BLS – Playing Devil’s Advocate

There’s little ambiguity over what I think should happen with Cadillac in Europe. I think GM should save the money they’re spending flogging such a dead horse there and spend it on developing Saab cars and marketing the Saab brand.

However, I’ve received an email from a Saab insider there and he points out the benefits that the development of the BLS has had in practical terms for the Saab 9-3. Some of you may remember that I posed a question a few weeks ago asking people’s thoughts on buying an 06 model vs an 07 model due to the massive discounts available on the 06.

I also asked a Saab insider his thoughts on the two, and here’s part of what he said:

Also, because of the restyled layout the dash rattles have being greatly reduced and it’s now a far nicer place to be. As a whole the MY07 as a car is a great leap forward. Road noise is whisper quiet, even running on 17″ with the continental tyres which was a annoying point with most customers. The suspension is so much smoother than the MY06, but with no loss in the handling department at all.

The 06 vs 07 post was mostly about the interiors of the two cars, but what started to come through in the paragraph above was that the 07 model features a number of tweaks that improve the ride and handling of the car over the 06. Later, giving further consideration to the 06 vs 07 question, our insider wrote this:

I was thinking about it some more so I’ve just taken a MY06 for a 20 mile drive just to make sure if the $5000 would do it for me, it wouldn’t.

So what has all this got to do with the BLS?

Well, as mentioned at the beginning, I’ve received another email from an insider making a case for Caddilac in Europe:

Why is everyone so caught up with the whole BLS thing? Do they not know that the MY07 is a far better car because of the BLS? There is a small group of engineers and accountants in Trollhattan driving home this evening in MY07 9-3s with big smiles on their faces.

Why?

The engineers are smiling because GM asked them to use the know-how they had to develop a new car for the European market based on the 9-3. This is the BLS.

You need money for R&D to develop a new car. GM are so obsessed with a small Caddy for Europe they heaped up truck loads of money for the BLS to fund R&D to design, develop and build the new car.

As you know, Saab were starved for funds to develop the 9-3 and have been for the last few years. And because the BLS is basically a 9-3 in drag, all the money they got for the BLS project has being used to develop and improve what were really faults that were in the 9-3. So in doing exactly what GM requested, Saab has been able to use the money that GM gave them to improve & develop the 9-3 into a transvestite 9-3. What they ended up with was, in truth, quite a damn good car.

What all this means is that all the money and time that was thrown at the BLS went into making it, mechanically, the car that the 9-3 should have been from day one. The improvements that made the BLS a better car over what was at the time a MY06 9-3, have now found their way into the MY07 car and at very little cost to Saab.

This is why the accountants are also laughing: they got money to invest in the 9-3 in a round about way from GM and made their own product a far better car at very little cost to Saab. The MY07 9-3 is a much better car – it’s what the 9-3 should have been in 2002 if only we had the money.

Most of the above improvements are all thanks to the BLS project and there are more to come.

The only problem I have with the BLS is that it is aimed too closely at the 9-3 market. The S40 and Focus, even the Vectra and 9-3 – all these may share platforms but they are not aimed at the same customer base. All I have to say is “so what?” about the BLS. Let GM do what ever they want. I see the benefits that the BLS project has made to Saab and I’m a lot happier for it.

——————-

Definitely some food for thought there.

The point hadn’t been picked up because there’s not too many of us that have drive MY07 cars and Saab, to my recollection at least, hasn’t made too much noise about the suspension and handling tweaks that have been made in the 07 model.

However, it’s still my contention that GM should keep Cadillac out of Saab’s market. The fact that the 9-3 is a better car because of the investment in Cadillac is, in my opinion, an even more damning endictment on how GM have mismanaged the development of Saab in recent years.

If the 9-3 could be improved so much, it should have been right from the get-go. And the millions upon millions that they’re spending establishing the Cadillac brand in Europe would be better spent building up a premium brand that’s already got a foothold there.

I’m glad the BLS has had a positive effect on the development of the 9-3. And yes, I’m very happy that the BLS gives workers in Trollhattan some more work. But I still believe that building on Saab’s foundations and expanding the model line and marketing over a period of time would prove to be a better investment than trying to force Cadillac on to a market that doesn’t want it.

The development of Cadillacs has a spin-off benefit for Saab? So be it. But direct investment could have had the same effect with an increase in Saab sales and quality and without the losses that Caddy will suffer in the next 5-10 years before it ultimately fails.

Keep Cadillac in the US, where it sells. Maybe the moderate Middle East too, where they don’t mind their excesses. Just develop Saab into what it can really be.

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11 Comments

  1. I agree and think everyone should chill out a little. It can’t be easy for a niche brand such as Saab to survive let alone compete and be suffessful in such times of globalization.

    Everybody is quick to point out how GM has mismanaged and failed to establish Saab a premium brand for the past 10 years, yet all fail to see that Saab has in turn failed to establish itself as such for 50 years prior to being acquired by GM.

  2. I’ve largely said my piece in the BLS wagon comments but I will add this in relation to investment.

    The Australian Holden Commodore is the first vehicle built on the Zeta RWD platform. It is called the Billion Dollar Baby because it is an all new car that is the result of an investment of 1 bill Australian dollars. The thinly veiled truth is that the only reason GM spent 1 bill on it was to lay the groundwork for an international RWD platform. The platform is already being tweaked for the Chevrolet Camaro. Guess who is doing the tweaking, Holden. Fantastic for Holden as they got to build the car they always wanted and they are getting more investment to develop a product for U.S. manufacture. Anybody else see the parallels? As I mentioned in my other comments though, the Holden is being rebadged as a Pontiac for export to the U.S. If it is too successful Holden will lose it and it will be manufactured there with the U.S. dictating it’s future design and quality. The good work will come back to bite them on the bum. Beware Trollhattan!

