I’d better write down these things that aren’t caught on video before I forget them…..
Background: Yesterday (Jan 17), Richo and I participated in a Saab Australia launch of the Diesel engine range for Australia (9-3 models only) and also got to drive the 9-5 BioPower range. Saab Australia are considering whether to launch BioPower in Australia, a country that is currently without E85 fuel infrastructure.
Richo and I rode from the Hilton Hotel in Brisbane to the Holden Performance test track in Norwell in the company of Bob (surname forgotten) from an ethanol industry group and David Lamb from the CSIRO (scientific boffins). A lively discussion quickly began as to the pros and cons of ethanol as a fuel and it’s potential for development. A few points from that discussion:
– When asked about the potential for cellulosic ethanol, which is the real potential energy-positive solution as far as ethanol is concerned, David (the scientist) opined that real commercially viable processes weren’t likely to be established in his lifetime. I’d put him in his early sixties and reasonably healthy.
– Bob (ethanol industry) was more optimistic, naturally. What surprised me was that the two of them agreed on more things than I thought they would. There’s been a lot of talk on the interwebs about how ethanol’s this and ethanol’s that. David (scientist) was very positive indeed about it and produced all sorts of data supporting the emissions claims. He wasn’t beaming though, and provided some evidence as to why it’s not the be-all and end-all – but with current writings on the web being somewhat anti-ethanol, it was refreshing to get a scientifically based and objective opinion that was positive.
– E85 is not likely to become a feature here in Australia for a long, long time. Alternative fuels will quite likely become a real platform in the environmental policies of both major political parties here in Australia as there’s an election coming, but as David said – would you prefer a large number of motorists using E10 or a handful using E85?
– Bob (ethanol industry) indicated that the parts needed for E85 compatability (tank, lines, valves, seats) would likely add around $250 to the cost of producing the vehicle. Note: he’s an ethanol guy, not a car guy, but I guess it’d be in his interest to find out these things.
There were several other points that came from the rest of the day:
BioPower not released yet
BioPower is quite possibly coming to the Australian market in 2007, however it’s not released yet. This ‘launch’ was to expose the press, the public and government to the vehicles and guage some opinion. The vehicles we drove were sourced from Great Britain.
With Bob’s indication of BioPower readiness costs fresh in my mind (about $250 per vehicle) I asked Parveen a question during the Q&A session. Why not just make all 9-5’s in Australia E85 compatible?
His answer – consumer choice. They don’t want to articially inflate the price of a small-selling car with something the consumer doesn’t necessarily want. This is fair enough.
My opinion – If I wanted to be seen as a contributor to the Biofuels debate in this country, which is a debate in it’s baby stages, I’d absorb the cost and then be able to say “Here they are – the cars that do make a real difference to CO2 emissions. Now that the whole chicken and egg thing is out of the way, let’s talk about fuel”.
Saab Oz are going to guage interest in BioPower and base a decision on bringing it out on that level of interest. Given that the price premium will likely be about $1,000 (which is more than about $250), who’s going to show interest in getting a BioPower car that they can’t get access to the fuel for?
Make it the standard. To me, that’s market leadership.
Old Ain’t Bad
A journalist from New Zealand asked if the whole BioPower thing wasn’t a backdoor way of generating some more interest for the 9-5, which is basically just an old car (his thoughts, not mine).
After driving the 9-5 BioPower yesterday, I’m here to say that old ain’t bad. The 9-5s I drove yesterday were absolutely superb in terms of driveability, comfort, equipment (radio excepted) and even their sometimes-devisive looks.
The 9-5 is a great car, make no mistake.
Parveen Batish started his presentation with a review of 2006. Noting the decline in sales in the last quarter he mentioned that it had nothing to do with him coming to Australia, which I thought was a very odd inclusion.
I later asked the Saab Oz marketing guy, David (name lost), about the sales decline. The answer he gave was somewhat indecipherable. Richo and I spent some time during the road drive trying to figure it out. It had something to do with a new inventory system (which I didn’t think should have any relevancy to sales at all) and the diversion of marketing funds from last year to this year with the diesel coming out and more promotion for the SportCombi (now we’re making more sense).
Unfortunately I spent way too long actually driving the vehicles and didn’t get to speak with Parveen directly about Saab issues.
A little gratification
Whilst speaking to David (marketing guy) we naturally asked about the future and the next model 9-3. He declined to give any details, but unaware at this point as to who I was, he referred me to “that Trollhattan website”, which he said had the facts quite well sorted.
A little frustration
There was an annoying rattle from the glovebox of the 9-3 SportCombi that Richo and I drove on the public road section of the day’s activities. I don’t mind the minor noises in my Viggen as it’s a 7 year old car. If I’d spent $50K on a new car though……
A little frustration II
The new interior of the 9-3 looks better in pictures than what it feels in person. This is just my opinion, but the old multi-button dash with dashtop SID was much more of a Saab expression of interior design.
Diesel vs Viggen
That heading may sound silly to you, but bear with me. The 9-3 TiD has only two-thirds of the Viggen’s peak power with 110kW, but it has over 90% of the Viggen’s peak torque with 320Nm. It’s very, very driveable.
9-3 SportCombi Vector
We got to do a slalom exercise in the 9-3 SportCombi in Vector specification. This was a great thing, because it meant that the Vetor rollout has begun. What wasn’t so great was that the slalom exercise never really allowed the car out of first gear, so I didn’t get to really drive it.
The 9-3 range has received a significant boost here in Australia with the arrival of the TiD range. The diesel engine is magnificent and for the average Saab buyer they’re going to be a very attractive proposition.
We also got a look at the proposed advertising for the diesel range, which used one of the European advertisments (sound of jets, people looking around etc) to good effect. The print advertising also looks good, with the prominent slogan “Diesel earns its wings”
All in all it was a fantastic day and a great exposition of Saab’s upcoming Diesel range and BioPower intentions.
Disclosure: Saab Australia provided the airfare and accommodation for me to attend this launch day, for which I am very grateful. As is normal for me, however, I’m not too fussed about calling things how I see them. Any notion that I’d write a more favourable review about a Saab because of this forgets that I’m already a Saab nut and likely to look at them through favourable eyes anyway.