Will Saab get integrated Bluetooth in the US in 2009?

It’s been an ongoing issue here at Trollhattan Saab – trying to sort out the mess that GM’s passion for OnStar and the lack of Bluetooth availability.

If I had my wits about me last night I would have included it in the Top 9 things that I hope Christmas will help me forget.

Saab isn’t able to offer Bluetooth in the US. The official reason is because it’s not compatible with OnStar. This is spin. The real reason is because GM have some agreement with a phone company to supply phone minutes via OnStar. Therefore, if you want to make calls from your car, you can. You just have to use OnStar’s overpriced minutes and forego your right to consumer choice.

The last word that we had on this here at Trollhattan Saab came from Jan-Willem Vester of Saab USA a few months ago:

Followed up with my Saab product colleagues regarding our conversation on Bluetooth. There’s light at the end of the tunnel: just like currently the case with the all-new Cadillac CTS, the Saab 9-3 will be getting the newest version of OnStar with integrated Bluetooth phone capabilities. No firm date yet, but it is coming. We will let you know as soon as we have more details.

This was all well and good, but there were still no firm details. I should mention that in comments to that post, someone has reproduced an email sent to Jan-Willem, where he’s reminded of these comments and queried as to whether any future system could be retrofitted. This guy was an eight-time Saab customer and considered changing brands because of the lack of Bluetooth.

Anyway, back on track…..

The latest news on this front comes from GM’s FYI blog where a commenter asked the Bluetooth question and received the following response:

The Cadillac STS is currently equipped with Bluetooth technology, and we (General Motors) will offer the broadest rollout of Bluetooth in the industry by making it available on more than 30 models across all eight North American brands by the 2009 model year. We have already set the industry standard when it comes to in-vehicle safety, security and information services with OnStar, and are poised to be a leader in Bluetooth integration in the very near future.

So I guess the next big question is whether or not a Saab will be one of those thirty vehicles in the 2009 model year to come with OnStar’s safety features AND Bluetooth compatability?

And if so, which model(s) will get it?

I’d suggest new models, so maybe the 9-4x will be built with this new system wired in. It’d seem crazy not to offer it on the 9-3 given the volume it sells, too.


As an aside (I’m still cranky) – it totally cheezes me off how news like this is delivered with the tag “we’ll have the biggest lineup of Bluetooth integration in the industry”.

How about starting off with “we listened to our customers and realised that we were way behind the 8-ball and so now we’re doing something about it. Sorry for taking so long……”

No-one can admit an error there. I’m convinced.

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  1. Will the Turbo X be an ’08 or an ’09? Will Saab’s most sophisticated automobile lack Bluetooth at its introduction?

    (I care because I’m about to put money down on a Turbo X.)

  2. Ken, I’m pretty sure the Turbo X will be a 2008. They do have “.5” models in autoworld, so this would be a MY2008.5 thing.

    Therefore, I’m quite sure it won’t have Bluetooth. Check with your dealer to be sure, but I’d put money on it.

    Having said that, for a model like a Turbo X with it’s full features and place in Saab’s model history, this issue wouldn’t stop me if I were in your position. But that’s me.

  3. It stands to reason that Bluetooth would go upmarket first, then move down after the premium brands are taken care of…one would think…

  4. tlhurlbut – …Acura has OnStar in Japan? That doesn’t seem right at all.

    Swade, calm down. Better late than never, right? Can you really blame GM for pushing it’s own service? They probably dumped a lot of money into OnStar and they want people to use it. At least GM is seeing the light now rather than wait until it’s really too late.

    My guess is that they’ll overhaul the OnStar system to use Bluetooth so they can say they weren’t wrong about OnStar.

  5. Calm down?

    Which bit of this post indicates that I need to calm down? I’ve been nodding like a canine dashboard ornament at GM’s spin for the best part of a year now. I think it’s OK to call it for what it is every now and then, isn’t it?

    I think the prevailing opinion is that whilst OnStar has some exceptionally good safety services, the decision about making it non-Bluetooth was a boneheaded one. GM won’t say that, but I think it’s OK for interested parties to do so.

