Luxury – or – what I learned about Saab from spending too much money in a crap hotel

Pardon my rambling here, but I had to get something Saaby out of last week.

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I grew up thinking that just about every European car was a luxury car. They were always a lot better equipped than the Australian cars I grew up with.

My first car was a Holden Gemini. It had vinyl seats, a 1600cc Isuzu Motor and when I saved up a whole bunch of money I actually purchased a tape deck and speakers to replace the factory AM/FM radio. The car was as flimsy as a Coke can and almost as refined.

My Mum had a Ford Cortina and my Dad had a Ford Falcon. My sister had a Morris 1100 and then a Datsun 180B, which is the car I learned to drive in.

It’s not too hard to trump any of those and as you can see, my bar for judging what was a luxury item was set fairly low. I’ve now learned a little more about what’s what thanks to the passage of time, and my frame of reference has grown as a result.

Last week my wife and I spent a week touring around my old home town, Melbourne. We stayed in a nice-but-not-too-costly spot for the first 5 nights, with a view to spoiling ourselves on the final night. So last Friday night, our final night, we did two things we wouldn’t ordinarily do. We spent a stupid amount of money each on a T-bone steak – a favourite for both of us – and we spent an even more stupid amount of money on one of Melbourne’s 5-star international hotels – Crown Towers.

Crown Towers is the accommodation attached to the Crown Casino, which has become one of the entertainment hubs in Melbourne. When you enter Crown Towers it’s marble, glass, timber and brass everywhere you look. There are men in red coats to open the doors of your car and people to carry your luggage around. The entry foyer is huge and overwhelms you with a feeling of grandeur.

All the big labels have shops there. I spotted what looked like a mask for sale in the window at Versace for around A$2,600. Why anyone would want such a thing is completely lost on me, but it’s there.

The guests who look like they belong there were all impeccable. Clothing, grooming, you name it. They had it going on. Me? Well, if you know where this post is going then the fact that I was padding around the foyer in my socks may not come as a surprise.

For the money we spent, we wanted a big comfortable room with a big comfortable bed and a commanding view. We wanted a big spa bath to relax in. I wanted broadband so that I could check things out on the website and a big TV to kill some time with. We wanted comfort and we wanted it in spades. So we paid for it – more than three times the per-night rate of our previous room, which was newly renovated, well situated and reasonably well appointed.

The room at Crown was advertised as having all of the things listed above. Indeed, it did have a big marble bathroom and the view from the 15th floor was impressive in a way. The TV was great and the fixtures and fittings were kind of impressive to look at. We’d paid for luxury at a 5-star international hotel and supposedly we’d got it.

Or not.

Crown Room

Crown Towers

Yes, we had internet access – if we paid an extra $25 for it (per day). A club sandwich was $25. Breakfast was an extra $40. Our spa bath was a single person tub. The bed was indeed quite big, but hard as a rock and when you could see through the grime on the windows, the view was indeed impressive.

Melbourne

Basically we’d paid over $400 for one night in a room with a big TV, some timber panelling, a small bath in a big marble room and no breakfast after sleeping on a hard bed. No internet included, no in-house movies included. Not even some fresh milk in the fridge.

Some may love it just for the appearance but to be honest, it left me feeling pretty embarassed that I’d paid so much for what boiled down to a tarted up standard hotel room. Some will love it simply for what it represents…..a standard of excellence and opulence. We just felt like idiots who would have had a better time at a place that gave us what we were looking for, which was a real feeling of basic comfort and the services we wanted rather than a bunch of trimmings that suggested we were fortunate just to be there.

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As I said earlier, I’d considered Saabs to be luxury cars in my youth. I know now that that’s not the case and having blown a roll of cash on a supposed luxury experience, I hope they never go down that road.

Saabs are premium cars defined by their equipment levels relative to their price, their surprising performance relative to their engine size and their levels of safety – comparable to any car in any class.

I hope they always stay that way. It struck me as I was thinking about all this last Friday that my experience in Sweden earlier this year showed the Swedes to be a remarkably practical people. Their idea of premium is stuff that really works and has a reason for doing so.

Saab created ergonmically sound and very comfortable interiors for a reason. It wasn’t to spoil the driver but to make sure that the driver had an environment to work in that kept him/her comfortable and in command.

