The GM Inside News project called Saab Revitalised was originally posted in November 2006. It’s undergone a revitalisation of its own recently, however, having been picked up in a big way by a few European publications.
Back in 2006 I posted these thoughts about the project (which is one part of a bigger project called Revitalisation in Action). Twenty people chimed in with some comments of their own at the time. As this site has grown a fair bit since then, with new people popping in, I thought it’d be timely to post this again seeing so many people are sending me notes about the RIA project.
GM Inside News’ Saab Revitalised article has drawn a heck of a lot of interest and there’s one thing that’s clear from this exercise – there’s more people cheering for Saab that what some of us thought. Saab have become an easy target for the hater crowd in recent years but there’s plenty of interest in Saab’s future, and for good reason: it’s the brand with the biggest potential upside in all of GM’s portfolio.
First things first – hats off to ChevroletRevived, FBodyRules and Mgescuro for a first class effort. Having been involved in this internet thing for a little while now, I well and truly understand the number of hours that must have gone into preparing this piece.
I’d also like to thank all of those that entered their thoughts in comments. A bit of vibrant discussion is good for the soul. It’s clearly provoked some reactions from all of you, as it has done with me too, so without further ado……
Trollhattan Saab’s thoughts on GMI’s Revitalisation in Action – Saab.
GMI’s RIA team have embarked on a fantasy ride: All things going well, what would the dream Saab lineup look like? Their answer comes up with the following models and variations:
Saab 9-1 – Sport Luxury Hatchback, A3 Sized, Based on Delta II
Saab 9-3 – Luxury Sedan/SportCombi/Convertible, 3 Series Sized, Based on EPI
Saab 9-4X – Sport Luxury CUV, X3 Sized, Based on Theta II
Saab 9-5 – Luxury Sedan/SportCombi, 5 Series Sized, Based on Enhanced EPII
Saab 9-6X – Sport Luxury CUV, X5 Sized, Based on Enhanced Lambda Saab
9-9x – Luxury Sedan, 7 Series Standard Sized, Based on Premium Zeta
The model lineup: My thoughts
This car, to me, is a no-brainer. As GMI mentions, the only real player in the US premium hot hatch market right now is the Audi A3 (and maybe the Golf GTi). The BMW 1-series will come sooner or later but there’s not a lot else on the drawing board. Saab have an opportunity here and it’s not limited to the US. The European market love their hatches and it’d have plenty of potential in other markets too.
Perhaps the biggest reason for making this car a reality, though, is the reclaimation of Saab’s heritage. Last year GM Europe chief Carl-Peter Forster did an interview where he slammed Saab for investing millions of dollars into fibre optics at the expense of true Saab design traits such as small, sporty performance and the curved windscreen etc.
A 9-1 would give Saab the opportunity of reclaiming that lost ground and design heritage. It has a ready made market of former enthusiasts and young professionals just waiting for it – eagerly waiting for it if the mail I get is any indication.
It’s a real shame, therefore, that indications I’ve had from sources very well placed tell me that this car has been put on hold. Indefinite hold.
Finally, the one thing that’s missing from GMI’s analysis is a Sonett and I think the 9-1 line is exactly where it would fit. It doesn’t need to be a convertible necessarily (not for me at least), but a dream Saab model line wouldn’t be complete without it.
The lack of a genuine Saab SUV is what spawned the 9-7x and whilst it’s won me as a fan and is a fantastic effort at a low-cost badge-engineered temporary model adaptation (and Saab’s second best seller in the US market in 2006), the fact remains that it’s a low-cost badge-engineered temporary model.
The 9-4x will be a genuine Saab crossover vehicle and I think it’ll be a successful one.
Saab 9-3 and 9-5
These are and will prove to be even more, the bread and butter of Saab’s existence.
The 9-3, as good as it is, was woefully under-developed. Recent stats indicate that whilst Saab account for around 8% of GM’s sales, they also account for approximately 25% of GM’s warranty costs (these are market specific and I’m not sure at this point which market they’re relating to). It turns out those Consumer Reports articles aren’t all that far off the mark (though I still think they’re poorly formulated). Quality is obviously an issue that needs to be developed with the 9-3 first and foremost. Hopefully the revised 9-3 that we’ll see in 2007 will go some way to addressing that issue.
