On Saab quality – it goes with ‘premium’

I’ve just spent 20 minutes listening to a 2-part podcast from The Truth About Cars on a subject that I think tied in quite nicely with the ‘premium’ discussion of the last 24 hours.

In the podcast, Farago speaks with a quality guy from Ford about their quality processes and the way they assess it and aim to improve it.

I’d recommend you have a listen if you have the time. It’s not Saab-related but it’ll help the rest of this make more sense.

Tangent #1 –

As many of you know, I’d love to do what I do on this site on a full time basis. It takes up close to full-time hours, anyway, the way I obsess over it. The Ford guy had a woman from Ford’s corporate communications dept sitting in with him, interrupting when she thought the question was out of the scope of the conversation.

A good insight into the corporate watchdoggery that I’d likely have to endure if my wish to work for Saab were to come true. A scary insight, and not one that I’d work too well with. How I wish the site could support a full-time effort so as to not leave me sleep deprived – oh well.

End tangent #1

There were a couple of things that arose from the podcast that I think are worthy of bringing into the premium discussion.

Quality – the absence of defects?

How you assess quality depends on the filter through which you look at it. From a company point of view one of the things that Ford are interested in is feeding back warranty information so that they can make their cars better (i.e. better quality) and thereby make their customers happier and reduce warranty costs.

For owners, this is an issue when it occurs, but quality is more often assessed by owners as the tactile sensations one encounters when interacting with a vehicle. The feel of the materials, the assurance provided by their operation, the actual experience of driving.

But how far do you go?

Farago commented on a Ford Focus he’d recently tested (and completely canned, by the way). When opening the hood he saw a bunch of wires that were bound by wads of duct tape. He asked the Ford guy if he found this to be a thing of concern. Would it worry him if this was his own car? Farago thought it didn’t communicate quality at all, that it looked cheap.

Farago also commented on some floor mats that were held in place with some postage-stamp sized velcro tabs. Again, thinking it felt cheap.

The Ford guy’s response was interesting, and I think it was pretty accurate. He mentioned that over the last few years he’d racked up a couple of hundred-thousand miles in Ford product and had rarely lifted the hood. He had no major defects and only one item that wasn’t routine service work – a small fluid leak that was detected during a transmission service.

The point was that some people will lift the hood, see rudimentary insulation like duct tape and be bothered by it. Some people will lift the hood and look right past it and never notice it. Another set of people will rarely ever lift the hood at all. What’s more important to almost everyone is that the wiring, or any other part in the engine bay, remains trouble free for as long as possible.

One thing he couldn’t add due to company loyalty is that if something on the Ford Focus looks cheap, it’s most likely been allowed to drift to that status because it IS a cheap car in the US.

We’ve commented on it here before at TS – if GM want to parts-share then fine, go ahead, but make the important stuff unique to Saab because it’s a unique brand. If duct tape is safe and will protect the wiring from degradation over time – fine. As long as it doesn’t look like a birds nest under there and is operationally safe and reliable then I can live with it. In a Ford Focus at least.

——

ctm wrote in his comments on my 0.02 about Premium article that one of the reasons many of us like Saabs is that we love the history of the brand, and are aware the history a lot more than some other marques – Audi was a great example.

One of the things I loved about older Saabs was that the quality was definitely evident in terms of material used and technology employed in the vehicles when compared to other vehicles around at that time.

Recent Saabs have improved their quality marks in terms of reliability and the emphasis with Saab still seems to be form following function, though to a lesser extent than in the past. In Saab’s terms, this is what I see as quality and as ‘premium’: that the car delivers the experience that a Saab owner expects and delivers it well.

Saabs of the past always got that sort of thing sorted out first, with the leather and wood trim coming later. I think they definitely need to pay attention to materials used and make them a priority – the cabin’s where the driver spends most of his time – but never let that get in the way of engineering.

Tangent #2

It was good to see Farago write this, because it’s something I agree with 100% and have been pushing for Saab to do:

I invite Ford to continue on this openness arc and allow their employees to post on the Focus review and/or anything else that captures their attention. Of course, we’re years away from that kind of non-spun honesty and PR-less transparency. But I’ll say this: the first car company that fully embraces the internet in this way will have an enormous advantage over its competitors. And that’s down to one simple reason: it will help them build better cars.

Getting direct feedback from customers will help car companies build better cars, but it’ll also allow them an opportuity to interact with their customers and enthusiasts on a daily basis in a way that just wasn’t possible before.

Like Farago said above, and like I’ve said again and again, the car company that really embraces the interactivity of the web for something more than just selling cars is going to benefit from it – big time.

End tangent #2 – and article.

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2 Comments

  1. I still don’t buy the idea that any company will ever let its employees say pretty much whatever they want on the internet. It would just be inviting this to happen on, say, Autoblog or CR or whatever:

    “Well, Chevrolet says its new Malibu is the most fun to drive car in its class, but chevypoopchute.com, the official unofficial Chevy blog, says that the Audi A2.6 is way more fun and a better deal, so everyone go buy that!”

    Why oh why would GM, or Ford, or anyone ever risk this? It would undermine the entire PR department, and any time the insider blog disagreed with the official company stance, it would look horrible for the company, because who’s going to believe the company line when the workers who run the blog contradict it every other day?

    Also, the only people who seem to agree with this “blogs will rule the future of auto company/auto consumer relations” thing seem to be bloggers.

    Not going to happen. FastLane and the like is as close as it’s going to get.

  2. On the “premium question”: I agree that a/c or aircon is not premium. It is, in fact, virtually a necessity on anything but an econobox used only for short runs. The premium element is the dual-zone automatic mode. I was surprised how well it works on my 9-5 and it does count as premium, especially with the ability to override it with the touch of a button or twist of a fan speed dial. I tested the vented seats and the fans were noisy; I’m happy to see it on the option list but the little holes in the seats don’t appeal to us all and they hold grime.

    A quiet interior is premium, with just enough engine-trnasmission feedback to be able to drive “by ear” and keep one’s eyes on the road even in a school zone.

    What about a sunroof? I would never have ordered one as a stand-alone option but it’s rather nice, although mostly enjoyed for extra light in closed position with the shade pulled back! I’d vote NOT premium.

    I think superb paint finish is premium.

    And, if the vehicle has 4 doors, how about room for adults in the back seat? The 9-3, A-4, and C-Class perhaps need the label “sport sedan” as an alert that tall folks won’t like it back there on a 6-hour trip.

    I’ll add the heated rear seat (at least in climes that see frost) as premium. That really gets the comments from our passengers. Put exterior mirrors with defrosters on this list.

    B

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