First thing – If you haven’t done it yet, you need to scroll down and read the Auto Motor and Sport editorial on Saab. Go on. Do it now. Either scroll down or click here. This article is a response to that piece.
Ok, now that you’re done with that, let’s get down to business.
SaabUSA have said themselves that they see their competition as being BMW, Audi and Volvo. Whether they’re actually competing in that segment, against all those players, is a matter for discussion. I’m pleased, however, that that’s where they set their sights.
Now all they need is the product to get there.
The first thing I want to say about Gunnar Dackcalle’s editorial is that I really enjoyed reading it. Sometimes the automotive press get it quite wrong when it comes to Saab, but I thought it placed Saab and GM quite realistically. I agree with MarkS in comments, in that the article sold Saab short in several key areas (safety, engine management etc). When the rubber hits the road, though, they’re things that you don’t notice too much until something goes wrong.
I’m generally quite happy with the products I see from Saab, but the whole reason I love to promote Saab via this site is because I want to keep on driving them in the future – and that means growth. And growth requires innovation, competitiveness and quality.
Saab, quite rightly, want to play in that “entry luxury” segment. The good news is that Saab still have enough points of difference to do this without coming across as a wannabe player. Saab can be a genuine alternative to the big Germans – if GM let them.
People think I’m a broken record on this subject, but the investment that GM are making in Cadillac for the European market is money wasted. The Saab 9-3 has been a beneficiary of this with it’s new quieter ride, but that could have happened just as easily with a genuine investment into Saab.
And instead of thousands of BLS’s sitting unsold on Swedish forecourts, we could have had better interior materials. Surfaces that would do a better job of fulfilling Saab’s premium aspirations. It’s not about being as good as the Germans, it’s about being the best Saab they can offer for the money. They Germans can take care of themselves. They will always have journalists and customers waiting at their feet. But Saab need to take of themselves as well, and build the best Saabs they can.
This takes investment, and a willingness to commit to building a Saab as a Saab should be built.
Carl-Peter Forster said it himself:
“It’s amazing how well the market reacts to news from Saab. Even if we are talking just adjustments to a current vehicle, like the 9-3, it generally gets a very warm reception from the media. There seems to be an incredible potential in the brand, if we can only manage to deliver the right products to the costumers.”
Amen to that.
I’ve been banging the drum on this for a long time now: Saab, by it’s own philosophy, brings the best over all package of performance, comfort, utility and safety that I can find. The trouble is, the philosophy has been lost a little along the journey with GM. Back when they had it there was no doubt whatsoever that Saab were “premium”. They had cloth seats when most domestic producers were using vinyl and were well into leather when the others used cloth as standard. Things like this matter.
Now? Well, we’ve all heard the complains about interior surfaces, right?
The fact is that whilst you and I might love them and everything they’re capable of, there’s a market share out there that is yet to be convinced. They need something more. They need something in their premium car that’s a bit. more. premium.
Let’s not forget that General Motors are ‘general’ in name and general in nature. It’s one of the hardest things about having Saab, a very particular brand, owned by such a large bureaucracy.
Don’t forget, either, that Saab in each country has a product team that decide what sort of spec you get in your home market. It’s not just the beancounters that decide what’s coming.
Can’t get 19 inch wheels in the US? It’s not because Saab don’t produce them.
Can’t get Hirsch tuning in Australia? It’s not because Hirsch don’t exist.
Premium customers expect choice. They expect to be able to customise and get the car that they want. Right now, in some jurisdictions, they can’t do that to the level that they should be able to.
One thing I disagree with Gunnar about is the possibility for the next generation of Saabs.
From everything I’ve heard, the 9-4x is going to be the next all-new release (not counting the 9-3x) and it’s probably the one where the full spec of the car is developed, bedded down and unchangeable right now. Dealers who saw this vehicle in Sweden in June and July came back suitably impressed.
What’s more, they also got a look at the first models for the next 9-5. If we’re talking about ‘premium’ in terms of interior design and quality then first reports are actually quite positive. Saab have said that the Aero-X will provide design direction for the next generation of Saabs and the word filtering back to me is that this extends to the cabin as well as exterior design themes.
Saab have already displayed a positive progression with the 2008 9-3 and I really believe that will continue. As long as GM have the cohunas to get Saab to the place where Carl-Peter Forster himself seems to think they can reach, then there’s a good chance we’ll be OK.
Time to put your money where your mouth is, GM. Saab are a great brand with huge potential to diversify your product range in a meaningful way.
If you let them.