There’s a certain number of poseurs in this world who will always chase what they believe to be best, regardless of the substance held therein. Thinking about all of this has just reinforced what I’ve always believed about Saab – they’re the best real-world combination of performance, comfort, utility, safety and value that you can buy in a car. I’m not Swedish and I’m coming at this whole Saab thing from relatively recent experience when compared with the company’s 60 years, but I’m pretty sure that the guys who started the company would find that combination quite appealing.

As they go about desiging cars for the future, I hope that they maintain that distincly Swedish combination and leave the posing to Cadillac. They can still be premium and they can still be well appointed and great performing cars, just leave the perceived opulence to brands that have customers with enough money and little enough sense to pay for it – just like I did recently with a hotel room.

The T-bone steak? That was a different story all together and worth every cent…

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14 Comments

  1. Holden Gemini. It’s a European car – more or less.
    It was the “world car” of the 1970s. – In Germany they sold it as Opel Kadett C and in GB as Vauxhall something. It had a lot of markets and a lot of names and labels under which it was sold. Also there were lots of plants in which the car was assembled – in many different levels of quality.
    And, not to end it like this, it was as many other Holden a car that was (mainly) developed in Germany.
    Just have a look at Opel’s entry in Wikipedia. 😉

  2. That, Mr Wade, is so well written it should be published in every major Automotive magazine in the world.

    Not only are you a better than average writer. Ive been reading this site for a few years and I must say that the last 6 months or so you’ve improved greatly.

  3. Bravo, a great write up and read.

    Definition of luxury varies according to which country you are in as well. eg, in US luxury seem to mean bigger, more, brasher )or so us europeans seem to think how Americans define luxury).

    For me personally, luxury means finess in execution.

  4. It is not all perceived oppulence and little sense.
    The amount of ‘stars’ held by a hotel comes down to a checklist which, going from four to five stars, is really just a bunch of crap. As a client it mostly comes down to noticing better fixtures or 24/7 catering.
    But some hotels go the whole way, really caring about guests, offering extreme attention to details. Some hotels in Paris go as far as taking pictures of how regular guests hang their clothes in the closet. So as to hang the dry cleaning precisely as the customer wants if some dry cleaning has to be done. These hotels do not necessarily cost more than other 5-star hotels. They just make the effort to deserve the rating. There is no senseless spending in such a case.

  5. I feel you, Swade… I grew up in a middle-lower class family in a very rich area in the US. My first car was a nice-looking 1985 Chevy Camaro RS (6-cylinder) and it was way more than I should have gotten; I have awesome parents. Needless to say, most the kids in the area turned their noses to it as it was more than 5 years old, a V6 and it was Porsche, BMW, Audi, MB or a $35K + sports car.

    I miss that car, it was awesome. Nothing like just a simple interior, a strong engine and a good manual transmission.

    Ying, you’ve almost hit it on the head. Luxury is different for everyone. I still don’t understand how any of my fellow Americans can consider a hummer or a LR as a luxury vehicle. They are too big/inefficiently used by those who buy luxury brands. But they do, go figure.

  6. The next time you’re in the Cleveland area, visit the High Maintenance Bed & Breakfast near downtown Painesville, Ohio situated in an 1830’s century home.

    The top-of-the-line luxury suite is decorated with Swedish pictures, radiator hoses, and memorabilia (including the grille and back seat of SAAB 900S!) scrounged up from the owner’s basement and garage. Wireless broadband internet access is available at no extra charge. Every morning, you’ll be awakened to the sounds of elementary children running downstairs at exactly 7 AM—no matter how late you went to bed the night before—with no exceptions! (What a deal!)

    You’ll be happy to know that breakfast is complimentary and completely gluten (and taste) free! An optional room with a view is available for those wanting to sleep in the attic and look out the vent. The master bathroom includes a stand alone bathtub conveniently located next to the community toilet while the basement garden hose shower includes spontaneous jets of water pointing in several directions. Who needs a hot tub anyway? (What a deal!)

    At the moment the High Maintenance Bed & Breakfast is currently out of Swedish loaner cars, but for those not wanting to drive the Jaguar our patented bungee cord SAAB grille will make you feel right at home in any car. As you can well imagine, we’ll treat you like one of the family. (What a deal!)

    To reserve your room, just call 1-888-HI-MAINT and ask for the TS luxury suite. You’ll never regret it! (What a deal!)

