Screw Forbes. And Consumer Reports

Hot on the heels of the 9-3 SportCombi being named the Safest Wagon for 2006, we have a somewhat more dubious honor to contend with.

via Autoblog, the Saab 9-3 Sport Sedan has been named, by Forbes magazine, as one of the 5 most unreliable luxury cars for 2006. The list is compiled based on data from Consumer Reports surveys and JD Power ratings data.

As I understand it, Saabs are rated consistently high for quality in Europe. If there’s some European types out there that confirm or counter this, then please do so in comments (a link would be good too). It’s just a conversation I remember having once already.

Another point that I looked at some time ago is the validity of Consumer Reports data, which seems to be based on subjective questioning with answers that are often times immeasurable. Yes a $150 repair is expensive to guy on $150 a week, but not to a guy on $1,500 a week. You see what I mean. In addition, the testing is done only amongst Consumer Reports clients, the majority of which I’m willing to bet have a predisposition towards having a cry anyway. How many happy Saab owners weren’t polled here?

The thing that really irks me about surveys like this is that it’s just content for content’s sake. They wheel one of these lists out at Forbes every other week (which may be a blessing as everyone will likely forget all about this one in a blink). They do mentions some of the flaws in the data, but by the time they do so the damage has already been done.

Consumer Reports uses prior model years to predict how current models will hold up (that’s why you’ll see 2005 cars in the slide show). Its reliability ratings are based on more than 1 million responses to the organization’s annual questionnaire. Consumer Reports subscribers report any serious problems they had with their vehicles during the previous year–problems that they considered serious because of cost, failure, safety or downtime.

I know less about JD Power and have always considered their reporting to be more reliable, so I hold back on their role in all this.

I’m not saying that Saab don’t have room for improvement. It’s just that things like this really put a bee in my bonnet.

Forbes and CR should pull their collective bottom lip up over their heads and swallow.

Thanks to Jim F for the heads-up

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  1. Sorry, if SAAB has a break down it does not matter how much I make a week, it is time wasted trying to fix it. There is a reason why SAAB’s sales are stagnant…if not declining…and they don’t make up these articles for fun so they can see you sqirm. There is some truth to it.

  2. I’ve been reading about some electronics issues with the new Saabs and had some myself. These are utterly unacceptable in a modern car and even though I’m a Saab lover if they don’t clear up I won’t buy another Saab.

  3. Sam, please read again the bit where I mention that I realise Saab do, in fact, have some issues. I’m aware of this.

    My point is that they’ve taken some subjective data and canned 5 vehicles based on this. At least one of them, Saab, as far as I’ve heard in previous readings on this, is rated far better in Europe than it is in the US.

    Methinks it might be more to do with the audience than with the car.

  4. “Consumer reports” are basically bullshit.

    1) Consumers do it for two reasons: to praise their brand no matter what, or to let of steam over something they are pissed of at. If you spend lots of money on a car, you either tend to down-play the fact that you are not satisfied and made a bad choice, or exaggerate just to make a point. Just basic human psychology.

    2) How often do they put things in perspective? If I spend $500 over a 3 year period to repair stuff on my car, I think it matters if it is just one repair, or lots of smaller issues 2-3 times a year.

    3) Don’t know about other contries, but in Sweden Saab is considered to be reliable. And this in the climate we have… They are generally amongst the better cars when Swedish Motor Vehicle Inspection Company release their reports. Their test concentrate on corrosion, saftey and handling. (In Sweden, a new car has to be tested by them after 3 years, than again after another 2 years and after that every year. Their database on cars is very big, and used by manufacturers for quality control.)

    4) And just a snippet a saw about a year ago when one of the biggest rental car companies in Sweden (I think it was Avis) had ordered 400 new 9-5 BioPower. One of he reason for choosing Saab was very low maintenance costs. And this on rental cars… I think a tend to trust someone who is in charge of thousands of vehicles a lot more, then some consumers.

  5. I’m torn on this one.

    On one hand, I want to believe that Saabs are among the best. On the other hand, I know that some of the things said in that article are true.

    Starting with the ‘truth’: My brother-in-law has one of those Range Rovers. It is in the shop a LOT. Really. However, he’s the type that takes the car in for every little hiccup, and the dealership makes it easy for him to do so because he gets a free loaner every visit. He’s had the transmission issues, and a couple of issues with the power steering. So, the article seems to fit in that one example.

    The 9-3 isn’t perfect. I know it, you know it, everyone knows it. However, I agree with the above statements about consumer opinion surveys. People are rarely objective. Additionally, see my previous comments about the shortage of US repair shops for Saabs when compared to other brands. If it’s inconvenient to get the Saab fixed, your rating of the reliability will suffer. Finally, think of the large numbers of people that bought Saabs in the height of the ’employee pricing’ deals last summer. A number of people that previously couldn’t afford Saab/BMW/Volvo/M-B/Audi reached up and bought Saab. These people are expecting a different experience that they are getting, and their opninion is showing.

    It’s a mess that GM/Saab MUST fix.

  6. Every time CR releases a report knocking the reliability of SAABs there’s a big outcry in the community. Most of the loyal SAABophiles will defend their brand by trying to discredit the messengers (in this case Consumer Reports, Forbes, and JD Power & Associates).

    The one question I never get answered is this: is there some sort of anti-SAAB bias amongst auto journalists and magazine publishers (I personally don’t think so)?

    SAAB has been getting pretty bad reliability marks for years from U.S. publications (particularly CR).

    If this is a case of people who can’t really afford a SAAB buying one and then crying when they have to spend some money on a repair, then why aren’t owners of their competitors’ (BMW, AUDI, Volvo, Lexus, Acura,) models crying just the same? Why is SAAB lower-rated in quality than the rest of their competitors?

