Detroit Thoughts – pt 1

In two weeks time I’ll be well on my way to Los Angeles, where I’ll be spending a day prior to heading further north to Detroit for the North American International Auto Show.

From sleepy hollow to the epicenter of the motoring business in the US.

There’ll be a show to see, but I don’t imagine I’ll be spending all of my time there. The 9-4x concept unveiling will, of course, be really important for Saab’s future and that’ll be covered in full. I’ll get all the pictures I can and find out every last detail about the car and it’ll all be here for you to pore over.

The rest of my time, however, is going to be spent doing something that’s perhaps more important. I’m going to be spending quite a bit of time in the company of Saab people. Of course, there’ll be the Saab USA people. That’s a given. But there’ll also be some Swedes there, most notably Knut Simonsson from the Saab Brand Center in Sweden.

And there’s one thing in particular I want from this trip, from this time with Saab’s reps at the biggest motor show in the world:

Hope.

I love Saabs. I love the 900 that I own. I love the 99T that I used to own even more than that. And my Viggen? Pure passion. I even love my 1994 Saab 9000CS, which is basically just a big comfy cruiser. I love the Saab 9-5 and I love the 2008 Saab 9-3 as well. I love the history of the brand and the fact that they started from nothing and are still around today.

What I want is for them to be around tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that.

I’m grateful to GM that Saab are still around and readily acknowledge that they may not be if GM hadn’t bought in. But I’m also very aware that GM’s priorities are vastly different from those of an enthusiast market, and that worries me when it comes to Saab.

GM are a global company. Saab were a tiny company. GM have a worldwide team of designers and engineers working on various brands, sometimes from one day to the next. Saab were a tiny company with a small band of designers and engineers – and they made Saabs.

I don’t want to sound ‘brandist’ here, but it does worry me sometimes when I think that the same people that designed the Holden Epica might one day work on a Saab. You couldn’t find a less Epic car than the Epica if you tried. Holden had to offer it with a satisfaction guarantee, where they’d refund your money towards that purchase of a more satisfying car, in order to sell it. It’s more underwhelming than alfalfa.

And when I saw this recent press release from Chevy in the US, I worried even more:

Expanding its range of capabilities, Chevrolet now offers a new, 6.2L small-block V-8 in the Tahoe LTZ in 2008. Rated at 380 horsepower (283 kW) and equipped with advanced technologies, it is the most powerful engine offered in the Tahoe lineup.

You see, this sort of thing really does worry me.

SUV sales are plummeting as buyers move toward more car-based offerings. Fuel costs are slowly but consistently rising, and someone at GM thinks that it’s wise to bring out a Tahoe variant with an even bigger, more powerful engine.

It worries me that this person might one day come to work at Saab.

I, like you, have only one life to live. In the first 37 years of this life that I have, I’ve developed a strong affinity with cars and a love of driving. In particular, I’ve come to love Saabs. And Alfas, but mostly Saabs. I spend multiple hours per day reading and writing about them because I like to share the passion and enthusiasm I have for them.

So one thing I really, really want from this Detroit trip is some concrete, real, more-than-words assurance from Swedish Saab people that the company is currently resting in safe hands. Not deep pockets, but safe hands. If I’m wasting my time writing this stuff and what we’re going to get in 5 years from now is an Epica with a Saab badge and a 6.2L V8, then let me off the train here.

Be honest. Don’t give me the spin. Show. Me. The. Money.

And don’t give me the Aero-X as an assurance. We’re never going to drive an Aero-X and “styling cues” aren’t going to cut it.

——

I don’t know what they can give, but the more boneheaded moves I see in other parts of GM, the more I worry about whether, or when, such boneheadedness is going to have a material effect on Saab.

I’m sure there’ll be more thoughts on this and other things as Detroit looms larger on my mental calendar.

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17 Comments

  1. No Swade don’t give up ! We count on you to federate all of us around the same values for the 50 coming years !
    It’s really sad that Saab the tiny , was spoiled by GM the giant , we do agree .
    Until now , there were almost no damages but you knows what will be the future made of ?
    We count on GM to respect the genuine state of mind which made of Saab a special product . Otherwise , Saab enthusiasts will be a spece protected by the WWF

  2. I totaly agree with you, it’s time to see some intellligent thinking behind the future development of Saab and their cars. I hope that is what the future will bring, but as you say, when certain “powers” are involved you can never be quit sure, too bad!

  3. Wait for the new 9-5 until desperation sets in. This will be the true sign of what future Saab vehicles will be like.
    I don’t think the 9-4x will be the Saabiest thing out there (just a gut feeling), but the 9-7x isnt either…however, it has done well for sale$.

  4. Honest and well said. Thank you for being candid. I see your point and understand 100%.

    Some recognition that your faith and effort isn’t misplaced.

