My attitude towards GM’s ownership of Saab has traversed some peaks and valleys over the last two years since I started this blog. I’ve always tried to retain what I hope is a positive attitude towards GM’s ownership over all.
I know I’ve called GM on a lot of things that I don’t like, but over all I think I’ve managed to maintain a consistent opinion about the fact that GM are the best option for Saab right now (with a sentimental thought for Porsche as a viable alternative if Saab had to be sold).
Swapping a couple of emails this morning with my main Swedish media tracker, ctm, I was once again led to the conclusion that Saab do have a future with their current corporate parent.
Recently, I spent a lot of ‘ink’ criticising GM for their pursuit of Cadillac in Europe, and I still maintain that stance. Despite this, however, there’s a fair bit happening for Saab if you take a step back and see the forest beyond the BLS trees.
First of all, we’ve got the 9-3 refresh coming up later this year. And it’s not just a little bit of panelwork and some new buttons. This is significant business, with a new drivetrain and the possibility of a real top shelf performance car as a halo for the brand. The addition of AWD and BioPower to the 9-3 range will be significant. AWD for the US market and BioPower for a European market that’s getting tougher and tougher on emissions.
Add to that the possibility of a higher spec twin turbo diesel and you’ve got a substantial revamp of the brand’s primary model line.
Coming in the future will be the 9-4x, the new 9-5 and the compact, entry level 9-1.
The 9-4x is going to service a significant market and whilst some people won’t like the idea of a Mexican-built Saab, it’ll be very important for the brand to get this vehicle into the US at a price that can contribute solidly to the bottom line. The US is going to be the biggest market for this vehicle by far so they’ve got to get it adequately equipped and priced to succeed there.
The next 9-5 was described to me by someone that knows as ‘even cooler than the Aero-X’. Because it’s going to be way, way overdue by the time it gets here, it’ll need to be cooler that the Aero-X. The competition isn’t going backwards. Another person that’s well plugged in remarked to me that it takes time to design and build a real 5-series and A6 competitor. All I can say is ‘Hallelujah’ as they’re aiming at the right end of the competitive scale.
The 9-1, too, will be welcomed like a prodigal son when it finally arrives, especially in Europe. This could be the first Saab that I buy brand new. I certainly hope so.
Take a step back and that makes for a pretty exciting couple of years coming up.
Saab have just set a sales record and with an expanding and improving model line on the way, things are indeed looking rosier.
Back in February 2006 when the Aero-X was first released there were love songs and dedications about how GM has a 5-year plan for Saab and how it was not going to be sold off.
I’ve never believed that they would sell it off, though there were a few dark days where I might have secretly hoped for it. There were also days when GM seemed to only pay lip service to Saab without laying out any plans that delivered on the promise. Sure, the Aero-X is great, but dealers are crying out for products they can sell, right?
The thing I’m learning to accept more and more is that this blogging game is a very short term business, where the car game is a very long term business. And that fact is more difficult to embrace than you might think.
It’s not only the cars that are promising.
The recent State of the Union speech in the US has given a new impetus for E85 development. Multiple sources have placed Saab’s engineers at the centre of this as they have the turbocharging expertise to make the most out of the fuel.
GM are involved in a project called MERA, which is an initiative to foster and develop innovation in the auto industry. It’s funded in partership between the auto companies and the state and involves co-operative research between companies and universities. The project has been slated to conclude in 2008.
The great thing about this is that GM have seen so much promise in the program that they’ve kicked in more funds than the initial agreement called for and they’re now petitioning to have the program extended beyond the 2008 curtain call.
This is Alan Taub, head of GM Research as quoted recently in TTELA.se with contextual comments from ctm:
– “We need to expand our research and development in Sweden even more.” He is talking about adding a new area of research: electronics.
– “GM is already benefiting a lot from this research.” He states that the need for research in the auto industry is so big that not even GM can handle it on their own.
– “We are facing extreme technical challenges the next ten years. That’s why it takes cooperation between companies, something that would have been impossible just a few years ago.” This is exactly what he likes with the way this programme is conducted: that the whole auto industry, the universities and the government work together. And that is why they really want a decision from the government to continue the project.
Automotive research is an ongoing task and Saab are right there in the middle of it.
And after all that, let’s not forget that a Saab design team led by Anthony Lo and featuring an external design by Alex Daniel recently swept just about every car design award that was available with the Aero-X. And the design cues from that car will trickle down to the Saabs that you and I drive into the future.
As I said at the opening: I’ve rained down plenty of bile on GM over the last two years. Most of it has been quite heartfelt and some of it has been used more to make a point. I don’t think I’ve been wrong and I don’t feel that this post is contradictory.
It’s just that it’s right to give credit where credit’s due. Saab’s future has a lot of good things going for it and if GM do the right thing and maximise it’s potential then I think there’s going to be a bunch more happy Saab drivers in years to come.