    If they’re going to introduce Bluetooth (finally) then great. Like you say, better late than never. But do’t go saying how fantastic you are when all you’re doing is playing catchup after denying your customer’s interests in favour of your own. Just announce it without the dressing and the self-promotion.

  6. Actually, can you explain me what is the big deal in Bluetooth, whay do you need it so desperatly? What is the practical application which is so important to have the BT integrated in the car that you can’t live without it?
    I think, it’s just the same situation like the V8 and the 300+ HP, and it’s a bit “childish” for me: I want it ’cause the other kids on the playground have one…

  7. Ivan, I agree with you on the Bluetooth….. I don’t really have a need for it. Others do, I guess.

    If I wasn’t a college student, I’d love to have another 300+ HP V8…. I’ll admit, I’m childish when it comes to burnin’ some rubber πŸ˜€

  8. It ‘ll have to do with the fact that I live in Europe, but I’m always amazed at the debates you guys have about Bluetooth. My 9-3 is a 2005-model. Saab didn’t offer integrated bluetooth at the time, much to my surprise, as any other competitor in the European market had it in comparable vehicles (A4, 3-siers, S60, …). So I had a Sony kit installed for my cell phone. Case closed. I talk to a mic that is attached near the rear view mirror, and the other party is coming out of the speakers. All system sounds are suppresed, so it functions just like a real integrated Bluetooth system. I do have a small interface box just behind the stick, so that I can pick up and shut off calls – but that’s it.

    The current 2008 model has in-built Bluetooth – at least in Europe. And for those of you who cannot understand why that is easy, well: you just enter your car, you start the engine and off you go. Any call you get from there on is directed through the car’s system. You step out of the car, cell phone still in your pocket, and you don’t have to do anything as it disconnects automatically. It beats “docking” you cell phone in your car, there’s no doubt about that.

  9. Ivan – a quick rationalization for Bluetooth integration is that many US states only allow operation of wireless phones inside cars in a “hands-free” configuration.

    OnStar’s calling solution is basically a separate cell phone account – that’s OK when calling out, but if someone calls your normal cell number OnStar doesn’t help.

    I think it’s puzzling from GM’s perspective – I bet they can make more $$ by charging for an optional bluetooth wiring harness up front than they make from Verizon for OnStar subscribers that pay for a calling minutes.

    The same opportunity is out there to make money on iPod integration – does any GM vehicle besides the Chevy HHR have the “Personal Audio Link” yet?

  10. Actually, first of all I don’t like to make phone conversation in car. It doesn’t matter if I use handsfree set, it definitly reduces my concentration to the traffic.
    I use a 100 USD Bluetooth kit called Supertooth light. I just put it onto the sun shader (fixed by a magnet) and push it to get the mic out, it automatically connects to my phone, and that’s all.
    The sound quality is good, nobody complained until now. The only weakness is that it doesn’t mute the audio of the car, but I can do it with one touch on the console.
    The BT integration costs 375 GBP (750 USD) by the Saab UK.
    So, does it really worth to pay 7,5 times more?

  11. Sure – there are always some DIY solutions that US owners can use.

    I think Swade’s point, though, was that, with OnStar standard on all US Saabs in 2008, there is no Bluetooth option available from the dealer at any cost – not even as a Saab accessory. (see hughw’s comment in the post linked above regarding Jan-Willem Vester)

  12. Brave new world!
    I couldn’t even think before that a really part like a BT in the car which has only very minor importance and not an essential component at all, can generate an issue like this…
    It’s much more inportant how safe, economic, powerful, stylish is, what materials they use inside, how well built is the car.
    I hope that people will choose the cars by their real values, not by some short term fashion trends…
    I mean, I can not imagine that the missing of the BT could be an argue to don’t buy Saab…

  13. Unfortunately Ivan, for many, the lack of BT is a valid argument for not getting a Saab. As other have mentioned, in some states it’s illegal to use a hand held device while driving. Also, factor in that many people use their car as their office. Times change; cell phones are not really a fashion trend, they are a way of life now.

