Saab – from the outside

This website is written from the enthusiast’s point of view. I can’t do it any other way. The object of the site is to try, as best I can, to look at and report on everything that’s happening with Saab around the world in an effort to promote the enjoyment of what I think are the best all-round cars for practical day-to-day driving on the market.

One valuable element that I find difficult to bring to the table is outside objectivity. So I was really pleased to receive this email from Jim W, from the UK.

If Saab want some fresh perspective on how they’re doing in the important quest to win new customers to the brand – Jim humorously describes himself as “a secular car enthusiast” – then this is some prime quality feedback.

Swade

I’ve only just come to find your site, and have trawled through a lot of it over the past couple of weeks, and thought you might be interested to hear from someone who has paid little attention to Saab brand until recently…

I am unsurprised at the latest surge in Saab sales, mainly due to the impressive product-led revolution which started in 2002, a competitive 9-3, useful estate and truly amazing convertible, but my attention was most piqued by the facelift 9-5…it’s the Darth Vader front end and unique character of the car after I tested it that stood out among all the other cars I drove, including the Alfa 159, Honda accord, Jag X-type, Audi A4, and yes, the Saab 9-3.

It was quieter, livelier and above all more engaging than any other cars. Its tuned more for high speed comfort than back road heroics, and as such it didn’t steer or handle as well, but not by a margin large enough to be meaningful, whilst the 9-3 was absolutely on a par, but then again, the compact executive market has bought into a stereotype that punishes the non-conformist. (see Rover 75 for illustration, a truly great car that never found its market)

There was much hand wringing in the comments after the new 2007 interior of the 9-3 emerged, but as a non-Saabist, but a more secular car enthusiast, I find it more intuitive and pleasing to the eye than the previous models complexity.

650 pounds per car was saved by standardising parts, a massive amount in production terms, and was an exceptionally shrewd move because it raised showroom appeal, not to the Saab enthusiast, who comes through the showroom door every three years, but to me, who has yet to hand over cash to the same manufacturer twice.

The 9-3 has been the anchor point for Saab, a product to rebuild from and as such it didn’t have the luxury of being resolutely individual as before, because it needed to sell to more than just the purists, and that meant more conventional design, more mainstream engineering and, sorry to say, commonality of parts to drive down production costs.

But it has done its job, and Saab as a brand has momentum, rising brand awareness and buying public more educated in what a Saab is meant to be, and if the current 9-5 is an indicator of the design direction of a more individual 2008 9-3, then for the first time I can see myself returning to a manufacturer at trade-in time, which if I’m average Joe punter, surely bodes well for the future of Saab.

The current sales situation for Saab in the UK is outstanding and if the UK government can provide more support for e85 then it’s only set to grow further. Saab can’t rely on this however, which is why it all comes back to the product.

If the 2008 model 9-3, believed to be unveiled in Sweden in June 2007, is the positive step that we all hope for, then Jim is spot-on in his assessment of the future. Even more important will be the quality of the 9-4x for a flat US market and the benchmark set by the next generation 9-5.

Saab have piqued a lot of interest in 2006 with Biopower, the Biopower Hybrid Convertible, the Aero-X and most importantly – a full year of sales for the 9-3 SportCombi, widely seen by many as a worthy reprise of Saab’s practical sporting heritage. They’ll come very close to tabling a profit this year and thereby lending further assurance for their future. In 2007 they’ll have plenty to talk about with the anniversary celebrations, the anniversary models that will accompany them and the remodelled 9-3.

It does indeed bode well for the future.

Jim, thanks for the breath of fresh air.

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10 Comments

  1. It’s good to read opinion from “outside”.
    It’s worth to considering Jim’s words. From the point of view to target new customers maybe he is right.
    However, don’t forget that Saab customers are usually more loyal to their brand than others, so even if I go the the showrom in every 3 years only, I definitely want to buy a Saab as my next car.
    It’s a hard decision. Maybe the features appealing for non-Saabist customers are disappointing for the enthusiast Saab owners who could be more surely a Saab buyer than an outsider.
    Of course, I’m incompetent in marketing, so maybe Saab (GM) is doing it well and they can win more to get new customers who could be loyal in the future, than the loss of the old faithful enthusisasts.
    (By the way, my 9-3 was away to fix crash damages at last weekend and I borrowed my friends BMW 525d.
    It’s hard to say, but true: it was slightly better than my 9-3 except the acceleration. I mean the noise, the quality of interior, the suspension and steering, the comfort of driving. Of course, the feeling is very different.
    Anyway, it sets me thinking…)

  2. Ivan,

    The BMW 5 series starts at AU$94,300, and the 9-3 starts at AU$39,900. I don’t think people who are looking to buy a 5 series are also looking at the 9-3, they’re not even competitors.

  3. Ivan good point but ya gotta admit that BMW5 has to be, dare I say it, the most gorgeous car on the road after the current 9-3.

    Jim’s analysis was spot on and I have to agree the 07 9-3 interior is, after much thought and moaning on my part, much more intuative than the 06 model. Lets just hope they dont make a mess of the 2007-1/2 9-3.

  4. genericing or dumbing down your cars to appeal to the masses at the expense of what makes your core audience happy seems a tad frought with danger.

    i’m all for standardising across the model range but the bits need to be bespoke Saab, not from the GM parts bin.

    in the ideal world, Saab should be helping the masses to see and understand and fall in love with what the Saabfans see in their vehicles. i’ve never seen a Saab TV ad that explains why Saabs use small 4 cylinder turbo engines and why that’s better than a 4L V8 in a BMW, just a 9-3 with faux contrails cruising a freeway. what does that achieve?

  5. Brendan,
    In Hungary the MY2000 9-3 SE HOT costed AU$18200 6 month ago.
    The MY2001 BMW 525d (which is one class above the 9-3 in size) costed AU$23000 last year.

  6. hmmm, I’m sorry Ivan I thought they were way different in price.

    The SAAB is about the same as you’d pay in Australia but MY2001 525’s are about AU$45,000

    Must be the Australian perspective on BMWs (see Swade’s post above)

  7. Brendan,
    I asked my friend to be sure about the price of BMW. He corrected me, it was AU$25000, but he also mentioned he was very lucky when he bought it because it was extremely cheap compared to the usual price of similar cars.

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