange colored interiors and front wheel drive. It attracted new buyers and set Saab up for a future it may not have had otherwise.
Saab gave people what they wanted before they even knew they wanted it. They pioneered and proved to people that “X” (substitute “X” for turbo, heated seats, central ignition, diagonally split brakes, or any other innovation) was a useful addition to a well-built, exceptionally comfortable automobile, and in the C900’s case – one that was a lot larger than it looked.
The post-1993 range of Saabs, fine as they are, have lost a little of that mojo. I own one myself, a 1999 9-3 Viggen. It’s easy to drive, incredibly comfortable and goes like stink……but……and I hesitate to say this……my old 1979 99turbo had more character – by far. And if I were to lose the Viggen to fire or theft or someone’s stupidity I’d be thinking long and hard about my replacement vehicle.
Long and hard.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my Viggen and I do solemnly believe that Saab’s newer stuff is way better in terms of everyday driving and fun-in-the-twisties than the press give them credit for. But there’s something missing, and in light of Saab’s worrying 2006 sales trend in the US, it’s got to be said that the next round of new Saab models might be do-or-die.
The all-new 9-4x is due for around 2008, as well as a new 9-3 and 9-5 at around the same time. Hopefully both the 9-3 and 9-5 will have AWD, which will allow the shackles to be removed in terms of power and performance. A few years after these we can expect the smaller 9-1. As Saab design these models, I hope that they’re being very mindful of the history and heritage of the marque – the things that have drawn their enthusiastic audience over the years.
Automotive columnist and general car guru, Peter DeLorenzo, recently celebrated AutoExtremist’s 7th birthday with a celebratory rant (recommended reading). Most of it is about the site itself and how happy he is with it after 7 years, but he also gets a swing in at those manufacturers that are forgetting their customers in deference to balancing the numbers in a spreadsheet. Yep, every business needs dollars, but the best way to get the dollars is through authenticity:
The companies that will continue to thrive in this business, however, are the ones that have resolved this ongoing battle in the True Believers’ favor long ago. A car company cannot survive in the most competitive automotive market in history on financial acumen alone. A fundamental passion for the product must exist that transcends all other concerns and focuses the organization on one single goal – to build the very best vehicles possible in whichever segment they choose to compete in – with no “ifs,” “ands,” “buts” or any other extraneous excuses or qualifiers.
Saab’s one of those companies that developed a legion of True Believers with a line of products that people could get passionate about. I’ve labelled those True Believers as fossils in previous articles here for their rejection of all-things-GM and implored them to get on board with the new Saab. In fairness, I’ve also got to continue to call for the new Saab to actually make vehicles that are true to the brand rather than just producing slick marketing campaigns that say it’s so.
2008 is going to be one heck of a big year.