Notes for the future II

I thought it might be worthwhile expanding the opportunity for people to comment on this.

It started with this:

A guy I know and respect, via email, recently said the following:

….about that “100% GM Free” sticker…. I tried to laugh, but it did not come from very deep inside. I know what nostalgia is all about, and it may feel good for a while. But, in all honesty, there’s also something like a present and a future. Do Saab enthusiasts really, really want to see our brand go the way of MG Rover?

I can see his point. I would have preferred Saab to remain an independant company, but the fact is that they couldn’t. Given the current circumstances I can’t think of a better situation for Saab right now than to have GM invest in it and develop it – provided they do exactly that.

A few of the thoughts in comments:

9x – if the question is, would i rather see the saab brand “die”? the answer is “yes,” if all gm wants to do is make saabarus and saab-blazers. it’s painful witnessing those kinds of travesties. but, gm is becoming more enlightened, so i’ll be hanging in there for the next-gen saabs.

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Muz-X – I understand that the car industry tries to cut the costs by uniforming the manufactoring but it will lead to the loss of identity of the more unique cars.

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Ben W – I guess the source of most old-skool Saabster frustration with GM is that the Saab brand just seems to be increasingly homogenised, and that the technological innovation and cool new models that should be coming out thanks to GM’s immense resources just haven’t been happening.

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CTM – Personally, I think it is pretty amazing that Saab is still around as a brand that 1) is not just a 100% rebadged thing of something else, and 2) build cars in Sweden which is _not_ the cheapest country to have industrial production in.

Saab was mismanaged when GM bought half of it in 1989. They had no product development at all. The two model they sold was old and outdated. All through the 90s, GM and Investor managed it together. The took some really heavy losses, but the only thing they could agree on was a upgrade of the two models the had – and that when they were about 15 years old! When GM took over, I think they had a plan of what to do. But economic reality came in the way. Between 2000-2005, I think they have taken losses at about 2.5 billion US Dollar.

What other owner should still be taken that kind of losses after 15 years, and continue to give the company some room to “play around” and be something different?

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And if I can add in my own (again, but hey, it’s my blog), this is part of what I wrote in reply to the original guy via email:

The fact is that there are people against GM’s ownership of Saab.

…… the best way to turn them around is a truly Saab-ish product. The Aero-X indeed goes part of the way there (and lots of people were won over by it) but they need a product that revolutionary in their own hands. If GM-Saab can put a Sonett in their hands, or something as important as one…..they’ll come.

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So again, your thoughts are invited in comments…..

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13 Comments

  1. We all know that Badge-Engineering is the way forward.
    Audi had just been awarded the Best Manufacture in Germany by ‘Auto Zeitung’ covering many groups in Safety, Sport, Quantity, Reliability, etc.

    Fact is Audi is just a badge engineered VW is it not?

    Basically you pay for better quality materials. There are a few engine options that would not be fitting to the VW image (4.2 V8 Bi-turbo for example). But for the normal ‘run of the mill’ models you can get the same power output for less by VW.

    What we have to remember is that this is a Saab enthusiast site, and we eat, breathe our favourite brand. Because of that we know too much. The average person doesn’t even know that Saab is GM owned. The average person doesn’t know that Saab used only 60% of the current epsilon platform. That Saab spent $10 Million on a new electrical system for the 9-3. instead of using GM’s version. That GM wasted Millions on re-designing a G6 convertible, when at the last minute they found out they couldn’t use the 9-3 as a base.

    The 9-2x and 9-7x may not be the best examples of badge engineering but since their launch, they have created thousands of sales in the US that Saab would never have got without them.
    GM knew full well when developing both these vehicles that they were not going to be perfect and have always expressed that these were ‘stop gap’ products, but non the less crucial to broaden Saab’s range and get Saab generating a profit.

    Both Bob Lutz and Jan-Aka Jonsson have both maintained that the next generation of vehicles will be developed from the base-architecture up. This will give Engineers and Designers full scope when creating a distinctly recognisable vehicle true to Saab’s key ideology.
    Yes; the Chassis may be shared by an Opel Vectra, or a Buick Enclave, However. It will by no mean feel, drive or look like one. Very much the same as Audi is, to its donor company.

    Will we have better products because of it?
    Will we have better reliability because of it?
    I like think undoubtedly!

