With apologies to Robert Farago for borrowing his mojo….
I like to write. I don’t really do it that well, but I enjoy it just the same. One of the best books I’ve read about the craft of writing is Stephen King’s On Writing. I don’t remember all of that book, but one phrase that’s stuck in my mind since day 1 is the very King-esque “kill your babies”.
Of course he doesn’t mean it literally. What he means is that as a writer it’s not unusual to get so immersed in a story, a theme, a scene or a character, that you lose sight of what it really means. You create these things and because you create them, you love them. It’s hard to let go of them and admit that they’re non-essential, that they’re ‘parsley’ – trimmings on the edge of the real deal.
No-one at GM will admit to this publicly as they have a commercial interest in selling them, and I can scarcely believe I’m saying it myself, but the 2006 Saab 9-5 has crossed this threshold. It’s parsley in its class.
The Saab 9-5 is currently being propped up by the energy policy adopted by the Swedish government. Prior to the Biopower model being introduced to take advantage of E85’s availability and favourable tax treatment in Sweden, the 9-5 was selling at a lousy rate in it’s homeland. In Saab’s biggest market, the US, the 9-5 is now outsold two-to-one by the 9-7x SUV – a vehicle (wrongly) roasted by many of Saab’s faithful.
When the 9-5 was first released it was a real progression for Saab. A true 4-door sedan that was luxurious, sporting and of course, exceedingly safe. It was a true Saab to look at and to drive. In the Saab tradition the basics were kept the same as the car evolved over a number of years into it’s most stunning guise, the 2005 model.
I’m a Saab purist, having owned two 99 Turbos and a 900 Turbo amongst my six Saabs. I now own a 9-3 Viggen, a car I believe to be one of the purest forms of Saab expression. The 9-5 Aero from 2003 to 2005 (Sedan or Wagon) remains as the only car I’d ever give my Viggen up for.
When the facelift for 2006 arrived I looked at it with an open mind. It’s nowhere near as beautiful as the 2005 model but I accepted the change for what it was, an essential facelift to squeeze the last few years of life from the car. I still don’t think it’s an unattractive car. I just think it’s beyond its prime. It’s time for me to kill one of my babies.
GM may not be able to say it out loud, but the public can – time has passed the 9-5 by, and as a flagship for Saab, it just doesn’t cut it anymore.
The 9-5 never quite reached its potential. It developed into a mega-HOT 4-banger but if the Australian market’s anything to go by, people just aren’t going to pay premium bucks for a 4-cylinder car. Not in the quantities Saab needs them to.
This argument is also one of the main reasons why Hirsch’s products are only available in markets close to Sweden. Take a 4 cylinder 9-5 Aero at around A$85,000 – now add another $10,000 or so for all the Hirsch trimmings. How many people are going to pay close to six figures for a 4 cylinder car?
The Hirsch 9-5 – Is this Saab at it’s modern pinnacle?
I’ve driven a Saab 9-5 with the full Hirsch treatment and it was absolutely magnificent. I was totally dumbstruck by the looks and the sheer power of the car. The problem? The pricetag never let it get out of the gate and Saab Australia hasn’t looked seriously at Hirsch since that time.
Back to the present: Saab now have a 9-5 that carries limited styling appeal, an outdated chassis and an interior that denies its roots as a Saab. It’s getting voted off the island with every monthly sales report and the biggest question remaining is “when?”, closely followed by “what?”
When will the replacement come and what will the replacement be?
Saab has three, possibly four, new cars coming in the next three to four years. The 9-4x SUV, the 9-5 and 9-3 replacements and maybe (if we’re lucky), a smallish hot hatch. The car that says the most about the brand will be the 9-5. It has to be. If it’s going to remain as Saab’s flagship vehicle into the future then it has to embody everything that the brand represents.
Can we say that the 2006 9-5 fulfils this lofty ambition at the moment? Not a chance. It’s not a bad vehicle by any stretch but we’re playing for survival here, folks, and if the 9-5 is the best we’ve got then we have to admit that we ain’t got much. Of course, that’s a big ‘if’ and it’s also a non-event. The 9-3 SS is the best we’ve got, it’s a superb machine and it’s worldwide sales reflect that fact.
“I’ve seen the future and it works” – Prince
The images of the proposed 9-5 that we’ve seen so far look underdone but are very promising. The one definite thing I’ve heard, from the inside, is that Saab’s designers are working on some cool stuff…..”cooler than the Aero-X” were the exact words. I can’t help but believe that it has to be the 9-5 that that guy was talking about.
Given the recent progress of the Germans, I hope that’s right. BMW are now taking on turbocharging and the results are scary-good. All the Germans – yeah, all of them – are signing on for Mercedes Benz’s Blu-tec diesel to push the technology to the US market asap and as inexpensively as possible.
Saab don’t need to outsell the Germans, but they do need to offer a viable alternative – and soon. The next 9-5 will be a big statement of intent with regard to achieving that goal.
The sooner it comes and the better it is, the more assurance we can all get that there’ll be a Saab to drive in 10 years time.