  3. Manny good thoughts….

    I feel that people are forgetting something. First SAAB is the worlds smallest manufacturer, and I do not see that it should not be enought room for both Cadillac and SAAB.

    Secondly, even bob L said that the BLS was a bit too close to the 9-3 in the past. Yes i know, now they have released a wagon ontop of it, but I think it looks good, and appart from the chairs, rather different than the SC.

    Afterall, 70K cars/year is not much to spread the fixed costs over, I do not understand why they can not sell more of them, but I also realizing that sharing more (not visible) parts with caddie, opel etc reduces cost = cheaper cars = more sales.

    I think that GM have had a great pations with SAAB, and even thou they have done lots of things wrong, they have done a few things right. From what we hear more is to come, and from a brand that have released a new model every 10 years or so, that is not too bad…

  4. I think this whole debacle around the economics and feasibility of the future of Saab continues to circle itself around GM’s ability to manage and handle this brand and what they could do with it. Many of us agree that without being under GM’s ownership it would have simply disappeared or be in the hands of another conglomerate. If so it could be a lot worse or a bit better. No one will know for sure. But despite all these realities, the fact remains what it is and GM has simply embarked on a number of major failed ventures. The expenditure in some of these could have been very much used to bring the brand to compete with similarly positioned vendors addressing the same space that Saab does. On that GM has mishandled the brand very badly. We’ve had recently dialogue on the dealer network and how tough they are doing if they want to be dedicated. This is due to lack of products. So long as the Cadillac inclusion is temporary and GM has the full intention of making Saab a serious supplier in the prestige market to compete adequately against the German( and other Swedish) leading brands, we will continue to have the endless gripes that we all have in this wonderful site. So, GM get your act together !!!!

  5. It’s interesting to see what is said about the GM money for the BLS being used to tweak the 9-3.

    Perhaps I can give a few first impressions, having just received my 07 Aero 9-3, my second Aero, and my third 9-3.

    My first was a 2000 9-3 SE, my second was my dream car, a 2004 9-3 Aero, and less then a week ago I received my even dreamier 07 9-3 Aero. Built just for me, this one.

    Having had it less than a week, I’m still a bit undecided, although certain obvious things such as the upgraded engine and it’s very nice exhaust sound, certain refinements to the seat mechanism which mean I can finally adjust the seat so that the head attached to my 6’2″ body doesn’t brush the roof, are quite delightful.

    If SAAB had included these refinements in addition to the older items in the car—which I stupidly expected—it would’ve been brilliant. I think a certain junkiness has crept into the car from its prior incarnation. Those lovely solid-feeling air vent knobs are gone, replaced by look alikes which feel cheap and flimsy, as do the new rotary knobs which replaced all those lovely buttons, and the door sill plates seem to have been deleted.

    The nav system is junk—huge disappointment—the unit I used earlier was a 4 yr old Garmin I-Que handheld, which was far more capable I have found to my surprise, and at a fraction of the cost, and the loss of the dash mounted SID, which now resides in the speedo is another apparent sign of bean counters at work.

    I haven’t had the car long enough, obviously, to get a real feeling for it’s performance yet, but it seems that in the case of certain new less-than-top-notch refinements, they have been made at the expense of other previous top-notch items.

  6. Gary,

    Thanks for the insight. Keep us posted and I hope you enjoy racking up the miles. For all my rants, the V6 Aero is one of the most enjoyable modern Saabs I’ve driven.

  7. YUMMY YUMMY
    There is a certain gentleman in Hobart who may or may not be a member of the SCCA who is now driving around in a fire engine red 07 93SS V6 aero manual.
    DROOOOOLLLL
    Oh it’s not me BTW

  8. Well there you go, the signs of our times also hitting Saab even harder. I’ve heard similar feedback from owners of Merc, BMW and other leading competitors about the inferior quality of the current vehicles these days. To all of us Saabaties it’s more like insult to injury rather than accepting reality.

  9. Well, interesting. In a way, that’s how an integrated car manufacturer should be handling things — spreading the cost of improvements across the line.

    But given how GM has mishandled Saab in the past, it’ll take more than one co-development project with Cadillac before I feel like Saab’s prospects are stabilized.

  10. People, GM is a world wide company. The fact they are using their world wide resources to develop better cars is a good thing. We all know SAAB cannot survive on it’s own. Any company that owned SAAB would have it sharing platforms. The fact the 9-3 was not “perfect” from day one comes down to money, or the lack of it. Not some sinister GM plot. Let’s remember it was SAAB that decided to spend huge sums of development money changing different components on the Epsilon platform. GM is far from out of the financial woods. Things are improving and as they improve I’m sure the cars will also, SAAB included.

  11. Frank, you are a realist with a logical and clear business sense. Your statements are indeed correct and no doubt very valid. But when you compare what Ford has done with the European brands they took over it certainly puts GM’s record and achievements in a shame. This is despite of Ford having even deeper financial troubles than GM. Only over the weekend they sold Aston Martin for $1 Billion. As for Volvo, it’s not for sale and I doubt will ever be as it makes real money to Ford. So, GM has simply not been capable of handling the brand when compared to Ford. This is in my view a fair comparison.

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