Saab XWD success: Can you Pheel it?

Mark Phelan has written that Saab’s on the brink before. This is him back in June 2005:

Saab will never be a million-selling brand, but it must grow or die.

And more importantly, he hit the nail on the head with this quote of a quote:

The challenge is to win new owners without alienating existing ones

Back in 2005, my response to Phelan’s piece was that Saab had some good vehicles in the pipeline. And get this – I cited the planned 9-6x as one of those vehicles. Of course, the 9-6x was mercifully canned when GM sold its stake in Subaru’s parent company, Fuji Heavy Industries.

The good news is that Saab still have a great range of models in the pipeline, and little did any of us know back then that it involved the introduction of the new XWD system that Saab are debuting on the 2008 Saab 9-3. If you could pick one mechanical evolution that Saab would benefit from in terms of winning some new interest as well as appealing to a broad range of the old customers, four-wheel-drive would probably be that evolution.

Phelan’s writing about Saab again today and saying that the XWD system on the 9-3 will be critical to Saab’s ongoing success.

Saab’s future is about as safe as any money-losing, low-selling brand’s ever will be, thanks to a sporty crossover SUV and at least one new car under development.

Nonetheless, the high-performance all-wheel drive sedan and station wagon that go on sale early next year are vital first steps to making Saab the profitable global luxury brand General Motors always dreamed the Swedish company would become.

I’ve got no doubt that he’s right – to an extent. A system like XWD is a price of entry into the premium sector nowadays. As is an SUV. Jan-Ake Jonsson has admitted as much himself in interviews earlier this year. Saab have one of these about to go into play, and the other will be coming in the next year or so.

I guess what I’m saying here is that my response to Phelan two years ago is even more valid now. Two years ago there was no Aero-X concept. There was no talk of five year plans or commitment like there was in the wake of the Aero-X. The model lineup for the next few years really does look very promising. The car business is a long term venture and placing Saab’s survival in the hands of the XWD system alone ignores all the other good things that are coming Saab’s way.

If I can draw your attention once again to what I believe to be a pretty accurate picture of Saab’s future model timeline, this is where we see the following in the next few years. The debut of XWD in 2008, with the Turbo X. The 9-3x based on the SportCombi with XWD. The Saab 9-4x SUV – built from the ground up as a Saab. The next generation Saab 9-5, which is spoken of by those who have seen the advance images and models as being a stunner, and last but not least, the compact Saab 9-1.

If we can use the 2008 Saab 9-3 and XWD to draw a line as to what future Saabs will become in relation to their predecessors, then I’m pretty sure that the future is indeed pretty bright for Saab.

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  1. I’m guardedly optimistic that Saab, as a manufacturer and seller of cars, is headed in the right direction. I see a fews cars in that pipeline that I’d like to own, but I’m reluctant to go all-in with a ringing endorsement of the company as we’re looking at the manufacture of the company’s (current) core lines moving to Germany in a few year’s time. I was discussing a possible trip to Sweden with my wife as our plans were to pick up a 9-3 in Trollhattan next summer. What made us accelerate our travel plans, originally set for summer 2009, was the possible moving of production out of Sweden by that time and I just couldn’t make the whole concept of picking up my “Scandanavian-design” car in Germany make sense in my little head. So I guess what I worry about is that Saab will make great cars–possibly selling a ton of them–but lose its heritage in the process. I realize that Saabs are made with parts sourced from around the world, but the people that made the marque one that we all fell in love with were from Scandanavia, not Russelsheim or Detroit. The Aero-X may be an example of Swedish philosophy successfully being executed by Americans and Germans, but those whose philosophy they emulate are different from them and I appreciate that they are.
    –“What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul.” (Matthew 16:26)–

  2. I liked this line best: “In its heyday, Saab was safe, socially conscious and fast; the thinking man’s sport sedan. XWD is its best chance to regain that mantle.” (I try to think of myself as a thinking man šŸ™‚ )

    This is also why I believe it’s time to retire the BFJ campaign – Born From Jets really appeals to passion more than reason. Who’s going to think that aircraft designers are any better at coming up with an all wheel drive system?

    Kraig – do you really feel the need to pick up your car at the facility where it was assembled? Contracting out production is a reality in the global economy whenever a company can reduce costs without sacrificing quality. The Saab Museum is still going to be in Trollhattan and so, I presume, will be the people coming up with the concepts.
    There are only two lasting gifts we can give to our children. One is Roots…, the other Wings.” – H. Carter Peace

  3. Well this guy is citing what I’ve shared all along. The XWD is critical for Saab’s survival and long term viability. If this did not come out the whole brand would have disappeared altogether as it would simply fall in to oblivion. They must now springboard in to the future with the Haladex system and make it the centre piece of all models including the new 9-5. Releasing new models is one key aspect, how long it will take is even more critical. In this aspect is where again and again in this order 1. Audi,2. BMW and 3.Volvo have got it together and with inferior products. Saab/GM get your act together and use the golden opportunity at hand !!!

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