    Further, this latest report in Forbes is only data from owners of LAST year’s model. So what are the odds these people had to pay ANY money out-of-pocket for non-warranty repairs? I think it’s more an issue of being frustrated with the hassle of when you have to repeatedly leave your car at a dealer and take a rental car (usually not a SAAB, but some other lesser GM model), then have to explain to friends and family who you were bragging about your nice new SAAB to that it’s in the shop again.

    I really think that SAAB needs to acknowledge that there are some quality issues and address them for good. They have that team that goes and investigates every accident a SAAB is involved in. Why not put together a quality team to try and gather data for quality trends?

    Just my own experience with my wife’s ’01 9-3 we’ve owned for a couple of years now has shown that there are some issues that need to be addressed. When you read sites like SAABCentral there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that some things need to be corrected. I wonder just how many of the Consumer Reports-subscribing SAAB owners had their DI Cassette go out on them at a really bad time? How about a serpentine belt idler pulley failing? Climate control knobs breaking off?

    I love SAAB, but in this community I see a tendency to shoot the messenger, I’m sorry to say. We really need to pressure SAAB to improve, not try and discredit CR, IMHO.

    The fact is, MANY Americans look to publications when researching a new car. Consumer Reports is probably the #1 source educated car buyers look to. Wealthier folks read Forbes and newspapers often publish JD Power results. If SAAB wants to sell more cars in the U.S. they need to kill this reputation for unreliablity and get more favorable magazine reviews. I think they do this by addressing the issues critics bring up.

  7. Sorry to be posting again, but I discovered there’s more specific info on the 9-3 in the captions to the slideshow which doesn’t appear in the article itself:

    “Consumer Reports says that for 2005, Saab 9-3 models had a higher than average rate of problems with their electrical systems, a category that includes the starter, alternator and battery, as well as horn, gauges, wiper motor, wiring and lights.”

    “J.D. Power gives the 2006 9-3 below average ratings for mechanical manufacturing quality, body and interior manufacturing quality, and feature and accessory manufacturing quality–each of the areas in which it issues ratings for manufacturing quality.”

    I’m curious of what the move from Trollhattan to Russelsheim is going to do to production. Are the reliability problems due to manufacturing or design (that’s a rhetorical question)? Is now-bankrupt Delphi responsible for most of the cars’ electrical systems that got such bad marks for reliability from CR?

  8. Right on, 1985 Gripen. I agree with everything he says.
    And also, I get CR, and when I compare their data to what I see with my car and the cars of my family and friends they are very accurate.

  9. How strange then that on one market Saab has low quality, and on another market it has high quality.

    I see these reports in Sweden as well. We usually laugh at them. Two years ago (I think), BMW (as always) got the highest marks by the consumers, and was at the bottom in the Swedish Motor Vehicle Inspection Company report. I think that said more about the consumers, than about the car itself.

  10. I think in a manufacturer’s home country they tend to have a higher opinion of their homegrown cars than the rest of the world.

    For example, they can’t sell Cadillacs in Europe if their lives depended on it. However, in the States Cadillacs are held in high regard in most respects.

    I don’t agree that if a car gets low quality marks from its owners that the manufacturer should write it off and just keep doing “business as usual” and ignore their customers’ opinions. That’s a recipe for disaster. I think the sagging SAAB sales in the U.S. can be directly attributable to its reputation here. Either SAAB can do something proactive about that (address the customers’ concerns) or just figure the customers are all crazy and too demanding. :-0

  11. I’m not talking about reputation. I’m talking about fact, Like how much trouble a 3 year old car have with brakes, steering, suspension… Saab do not get that high marks in Sweden in these biased consumer reports. Toyota, Honda, Audi and BMW always gets higher marks. Still, the common sense among people is that Saab is more trouble-free even if it’s not premium. Maybe consumers in the U.S. think of Saab as premium all around and get mad because some plastic thing in the interior fell off after 1000 miles… 🙂

    Of course there are problem. Every manufacturer has problem. Look at all the recalls from Toyota and Nissan last weeks. Japanese quality brands. Saab had it shares, mostley bacause of bad press (the DI and the oli sludge – the problem is not THAT big the press wanted us to believe) but handled it well. Otherwise, sales wouldn’t be up all over Europe. Why people in the U.S think Saab is so bad I don’t know. But I don’t think the true answers are in consumer reports.

    “You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.”
    Steve Jobs

  12. Saab’s offten dont’n live up to expectations of general buyer for whatever reason.
    But sure, some are in love with body lines or believe in “born from jets” and don’t care about cost of ownership.

  13. One of the main problems here is Canada (and most likely in the US as well) is the lack of proper Saab mechanics. Saab dealerships typically also carry some high-volume GM brand, and it is very unlikely that they will be staffed with people who know European cars. My mechanic (an independent) says that Saab’s are basically better-built Audi’s that drive nice. They are nothing like Pontiac’s or Saturn’s.

    If your specialty as a mechanic is working on GM cars, Saabs are like some alternate dimension where everything is slightly different.
    This creates a bad dealership experience all around. First, you get treated like cattle (aka a minivan customer). Second, your car may not be fixed properly, so you may have to come back.

    The other premium European brands tend to treat their customers much better, even if the product is not as good. Apparently, it’s not at all unusual for BMW techs to change an engine, transmission or wiring loom on a car while it is in for “free scheduled maintenance.” As long as the customer gets treated like royalty and isn’t told the extent of the work being done, the car will score well on surveys.

  14. I agree, Consumer Reports accounts of saabs are always total BS. I’ve even seen them criticize the Aero trim price, then criticize the power and “ride quality” of the base models, as if you can have the Aero model for beans! Hate CR, and most American car magazines for that matter for similar faults.

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