  2. WooDz:
    I hope your wishes come true with respect to Saab. I’ve always been a Saab fan but I haven’t purchased a new one since 1973. I was mad that they went upscale and abandoned the entry-level buyers and all those that supported them previously but couldn’t afford expensive cars. But I’m approaching retirement now, and, damn it, I want to be driving Saabs again! I’m restoring some old strokers now (s-l-o-w-l-y), but I’d love to have a new toy to have fun with and show off alongside my strokers during my retirement years. But it must be “a distinctly recognisable vehicle true to Saab’s key ideology” just as you want. Otherwise, I’ll buy a used 9-3 and forget about the future.
    I’m anxiously waiting to see what the future brings. I prefer small, sporty and fast, but safe, cars. I really hope they come out with a killer new model in the next few years. If they do, I’ll be back.

  3. To the best of my knowledge Citroen has already put in an offer to GM to buy Saab. I think, and I’m not alone in thinking this, that if Saab were to be purchased by the PSA, it would do wonders for Saab. There’d be more money and creative freedom for product development, better quality parts(Delphi anyone?), and just an all around better Saab.

  4. Matt,
    Citroen: First mass produced front wheel drive car, independent, innovative, rally champion…
    Sounds like good synergy to me. I like it.

  5. Matt, Ted Y:

    Citroën (and the PSA group) is bad news for Saab. I said it before, and I say it again. The French government and the French union will _never_ allow any production of premium cars in Sweden. No way.

    Also, Citroën and Saab basically go after the same market with buyers wanting something “different”. Today, Citroën is a rebadges PSA-thing. Saab would be the same: a rebadge French-government subsidised car. They would also put the Saab badge on minivans, pickups and so on…

    Also, the PSA-group can’t take the losses that could still happen for Saab. The would kill the brand before covering losses for something that is not french.

    GM need Saab. It’s there only truly global Premium brand. And they must have one.

  6. After15 years under GM, Saab is still playing ‘catch up’.
    Granted, the 9-3 is easily a good match for any FWD vehicle but it lacks the interior quality of its competitors.
    That together with no cutting edge technology and AWD capability for the performance image Saab wants to accentuate,
    just makes the model substantially inferior, and the less said about the 9-5 at this stage the better.

    If GM do sell Saab in 2008 how further back will the brand be pushed?
    Will it be another 4 or 5 years before we get a new chassis for the current models?
    What about the market areas that Saab desperately need to tap? 4×4, roadster, sport coupe, cross-over?
    Would the new parent company have the resources to bring these vehicles to the market in the same time frame?
    Or would they be a PSA or a Toyota variant on the 9-2 and 9-7?

    If Saab is not making a profit by the time production is supposed to move to Rüsselsheim.
    Then it’s probably ‘bye bye Saab’
    Whether that means the way of the oldsmobile or whether that means being put on the market again,
    I can’t but think the latter will be a fate worse than death!

  7. Woodz, I am agree with you in big part of your speech, but also take in consideration during 15 years, Saab was totally underated in GM, they didn’t take in consideration any of its big values to develop and increase the know how of Saab in the GM Group and helped to make Saab a premium brand. They cancelled many important projects and lost many good oportunities to increase the Saab range. The 9-5 was in stand by during 3 years, and finally was the car that saved Saab from the bankruptcy. During the 90’s GM and specially Opel made incredibly bad decisions and movements(SuperLopez issues and how it manage the reduction of costs was a good example of how destroyed the Opel brand image, but also its true that Superlopez was a guru of logistics). And the 9-2x and 9-7x wasn’t quite good movements(Debra KellyEnnis bad movements in Saab USA didn’t help), specially the 9-2x, in terms of sales.

    It seems that finally we can see some light in the tunnel, but we must be cautious, 6 years ago GM-Saab said it would launch about 8 models during the next 6 years, and we can see the results. The project was cancelled, 9-3crossover cancelled, 9x and 9-3x it has poor utility for future modelsin terms if engineering applied to new models(80 percent of parts were ready for production)because there are in stand by, the Sporthatch was delayed about 2-3years, the 9-5 and premium platfom cancelled. GM lost many money in Saab because didn’d adecuate the resources, culture and comunication with Saab, cancelled many projects and waste money. Now we begin to see more coordination, it seems that Saab is taking a big role in many important projects in GM(Epsilon platform is a good example), but also its important that the synergies and the spread of the Trollhattan resources, more centralization in Russelheim it will be a big hit against the capabilities of Saab and its philosophy of what makes a car a Saab.