  5. as you meet with saab reps, i’m sure you’ll get a lot of that great line, “oh, you’re that guy.”

    on a more serious note, i hope they’ll show you the confidential sketches they showed the dealers, who, apparently, were mollified enough to be optimistic about the future of saab. a quick litmus test, though, should be the 9-4x, if it debuts at the show. if they didn’t do it right, it could mean that other saabs, in the pipeline, are skewed, as well. new saabs, from here on out, need to be more competitive in design, features, and performance. they need to capture one’s imagination; not just look like gm’s “cousins.”

    and the big, “thirsty” engine for the tahoe doesn’t bother me. seems like most of the truck and suv commercials tout “power,” be it in hp or in towing capacity. that’s what consumers want to hear. gas is still too cheap for “joe or jane schmo,” in the u.s., to be traumatized by the price. (bottled water seems to cost more.)

    now i’m really excited to see the next saab.

  6. Thanks for all your efforts Swade. I’ve been noticing some boneheaded moves on GM’s part too and I’m really hoping that Saab can survive (insert Borg reference here). If GM is only interested in using the Saab badge on its own cars in the future, then I’ll be saying goodbye. I’m really hoping GM will have the sense to LEVERAGE the talent in Trollhattan and allow Trollhattan to keep making great, distinctive Saabs! On a somewhat separate note, I bought my last 9-3 at Saab Nashua North (Nashua, New Hampshire), and like to browse their website from time to time just to see what’s new. It has always been a nice dealership, and there were many Saab enthusiasts working there. You can imagine my surprise when I logged on to the site recently (http://www.saabnashuanorth.com/) to see an image of a Chevy pickup truck right on the home page! I don’t know what’s going on with Saab dealerships in New England, but they’re all being absorbed by the collective one by one. They’re being sold with nastymobiles (Cadillacs) and Hummers, and in this case, Chevys. Sorry GM, but your cars have always been light years apart from Saabs (below par). Selling them under the same roof just seems like a bad strategy, and creates the false impression that Saabs are just high-end Chevys really, with a few different options and body panels. I know this is not true (at least for now), but that is the impression people are starting to get because of all the homogenization. My next door neighbor recently commented that he liked my 9-3 (it’s a 2001 three door, 2.0l), and used to drive Saabs years ago but was afraid to get one after GM took total ownership. He was afraid they would “end up being just another GM piece of crap” (his words). If GM had any sense, it would leverage resources from Saab but also allow Saab to keep it’s unique identity. GM seems to be using the Saab name in context with its other brands in an effort to make it’s own brands seem better. Unfortunately, this will only serve to make potential customers (and loyalists) think less of Saab. It scares me to think of a single design center working on all GM brands. I do understand it’s necessary to share resources at times, but unless Saab is allowed some independence from a design and engineering perspective from other GM brands, there won’t be any reason to own one in the future! GM, PLEASE do not let this happen!!

  7. In Tennessee for Christmas. Convenient time to drop in to a local dealership to have a service-recall (a software update) performed on my 2007 9-3 2.0T 6-speed SC. The dealership sells Cadillacs and SAABs. Very polite. Quick service. Washed the car. Two SAABs in the show room, muscled aside by a herd of Cadillacs, none of which any sensible person would want. Inexplicably expensive, unimaginatively designed, cheaply appointed. Several monotonous sedans. A ludicrous golf cart. A severely pimped-up truck — a black-and-bling Escalade — for $70,000 (US) and change. A shipment of additional Escalades being unloaded outside. The Escalades, being light trucks, had no EPA fuel-economy rating, no yearly cost-of-fuel estimate, no vehicular-obscenity score. The SAABs — looking neat, trim, swift, conscientious, and clever in their appointed corner — said nothing, no doubt embarrassed by their cousins’ dress, demeanor, and gluttonous carbonaceous appetites. What could The General be thinking? (Does The General think at all anymore?)

  8. I love it…….”vehicular-obscenity score” indeed! If such records were kept, Escalade owners might have to register at the town hall!

    😉

  9. just a note to MarkS….Saab Nashua North actually took over the Chevrolet, dealership. The owner Bob Lajoie still holds the Saab franchise and has alot of new and late model saabs in stock. So don’t despair at least not yet!

  10. Some moron printed a picture of a CTS coupe rendering (rather than the actual CTS) in a car ad. THAT’S hope. A CTS coupe would almost certainly mean an eventual 9-3 coupe, because GM likes to make sure that all of it’s marques offer the same exact things. :p

    Swade – That 6.2L V8 was already offered in the GMC Denali, a Tahoe variant. I think that makes it ok that they put it in the Tahoe, since they’re variants of eachother. This same thinking begat the 9-7X Aero, which I think is an awesome SUV, as far as SUV’s go.