    Sorry, but a $70 BT add-on in my $30k just doesn’t sit well with me – not when the technology is there to fully integrate it into the car like just about every other manufacturer out there. Even a Nissan Sentra has BT integration. I don’t want some cheap add-on clipped to my visor making my car look about as advanced as a 1978 Toyota Corolla. Saab (and GM) needs to stop playing catch-up and stop forcing something that their own customers don’t want. The retention rate for Onstar is estimated to be around 40-50%. I can understand not bringing BT into the 2003 9-3 if there were issues with development but to simply deny your customers something they want because of pride or greed is foolish and short-sighted.

    Listening and responding to your customers is the way the Germans and Japanese have been chipping away at the American manufacturers. GM needs to wake up, open their ears and give the customer what they truly want, not what GM thinks they want.

  14. Ivan, don’t be a luddite. In our 24/7 connected world having a built-in handsfree solution is mandatory, especially for a car that deems itself “luxury”. Name one brand that Saab competes with that does not already provide Bluetooth.

  15. I’m intrigued by this discussion. Living in Sweden, one of the countries in the absolute forefront when it comes to mobile phone- and computer technology, I never heard of Bluetooth as a “must have” thing. I actually asked some of my friends on the consulting business that drive around a lot to visit customers. None of them uses BT. So this is clearly a thing that should be taken with a grain of salt… Sure, other brands have BT but I really don’t think it is *that* important to have. It’s definitely not a “if Saab don’t have BT NOW they will loose truckloads of sale” thing.

  16. I definitely not a luddite. I have BT handsfree set in my Viggen, I have lot of gadgets.
    But we should put things in their right place and recognize their real importance.
    I don’t think that 9-3 is a luxury car.

  17. I suppose you are right Saab isn’t a luxury brand, they just pretend to be. So tell Saab’s marketing department to stop their comparisons to Audi and BMW. It is time to admit Saab justs tries compete with VW and Subaru. In a perfect world Saab wouldn’t think twice about offering this feature and a host of other small optional features that could keep them upmarket.

  18. I’m what many would call a “Road Warrior.” I drive close to 1,000 miles (1,600 km) per week so my 2007 Saab 9-5 Aero SportCombi is, by necessity, my mobile office. My clients depend on being able to reach me on my mobile. I answer their calls with my left hand, shift gears with my right, and steer with my knees – not safe but it’s what I have to do to make a living and pay for the car! Unfortunately, my car has OnStar (I never use it) which hijacks the only aux input on the back of my Saab’s navigation system leaving me with no options to install a proper Bluetooth kit. I’ve tried the removable devices that Ivan refers to above and I’ve gone through a handful of Bluetooth headsets but none of them sound all that good and I find myself asking the caller to repeat themselves more than I should. My last car, an ’04 9-3SS was great since it did not have OnStar and therefor it had an open aux port on the back of the radio so I could plug in a BT kit. It muted my radio, allowed me to voice dial, recall the last number, etc. and the sound clarity was amazing. Being able to enter and exit the car while talking and having a call routed seamlessly between my car and mobile was a real plus but most importantly, it kept both of my hands on the wheel and my eyes on the road while driving. I’m glad GM is finally joining the Bluetooth rave just as other manufacturers are soon graduating from it and joining the A2D2 BT protocol or the Wireless USB future: http://www.usb.org/developers/wusb/

  19. As someone that owns a 20-year-old Saab and an 8-year-old Saab, I’m in favor of a more modular approach to interconnection of technology for cars.

    Bluetooth won’t be around forever; another standard will replace it at some point. Shoot, Bluetooth itself is already on the third major release (1.0, 1.1 and 2.0), and, depending upon the stack used, some BT devices will not pair with others even now.

    I really wish for a USB (or similar) plug-in Bluetooth module that could be easily swapped as wireless and digital audio technology progresses. That would mean that an 8-year-old car could still be used with today’s tech.

    A good part of me is with Ivan on this one, too. I really don’t desire the hyper-connected world in my car. I love technology — I’m even in the tech business — but I don’t like technology with a marginal return, and I view automotive Bluetooth in that category. Perhaps there will be a BT app that will come along a change my mind, but cell phone through the audio system just doesn’t do it for me.