    I hope that the innovative and capabilities of Saab Engineering and philosophy and how it was able to be a pioneer in the industry could help a lot to mantain big part of the Saab indetity in the futur products.

    greetings

  8. Okay, so based on ctm and WooDz, maybe Citroen isn’t such a hot idea after all. The 2,300 emplyees losing their jobs in a profitable Ryton factory aren’t happy. There’s a protest against buying Peugeot and Citroen becuase of it. See: (paste these two lines together)
    http://www.tgwu.org.uk/Templates/Campaign.asp?
    Action=Display&NodeID=92475&int1stParentNodeID=42437&int2ndParentNodeID=42467

  9. Saab should stay with GM. It’s taken the better parts of the last two decades but if rumors prove correct, Saab could be hitting its stride. The current 9-3 was supposed to be the groundbreaking car for Saab that would finally put them where GM wanted them all along. Unfortunately GM fumbled with the 9-5 and SUV programs and moved them back two steps. So if everything goes as planned starting in 2008 with the 9-5, Saab should be in good shape.

    I for one am totally relieved GM figured out where Saab stands in their line. It’s there to complement Cadillac. Cadillac will always be their volume premium range, but Saab was never meant to be sold in high volumes. A lot of the appeal behind Saab in their heyday was the fact everyone DIDN’T have one. That’s part of the appeal today as well.

    Saab is still a fringe player for GM in North America, but for the rest of the world, it’s the only real competition they have against the BMWs and Benzes, as evidenced by the hot sales in the UK. And in the rest of the world, Cadillac isn’t exactly the first name in premium cars. GM has invested too much in Saab by now to let it go. At the same time, I do think they need to invest more in it for it to really succeed.

  10. The best thing for Saab right now is for GM to actually follow though on its plans.

    The only company which I think might be better for Saab than GM, in terms of ownership, is Porsche. And even if Porsche did buy Saab, you’re still looking at the inevitable 4-5 year delay in the product cycles, etc., as the cost of the transition.

    If GM does sell Saab, it needs to happen after the new 9-5 is launched.

  11. Obviously the rumoured Nissan-Renult buyout of Saab isn’t on the cards anymore?

    I agree that GM is in too deep to jettison Saab now. They really just need to take a leaf from Ford’s book; Aston Martin’s never sold more cars, and Volvo’s seemingly gone from strength to strength since being taken over. Ford gave them the resources to do ‘their thing’ and do it properly, and are reaping the benefits of not only a solid lineup of well evolved Volvo passenger and SUV-type cars, but also their bruiser 2.5L 5-cylinder turbo engine that seems to be appearing in another Ford-branded vehicle every other week.

    Why can’t GM put Saab in this situation? Why can’t they let Saab be their unofficial R&D/innovation team? Let Saab design a new engine. I have no problems with a Saab-designed turbo-4 under the bonnet of a new Holden Commodore or Cadillac or whatever but a Commodore engine in a 9-3, turbo or not?… hmm, no thanks. It just ain’t cricket.

    Saab should be leading GM’s development in hybrid and turbo biopower powerplants, intelligent AWD drivetrains, HUI design, safety and styling. Saab’s core is small, innovation-interested niche market who appreciate left-of-centre design. GM can use Saab to test new ideas and concepts to gauge their appeal to their more mass-market brands.

    If homogenisation and platform-sharing are unavoidable at GM, then for chrissakes, let the best lead the rest! 😀 Quality European design and innovation could only help GM’s domestic brands – the reverse can only damage Saab.

  12. Ben W: one big difference between Volvo and Saab.

    Volvo was in very good shape in 1999 when Ford took over. They were profitable, they had spent hugely on R&D, and had a plan for the model range over the next 10 years.

    Saab was losing money, hade a lousy model range, no R&D, and was in between two owners for 10 years before GM took control.

    Look at Audi. VW bought them in 1965, and it took 30 years before the cars were worth considering. Ok, that’s an extreme… But just buying Saab (now that it’s dependent on Opel (and vice versa)) is not that easy. It will take years and huge amount of money to get it going whitin the new organization.

  13. After Australian red wine and thin brunettes, my greatest passions have always been Saab and Citroen. I have owned both -many of both.

    But whilst in design terms Citroen would be good for Saab, in production terms it would be a nightmare.

    The French would never put Saab on an equal footing- the Airbus syndrome would rule – French first and foremost over eveything, no disagreement allowed. What they say goes.

    Oh, and for all you Americans and Aussies who dont get a mass invasion of Citroens like we do here, the build quality is still terrible. Even thr new C4- the best Citroen in years is a plastic not-so-fantastic. Breakdowns, bits falling off, shiny trim, horrbile ark grey and black cabins. Nice design motifs though..something to stare at whislt you wait for the breakdown truck..

    Like so many I am torn, will GM let Saab whither on the vine, or will it put Saab in the organic plot?

    I still think maybe Porsche should boy Saab and supply a niche.

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