  7. The Vauxhall version was the Viva . . . actually a rather perky little 1-liter (OK, litre). I had the basic model” The door-mounted armrests, seat belts, and passenger sun visor were extras. My mother had the deluxe model on which these and some pleats in the upholstery plus carpeted mats were standard (for $100 more or $1600 total). That defined luxury. In Canada GM had and has separate Chevy and Pontiac-Buick dealer networks so Pontiac stores got the Vauxhauls. Chevy dealers got a rebadged version called the Envoy Epic. These models were never sold in the US. I chose mine one fine winter day when my Austin Mini 850 totally died and the dealer offered me sales tax (about $50) on the trade-in because a mechanic agreed to rebuild the 850 to race it. I selected the first basic Viva on his lot that started that day at -30 (C or F, it’s about the same) with a foot of snow piled on top.

    Incidentally, my Mini 850 must have been the luxury model. It had a push button starter (but on the center hump–SAAB precursor?) just like the new BMWs etc. some 40 years later. That was indeed an innovative car (rubber cone suspension though, not the amazing “Hydrolastic” of Wade’s sister’s 1100). Totally unreliable electrics (they sold rubber boot kits to cover the distributor) but you could fix the car yourself on the kitchen table.

    Cheers,

    B

  8. That was a very well written piece. Nothing like a vacation to clear the mind…

    And there is nothing like a good steak. The wife and I went to Fleming’s in Akron, OH for our five year anniversary. I had a cajun seasoned steak that I still dream about from time to time…

    Glad to have you back, Swade.

  9. As the above attests, very well-written.

    I so feel you, brotha. This is every freakin’ week of my life. Two good hotels and one bad one. Or whatever.

    I’ve completely given up on so-called “full-service” hotels here. That is a complete misnomer! Everything is extra, the internet, the phone calls, the breakfast is exhorbitant, the drinks even more so. And, don’t even talk about the fax/package service charges. OY!

    Hampton Inn. I stay at the freakin’ Hampton. I could stay anywhere that I wanted, but I always end up back there. Breakfast, internet, cable, local phone calls, excercise room, coffee all free. Some of them even have complimentary beer and wine in the evenings. The best of it? There are no hassles. They already have the keys and etc. in the packet, I sign and go. I leave when I feel like it since they’ve already given me the bill at my room on checkout day. Beautiful.

  10. Like Mr. Grits and Swade, I too have noticed that some of the luxury hotels are really not a good deal. Every cheapo hotel on the Interstate (Hampton, Fairfield, Comfort, etc.) has free breakfasts and wi-fi, while the upscale hotels in the downtown area charge twice as much for the room, and charge for all the rest as well.

    I think the reason for it is that they cater to difference demographics. The downtown hotels cater to business travelers that don’t pay the bill themselves. So they can charge for wi-fi and breakfast and the traveler will charge their expense account. The smaller hotels cater to families with kids, vacationers, retirees, and so forth, who are paying out of their own pockets, and so want the best deal.

    I’m not sure that hotels relate that well to Saabs however, other than the fact that luxury is definitely in the eye of the beholder. To me a good value is the ultimate luxury.

  11. 1) saab’s approach to luxury focuses on being “untamed,” which also defines the spirit of the brand. unkempt. think clean, as well, though. philosophically, a block of ice and a reindeer pelt, for hotel bedding, compares. the boundaries that limit the competitors also provide motivation to break the rules, if done within the context of the theme; and

    2) can saab’s “untamed” spirit be translated into a positive characteristic of the brand’s identity (to attract more car buyers)? for example, the “ice-bed” lodging concept works because guests come to expect that experience. the “theme” frames the sophistication, or “luxury,” if you will. now, should the luxury of a saab be the logical equivalent of an ice bed in a swedish hotel?–i don’t know, but the approaches to identity (or “theme”) craft the consumer’s luxury expectation in both markets; and

    3) therefore, saab should either work to more firmly establish its “unpolished” approach or literally go all (perceived) upscale, like lexis, bmw, m-benz, cadillac, etc. those brands can “get away” with “theme-based,” premium pricing, probably as easily as $400-a-night hotels “getting away” with hard beds, grimy windows, single bath, no milk or internet….

  12. Talonderiel – Hot damn, you DID have great parents!

    I can’t thank my dad enough for getting me my car, he had to fight for it (he had sold it to the guy that originally owned it with the provision that he would buy it back when I got my license. The guy did not want to sell it back to him when the time came because it’s just that awesome of a car).

    Luxury, schmuxury. Gimme a bed, hot water, and broadband, and the rest is just gravy. Leave opulence to high-end Caddies.

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