There’s a few articles doing the rounds today that brought me to think about the US market, how complex it is and Saab’s role in it. This needs to be put in context, though, as I’m writing this after having just come from a visit to Europe, where the new Saab 9-3 will have no less than 10 engine variants in several markets.
As far as gasoline engines go, there’s the 1.8i, the 1.8t, the 1.8t BioPower, the 2.0t, the 2.0t BioPower, the 2.0T and the 2.8 V6. Then there’s three diesel variants, an 8v 1.9 TiD, a 16v 1.9 TiD and the new 1.9 TTiD.
In the US, you can have the 2.0T and the 2.8 V6. And that’s it. Sure, the US wouldn’t want the 1.8i (who does, really?) and even the 1.8t is questionable. The 2.0t is a possible entry level powerplant, though, and we’ve been hearing promises about BioPower since Adam was a boy in short pants. As for diesel, well, let’s have a look, shall we?
My whole point in writing this is that the new TTiD is so good that I reckon it’d definitely find a market in the US. It produces 180hp but more importantly a whopping 400Nm of torque. The twin-turbo setup provides for great response and smooth acceleration and the twin exhaust out the back gives it an absolutely brilliant note when you hit the gas. It still sounds like a tractor at idle, but on the go it’s a brilliant machine. Furthermore, it uses just 5.9 litres of fuel per 100 kilometers (compared to 10.2 for the V6) and emits just 159grams of CO2 per kilometer (compared to 245 grams for the V6) – see note below.
We’ve been told that the rub on diesel is that it won’t meet increasingly stringent US emissions standards and it would be too costly to modify it to do so.
My first question is – what are those emissions standards we keep hearing about and how come Bentley can sell a Continental there that gets about half a mile to the gallon when Saab can’t sell a 40+ mpg diesel? I’m sure it isn’t because the Bentley emits pure Himalayan spring water from its tailpipe.
Navigating the EPA website almost gives me grounds to allow Saab a pass on this. For starters, when you look through their Air Pollution Scores for MY2007 Small Cars, you can see that the aforementioned Bentley GTC 12 cylinder vehicle is classified as a Subcompact car, along with the Chevy Cobalt, VW Beetle, Toyota Yaris and Honda Civic. How are you supposed to make sense of a department that does this?
Confusion about classifications aside, what exactly are those emissions standards? Well, the EPA site was of limited assistance, so I turned to the post-secondary student’s ever-present guide and mentor – Wikipedia. Looking up emissions standards there, I found the following:
Currently, vehicles sold in the United States must meet “Tier II” standards that went into effect in 2004. “Tier II” standards are currently being phased in—a process that should be complete by 2009. Within the Tier II ranking, there is a subranking ranging from BIN 1-10, with 1 being the cleanest (Zero Emission vehicle) and 10 being the dirtiest. The former Tier 1 standards that were effective from 1994 until 2003 were different between automobiles and light trucks (SUVs, pickup trucks, and minivans), but Tier II standards are the same for both types.
A common measurement system for American standards is the somewhat confusing mixed-standard unit of grams per mile.
There are several ratings that can be given to vehicles. A certain percentage of the cars produced by major manufacturers must meet these different levels in order for the company to sell their products in affected regions.
OK, so if this is accurate, the problem may not lie solely in the emissions from the TTiD, for example. The problem may be exposed in this sentence: A certain percentage of the cars produced by major manufacturers must meet these different levels in order for the company to sell their products in affected regions.
I’m still trying to get my head around this stuff, so if anyone’s got the inside running and a clear explanation, then please let me know.
But what it looks like is that there isn’t one set minimum number that they have to meet, per se. Companies have an option of offering vehicles at differing emissions levels and overall they have to offer a certain amount at one level, and a certain amount at another, etc etc, and the total fleet available for sale must balance.
And somehow a car like the TTiD can’t fit into their plans? Have a look at those numbers again. It outpoints the V6, which is offered in the US, on both mileage and CO2 emissions output. There may be some other emissions info we’re missing here, such as NOx emissions, etc, but on the face of it the TTiD seems to best the V6 in both important categories and yet I’m sure Saab USA isn’t going to phase the V6 out.
GM does seem willing to invest in diesels as long as they’re big ones. Edmunds reports that GM are planning a 4.5 litre Duramax diesel for use in it’s Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra and Hummer FU vehicles. If you’re big you get the dollars. If you’re small you don’t and screw the potential upside…..
….at your own peril.
One of the things that I’ve consistently pushed in recent times is that with Saturn taking on more and more of Opel’s product for the US market, the economies of scale should be there for investment in whatever it takes for the 1.9 TiD engine to make financial sense. The addition of the TTiD setup and the extra performance it provides (and the appeal it would have in the US market) make this case even stronger.
The Car Connection report that 2010 is the most likely year that will see a real breakout for diesels in the US. Several manufacturers will be there well before that, however, and those who are established in the market first will definitely reap a reward.
Here’s an automotive dealership owner (11 different lots) as quoted in Autoblog Green today:
In May, sales of hybrid cars and trucks in the United States were up about 88 percent over the year-ago month, while overall sales were up 5.0 percent. Although hybrids accounted for only about 2.8 percent of the U.S. market in May, it is a good indication that consumers want cleaner, more fuel-efficient cars than the Detroit 3 are offering.
As the largest hybrid dealership in Maine, we sell foreign cars that get 45 to 60 mpg and pollute very little. They are more expensive than nonhybrids, but consumers are willing to pay for them.
The winds are changing and not in favour of super-huge barges, regardless of the great new diesel engine you’ve developed for it. Have a look which companies are growing worldwide and what they offer. I’m not suggeting that we all take the Japanese lead, but when the one thing you’re constantly trying to push is high-margin SUV’s to one particular market then maybe it’s time to shift your focus.
If there’s one argument in favour of GM handing Saab off to a more appropriate owner, it’s that the company philosophies seem to be at odds. I’m definitely not an advocate of that happening, by the way. I’d rather see Saab shape more of GM’s philosophy. You might think that’s a case of the tail wagging the dog, but Saab are already taking the lead on turbocharging, E85 and now XWD systems accross GM’s portfolio.
I just wish GM would give Saab a better chance of succeeding in the US market and really showing what it could do. Thankfully there’s evidence of that happening in Europe, but whether it’ll filter through to the US is the big question. And if it doesn’t, then who’s answerable – GM or SaabUSA?
Hopefully there might be some encouraging news come August, when SaabUSA will debut the new 9-3. Fingers crossed.
Note – the figures I quoted for emissions and mileage were for the 2008 model as provided by Saab. The EPA figures talk in grams per mile and use some numbers so low it’s hard to see how any modern Saab could possibly comply, so I’m a little confused on this and think that something’s being lost in translation.
I checked the Saab USA website to see if I could get some US-specific emissions data for the current 2007 model 9-3, but couldn’t find it published there.