It’s the product!

I thought it might be appropriate to tie together a few items recently covered here on the blog, as well as a few other conversations I’ve had over the last month or so.

There’s two factors that preface this.

First is the press presentation from Jan-Ake Jonsson last weekend. In that presentation, it says quite plainly that he believes Saab are very well positioned within the GM portfolio for the future. There’s no elaboration as to what that position is, but I guess we’ll find that out as the model portfolio rolls out in the next few years.

My best guess is that Saab may be going a little more upscale. The bling factor on the new 9-3 Aero model that we’ve seen is one indicator. The assertion by Jan-Ake that Saab will mainly be purchased by well educated wealthy types in the future is another.

The second factor was somewhat unavoidable as soon as I booked my recent drive in the BMW 335i Convertible this weekend.

It was noticeable, to me at least, that everyone I saw at the BMW dealership this weekend was quite happy to be there. The staff were all dressed in smart casuals, the customers were all smiling, the premises were well presented with lots of cars in stock. And according to Tony, our former Saab guy who’s now the sales manager there, those cars in stock won’t have too much trouble finding buyers in the near to medium term.

And that’s significant.

These are motor cars that sell for significant amounts of money, and from what Tony’s mentioned to me in the last month or so, people hand over their money with a smile. Compare this to his time at Saab, where he had only 2 or 3 clients that he knew he could sell a new car to without having to sell them pretty hard, and it’s no wonder he’s smiling, just like his clients.

Sure, there’s a reasonable ‘wanker’ quotient in the average BMW shop’s clientele, but the people I saw on the weekend looked just like every other reasonably well heeled car shopper. They were keen, interested and engaging and there was a lot of conversation going on about this feature or that road – you get the picture.

As I observed after driving the 335, there’s no doubt that what we’re talking about here is a quality product. It cartainly isn’t to my taste, but credit where credit’s due. They’ve built a hell of an engine in that car, they build the rest of the car just as well and they handle very solidly.

Get things right and the wankers will join the enthusiasts in getting on board.

What can Saab learn from this?

Well, the answer certainly doesn’t lie in RWD. The answer lies in the product. The perception and reality of quality. The fulfillment and exceeding of customer’s expectations. And all that means we need to see measurable progress from Saab models released into the future – in the quality of materials used, performance attained and construction of the vehicles. They wouldn’t even have to raise the price necessarily – not in the US at least. Just start charging closer to sticker price.

It’s an exciting time in Saab’s history. We have a staggered launch of a new 9-3 and it’s variants over the next 9-12 months as well as the 9-4x, new 9-5 and the compact 9-1 (and an all-new 9-3, too).

When I was chatting with Tony at the BMW shop a few weeks ago he reminisced a little about when they first built the new Saab showroom here in Hobart (now being used for Hyundais, or Chryslers, or something). It was built right up to Saab Ultimate spec and he’d hoped that it would be like the BMW shop he works in now. A full range of vehicles, a few more staff and a bevy of happy customers.

That range is coming in the next few years. Saab will have a chance to compete across a section of model lines and if they do it well, Jan-Ake’s prophecy, above, may well come true.

The coming 9-3 range is a first step. It’s important to remember that it’s not an all-new vehicle. It’s substantially changed on the outside and there’s a going to be quite a few mechanical changes and adjustments. Inside it’s going to be largely the same.

It’s looking really good so far, though, and if first writings of the 9-4x come to pass, that should be a killer as well. Things are definitely getting off on the right foot (and it’s a heck of a good time to be a Saab blogger!)

Saab: Do. It. Well.

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3 Comments

  1. Spot on, Swade. The idea is so simple but it tends to get lost sometimes. Within the luxury market segment — without a great product — it wont sell, no matter how many incentives you have, jets flying overhead, or face lifts you make (not a knock on the new 9-3, its gorgeous). You really have to hand it to BMW with their product, its quality is outstanding. Saab can do just as well if they focus on the product — and mainly on quality, from the interior to reliability. We’ve all said a lot of negative things regarding the future of Saab, but I can see all the pieces out there, and we can only hope that they come together.

  2. Since every car in Sweden has to be tested by the Swedish Motor Vehicle Inspection Company, there is a good statistic about the build quality in chassi, supsension and so on. BMW is not in the top, but are sometimes down in the bottom. So quality could be different thing. I don’t argue that the door handle is good quality, and the dial for the fan feels like high quality, but I hope Saab don’t go down that road and forget about the other stuff. And still, the BMW dash is horrible to my eyes, their seats sucks big time for my back, and safety is not top class – despit the premium price tag. 🙂

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