    MarkoA – Anyone that says “just another GM piece of crap” doesn’t know what they’re talking about, anyway. At this point, GM as a whole is definitely the most reliable, overall, of the Big 3, and their cars are much, much nicer than any comparable Ford or Chrysler. Actually, “doesn’t know what they’re talking about” is too harsh. Your friend can’t move past the 80s and 90s. GM cars as a whole were pretty crappy then.

    RHS – “Inexplicably expensive, unimaginatively designed, cheaply appointed”

    They’re expensive because they’re worth it, the DTS and STS are old and are on their ways out and will be replaced in the next few years by a single, new model so it’s not fair to trash their designs, and I have no idea how anyone can call the CTS’s design “unimaginative”, and I don’t really know what you mean by “cheaply appointed”. Every Cadillac I’ve ever been in has been comfortable as hell and has had great bits of trim, especially the newer ones.

    I don’t try to hide the fact that I love Cadillac, and I don’t expect everyone else here to hide their disdain for it, but you’ve gotta have a better reason to hate them then “I don’t like how they look”. That’s entirely personal taste. Give me a better reason. Also, don’t you tell me Cadillacs are obscene, have you seen recent BMWs? THAT’S obscenity.

    One more thing, dammit, I’ve ridden in an Escalade, and it was soooo comfortable. The first-gens were kinda crappy, but all the other ones serve their purpose well. And I’m tired of hearing about how “blinged-out” Escas are. So it’s got a chrome grille. It’s no more ostentatious than a new 9-5 or a new BMW.

  11. Jeff like you I am also a Saab AND Cadillac fan. I have driven the new CTS and it is as good as advertised. The thing folks have to remember is that Cadillac is a cash cow for GM, especially the Escalade. If Cadillac does well that is good for Saab as GM needs to make money on all of it’s brands.

  12. I have to agree with Jeff. Although Cadillacs are not my type of car, they’re well appointed, well made and offer some neat and powerful engines. This is especially true for the new models – dare I say they even look more distinctive that the pre-facelift Saab 9-3? I have no love for the brand, but enough respect.

    Also, I tend to disagree with the conclusion that just because GM is selling big trucks with gas-guzzling V8s this is necessarily the future of Saab. GM is a diverse, global corporation that wants to cater to every market niche. Perhaps Texans don’t give a rat’s ass how much a gallon costs and all they want is their V8 400 hp blinged-out pickups and SUVs. As market dictates, if there is demand for a product, there will be supply, too.

    In a somewhat silly comparison, VW produces vehicles as far separated from each other as the Bugatti Veyron and the VW Lupo. One runs out of gas quicker than a road train, the other one can probably last on a tank for weeks on end. But this does not mean all VW products are gas-guzzling monsters.

  13. Kroum – That was a bit of a potshot at Texans, there. I know I sure as hell wouldn’t want a wimpy-ass teatotler of an SUV, if I had to drive one, I’d want a big honkin’ V8.

    But that’s just me.

  14. I hit Post too quickly.

    That isn’t to say that I’m not happy that other people agree with me and can see past their bias. I mean, jeez, if you don’t like Cadillacs, that’s cool, I understand, they’re not for everybody, but don’t say they make crappy cars, because they most certainly do not.

  15. I’ll gladly take a crack at Caddy. Part of my dislike is the styling, which I find positively pukeworthy. Not for me, but good luck to those who like it.

    Part of my dislike is for the money Caddy gets to develop and spread worldwide to markets that don’t need it. Some of that money could have landed us a 9-5 already. I honestly believe that, and I’d much rather see that.

    The other part of my dislike is what Caddy represents to me – very conspicuous consumption. It’d blow Clarkson’s cockometer off the map in most instances. Some people like that, but I’m not one of them.

    Funny though, as that’s what Cadillac’s supposed to be. Why don’t they take it to the limits and leave it in America, where it belongs.

    Cadillac has never been a success outside its own market and evidence seems to indicate that this latest push is failing as well.

    It’s well-covered that perhaps GM has too many brands. Isn’t the effort to expand these brands into markets where they’re not going to succeed just compounding the problem? There’s no economies of scale in having to develop a brand from scratch in 30, 40 or 50 new markets, regardless of its name.

    Keep Caddies in the US.

    Having said all that, hopefully I’ll get a chance to drive one, or ride in one next month. Then I’ll feel more qualified to say all this.

    ——

    I’ve heard a guy at Saab USA say a similar thing to that said by Frank A – if Caddy do well it’s good for Saab. Actually, the guy at Saab said it more like “GM can’t be considered successful without Cadillac being successful”

    That scares me, because it makes Cadillac’s success almost seem like an obsession for GM’s head honchos. If that’s really the case then we’ve got some problems.

    Saab need some investment, not crumbs from Caddy’s table.

  16. I wish they would put as much money and effort into racing Saabs as they put into racing Cadillacs. I like the line “Race what you sell.” I just wish they would extend that thinking to Saab a little more.