Canadians talk about Saab safety

The following excerpt is from the Globe and Mail in Canada. It’s one of those car columns where people write in with a question and it’s answered by the newspaper’s two automotive gurus.

Hi. How can you do an article on auto safety without mentioning Saab? If you check your auto history you will find Saab probably led Volvo in the obsession of safety.

No one gave a hoot about safety in the 1970s, but all of Saab’s ads back then were safety-oriented.

If you wander back to the Saab 99, it was the only vehicle allowed in the Ontario rally circuit without a roll bar as the cage was so strong. Their list of safety stuff is too impressive to mention, and probably still is.

Because of Saab’s safety record, I might buy a new Saab 9-3 Combi wagon. What do you think?

Cato: Of course I remember the Saab 99, Alex. It replaced the Saab 96 and lasted from 1969 to 1984 in various guises and forms. Alex, you’ll be happy to know that today’s Saabs, even as they have been thoroughly General Motorized, carry on that safety tradition — at least in the 9-3.

Vaughan: Oh, boy! Whenever we get into a discussion about safety, I am reminded of the dictum of “lies, damned lies and statistics.” It is a subject (safety, not statistics) that Cato knows something about — this I must acknowledge.

However, when contemplating safety, many car buyers get confounded by statistics and fall back on the belief that only size matters when you hit something. That’s why they buy big sport utility vehicles like the Ford Explorer that outsell mid-size cars like the Saab 9-3.

Cato: Alright, alright, let’s not lose sight of the point that Alex wants advice on a safe Saab and we should also offer two worthy rivals. So Alex, add the Audi A4 Avant and the Subaru Legacy wagon to a list that starts with the 9-3 SportCombi wagon and you’ve got three safe cars to test.

Vaughan: In the United States, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, despite being tied to the insurance lobby, does the best job of testing vehicles. Who knows what, if anything, Transport Canada does because they keep it all secret.

They bring up an interesting point later on in the piece….

Cato: I like what the institute does here. But I have to ask a very basic question: Are auto makers now engineering to pass crash tests, rather than to protect people in real-world situations?

For instance, Audi redesigned its seats and head restraints to improve performance in the new rear-impact collision tests.

Vaughan: Cato, you have been doing your homework. The design change is so new that only A6 models built in December, 2006, or later qualify.

Cato: So Audi designed for the test.

Vaughan: Do I smell a conspiracy here?

Cato: I just want to know if those new seats and head restraints are better in real-world crashes, not just controlled-testing situations.

It’s great that Saab rate so well in IIHS safety tests (the US testing regime). They have for a long time now. Safety is one of the issues that buyers have rated less important in recent years than what they did five years ago. Whether this is because of a reduction in safety advertising or a misguided buyers perspective that all modern cars are safe is still in question.

No-one does safety like the Swedes. Saab and Ovlov have been safety leaders for years but it’s not just in building safe cars that the Swedes have an edge. They assess safety like no others as well.

Rather than base ratings on standardised tests as the IIHS does, Sweden’s Folksam Institute bases its ratings on real-world crash data using information from thousands upon thousands of crashes to discern which cars have protected their occupants and others the best. Saab have either led or been amongst the leaders in Folksam’s ratings for a long time now.

Perhaps this is a marketing edge that Saab could make more of in all markets.


Related – Saab aces Germans in Thatcham (UK) safety testing – Dec 06.

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1 Comment

  1. I am a proponent of SAAB advertising their world-leading safety again. Maybe they’re gun-shy from it not being a “home run” strategy in the 70’s when they originally tried it. However, SAAB leads the entire world in a few categories, safety being one of them, so why hide this fact? Add to that the fact that many families explain the purchase of a new SUV as the need for a “safer” vehicle and you’ll see that some people DO care about safety.

    A slight note on the blog post there, Swade: the IIHS is not “the U.S. testing regime”, it’s a private firm made up and funded by a congomerate of insurance companies. “The” U.S. government testing regime is the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, whose tests are quite a bit less stringent than those of the IIHS (they don’t even test for frontal offset crashes).

    Volkswagen is one of the only manufacturers advertising safety (Subaru is the other) in the States right now. In their latest popular television commercials they’ve replaced such light fare as the “fast” and “unpimp ze ride” with these rather startling ads:

    In one they tout the Jetta’s “highest government side impact rating” (five stars from NHTSA). The SAAB 9-5 also scored five stars from NHTSA for side impact but only for the driver. For the passenger it only scored four stars (probably due to lack of rear side curtain airbags).

    Surprisingly, in their other commerical they tout Jetta’s “four star front impact crash rating”, but fail to mention that it’s out of a total of five possible stars. The SAAB 9-5 gets five stars in this test for both driver and passenger. For some reason they haven’t tested the post-03 9-3 yet.

    So, not surprisingly in many cases the SAAB 9-5 is safer than the Jetta, which is touting its safety attributes. That’s no surprise though just given the fact that the two aren’t even in the same class. I don’t think SAAB even has a Jetta-class competitor except maybe the defunct 9-2X.

    So in conclusion to one of my extended rants: SAAB USA, if you’re reading this, start advertising the world-beating safety of your cars again.

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