That the 9-5 needs a replacement model, and soon, is a prime candidate for understatement of the year. As was recently pointed out by WooDz, the 9-5 is a worthwhile contender in its segment and is often overlooked, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that more can’t be, or shouldn’t be done.
I believe the biggest threat to the 9-5’s sales success is its lack of perceived differentiation from the 9-3. Both are similar sized sedans with similar engine sizes. The baby brother even gets the V6 and despite the fact that the Saab faithful understand the quality of the 9-5’s 2.3 litre 4-banger, the market doesn’t – and that’s going to be a stumbling block for Saab until it’s addressed.
I like the idea of bringin back the Viggen nomenclature to a hi-po 9-3 and I’d call the top-of-the-line 9-5 model the Griffin.
The jury’s still out in my mind on this one.
Does Saab really need to go from no SUV’s to a fill-in SUV to two fully-Saab-designed SUV variants? Can the market really support and sustain both the 9-4x and a 9-6x and does the market really need both?
One of the encouraging moments in Jay Spenchian’s presentation to the Saab Owners Convention was the admission that Saabs aren’t for everyone. Those that want their conservatively styled RWD sports sedan can have their BMWs. It’s not Saab’s exact market. Saab aren’t playing at being the biggest and would be fooling themselves if they did. Saab aim to make interesting sporty vehicles that have great everyday road driving characteristics as well as the ability to ‘turn it on’ when required.
The pursuit of a second, bigger SUV may be an exercise in following the leader rather than intelligent analysis of what the market can realistically sustain. If Saab are going to build an SUV, I’d rather they build the 9-4x and do it right, with a diesel variant that takes care of 90% of the average Joe’s towing requirements. Those that need more don’t necessarily need a Saab, they need one of GM’s other behemoths.
Put it this way: Would you rather see Saab’s precious R&D dollars go into a second SUV, or a Sonett-type sportster?
Some of the model lines proposed by GMI make sense. To me, this isn’t one of them.
My argument earlier about the 9-3 and 9-5 being too similar failed to mention my hope that the 9-5 will get a reasonable (and quite well disguised) re-size to a distinctly larger model. This not only provides for adequate differentiation from the 9-3, it also means that a model such as GMI’s proposed 9-9x would be unnecessary.
This is a sandbox that Saab don’t need to play in.
Some of the strongest comments, both positive and negative, relate to the design ideas that GMI have posted along with their articles. Pictures always elicit stronger reactions than words, initially at least, and this case is no different.
I’m appreciative of the time that must have gone into the CGIs they’ve presented, but I’m also thankful that Saab’s next 9-3, 9-5 and 9-4x designs are already well and truly established. Many of the CGIs at GMI are actually 9x and 9-3x based ( in terms of the front end of the vehicle) rather than Aero-X based and I’m sure that the design language of the Aero-X will dominate the next round of Saab vehicles.
Whilst the 9x and 9-3x were fantastic concepts, their value (to me at least) lay in their versatility and utility more than their looks. The Aero-X is a much more attractive vehicle by far and to adopt a previous, inferior design language would be a bit like dancing with your sister.
The designs also appear to have a much more American feel to me, rather than European (or more specifically, Scandinavian) and I’d put that down to normal, everyday cultural bias by the authors. Completely understandable.
I know I’m not the first to mention the lack of diesel variants in GMI’s proposed lineup. It’s an obvious omission and a vital one. Diesels currently account for about 60% of European car sales and will account for an increasing number of US sales as time goes by.
The other omission is the mention of a Saab plug-in vehicle, which is totally feasible and would boost Saab’s credentials in the environmental department to no end. The technology’s already there in development.
Then there’s SVC, but that’s a whole other ball game…..
None of this in any way negates the awesome efforts that the GMI team have gone to to stimulate interest and discussion about the Saab lineup. The fact that I don’t agree 100% with them just means that I’m one bloke with an opinion.
Whilst I’m not a big fan of the illustrations, I do like many of the concepts and I’m really stoked to be here writing about them.