  20. Eggs, you have to try a well execute BT setup before you knock it. My wife drives a 2006 Lexus IS 250 with integrated bluetooth. Whenever I receive a call in her car I am always amazed how convenient it is, how safe it is to not have to dig for my phone, and how clear the sound is.

  21. If BT happens to get introduced for Saab, any ideas on whether there will be an upgrade path for those of us who own a non-BT OnStar system?

  22. While I’m with Ivan and Eggs in thinking that Bluetooth isn’t (and shouldn’t be) a deal breaker, the fact remains that some people will not buy a car if it does not have BT. For those, Saab (GM) should at least have provisions for a dealer-installed BT option. My 14 (almost 15) year old Saab does not have BT. Heck, my cell phone is not even equipped with BT. I’ve never even used the tech. However, I am not the person that GM should be considering when they design their cars to exclude BT. Just make it a possibility!

    I think that proprietary gizmos in cars are a sign of arrogance on the part of the manufacturers. If a car is THAT much better than ANYthing else, then you can afford to say, “if you want this car, you have to use our stuff.” Very few cars are that good! Nothing GM makes is good enough for them to force equipment on you. GM should accommodate, not mandate.

    While I wouldn’t make a car-buying decision based on BT, I would consider foregoing a car because it HAS Onstar. How does that sit with you GM?

  23. Ditto — PGAero, well said.

    The proprietary and single-minded focus would be a thing of the past if the car (or anything, for that matter) were built with a future upgrade expected.

    In fact, I just might prefer a car with the connection, but no module at all! Let me choose my own preferred technology.

  24. Methinks yes for the 9-3, no for the 9-5.

    Per the GM fleet order documentation:

    9-3, dated 14 Dec:
    “(RPO Code VIC): Bluetooth phone interface, short-range voice recognition”

    9-5, dated 30 Nov:
    “Effective 12/3/2007, the following changes will be made to the Vehicle Order Guide:
    β€’ Interior section-(UE0) OnStar, not-installed, includes (VIC) pre-wiring for phone installation kit for Bluetooth
    interface, changed description to read “(UE0) OnStar, not-installed”.
    β€’ Interior section-(VIC) Bluetooth phone interface, short range voice recognition, deleted entirely.”

  25. For those who have not seen a good bluetooth integration into the car and why it’s important, may I suggest the following video:

    For an ok video showing good telematics in general…see this one

    Saab is way behind the curve on telematics. What Lexus, Acura, BMW and others have is just a class above.

  26. James, could I suggest that what Saab have on telematics in the US is way behind the curve. In australia we can get the integrated Bluetooth and I believe so in Europe as well (which is why the Europeans in comments here are wondering what the big issue is)

  27. I still don’t understand the technical reason why Saabs in Europe have Bluetooth capability but those in the U.S. don’t because of OnStar. Why is it that U.S. Saabs can’t have OnStar and Bluetooth? Is it because of Saab’s weird fiber-optic system? If that were the case it wouldn’t explain why you can’t have both in the 9⁡.

    Also, as has been brought-up numerous times U.S. Cadillacs have both OnStar and Bluetooth. Why not Saab?

    Also, “that Motorola Bluetooth add-on Saab was offering for the (non-SatNAV-equipped) 2003-2007 9Β³ and 9⁡: is that not available for the MY2008 9Β³? Why not?

  28. Gripen, On the Caddies it’s just the STS that has both factory Bluetooth and OnStar – not so even for the CTS.

    The Bluetooth module was only an option before 2008 without OnStar – now OnStar is standard equipment in the US and it monopolizes the connections to the mic and speakers (according to hughw’s dealer – after initially providing misinformation).

    GM’s statement was also covered by AutoBlog and Left Lane News yesterday – with comment threads similar to this one πŸ™‚

  29. GM’s statement was also covered by AutoBlog and Left Lane News yesterday – with comment threads similar to this one

    Similar, just not quite as enlightened πŸ™‚

  30. jeff. No the On-Star is on the 2005 Acura MDX along with integrated bluetooth in USA. Works great, All bluetooth features are controlled with steering wheel controls.

  31. I traded in my Saab for a BMW which had the bluetooth option, this being one of the reasons. Maybe if Saab/GM realizes that they have started to lose customers this will encourage them to add the option..?

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