Saab’s next all-new vehicle to be unveiled to the public is a little way away at the moment, but I’d like to talk about one aspect of it here today. This post might not win me too many friends, either at the factory or out there in enthusiast-land, but be that as it may….. I’d like to put forward some personal thoughts about nomenclature.
Saab’s next vehicle release will be the most important vehicle release in the company’s history. Why? Because it will replace the current Saab 9-3. This is Saab’s bread-and-butter. Traditionally, it’s the vehicle size that we sell the most, and it’s the vehicle segment that our customers spend the most time shopping around in. I don’t want to sound too dramatic about this (though I’m not sure I can be too dramatic about it, to be honest), but if this vehicle fails, we’re toast.
Given those dire, all-encompassing consequences, I think it’s worth a little extra time thinking about every aspect of this vehicle, including something that can set the tone just right, if it’s done correctly – the vehicle’s name.
Saab has used a couple of different nomenclature schemes over its history. The common thread is that all but a few of them have involved the number 9. We started with an ascending two-digit code in the Saab 92, got all the way up to the Saab 99 and then went to three digits. Then four digits.
Finally, in a bid to do something new for a new generation of vehicles, we went to our current nomenclature, which is written 9-3 and 9-5 but badged rather cleverly with a to-the-power-of look. It’s modern, it places our vehicles in segments that are logically ordered, segments that can be compared with other manufacturers.
But is it right?
Personally speaking, I’d say both yes and no. I don’t have a problem with our current nomenclature at all, except that I wonder if it’s going to set our new vehicle, our most important vehicle, apart from the rest like it should.
Can we do better? Well, after watching a video a few days ago, an idea came into my head and personally speaking, I think we can.
Some have accused Saab of going too much into BMW territory by naming our vehicles with similar names to the ones that BMW use to segment their vehicle series (3, 5, etc). I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. As I said before, it’s logical, clean it looks great on the cars.
But I think there’s another German manufacturer that we can take a look at and perhaps learn something from. Check out this video from the Frankfurt Motor Show……
The particular part that you’re looking for occurs at 1:51 in the video.
Right there, you have legendary Porsche driver Walter Röhrl saying the following:
For me, if I talk of Porsche, I talk of 911.
And what he says is absolutely true.
Porsche have made a range of outstanding purpose-built sports cars over the years but the one that traces a line through the last four decades of the company’s history is the 911. When they tried to replace it with the 928 in the 1980’s they learned very quickly, and it almost cost them their very existence, that the 911 was what their fans wanted.
Porsche now have different names to differentiate the generations – 993, 996, 997, etc – but the over-arching name that I can guarantee they’ll never let go of again is 911. And with that, I can also offer extremely short odds on them ever changing the basic formula that makes that car – boxer engine hanging out the back, race breeding, etc. Porsche now make a full line including a sedan and SUV, but I’ll wager those high-profit vehicles are primarily built to finance the cars that the company stakes its reputation on – its sports cars.
So what of the replacement for the Saab 9-3?
After reading the section above, you shouldn’t be too surprised to hear me say that I think Saab should bring back the 900 name.
Note: I’m not talking about rebuilding old 900s here. What I’m talking about creating a new legend and then attaching Saab’s most iconic name to it.
So why bring back the 900 badge? The reasons are many:
- The 900 badge still has plenty of currency. Poll after poll asking people what their favourite Saab is has shown that the 900 is still the people’s favourite after all these years.
- Saab made their early reputation on rally wins in Europe. They gained a worldwide following in the showroom because of the 900. Take my home market in Australia, for example. In Australia, you’ll find a handful of Saab 96s and a larger number of 99s. It was the 900, though, that saw the company get real brand recognition downunder. And that story would be the same for many markets around the world. The 900 is the model that really globalised Saab Automobile in a big way.
- Perhaps the biggest reason of all is to create the expectation of excellence. The Saab 900 is a vehicle that people loved for a number of reasons. It’s going to be up to our engineers and designers to recreate those experiences in a modern vehicle that fulfills the expectations of Saab customers in this segment. There can be no higher or more worthy expectation or goal than the Saab 900.
Basically, what I’m suggesting here is that we rebuild, preserve and hang on to one of our icons. I don’t even think they’d need to change the other badges in the range to do it, either. Porsche has the 911 and then it has a range of badges for other vehicles. Granted, those badges are alpha names rather than numerical, but I’m not sure it would make that big a difference.
Companies around the world pour millions into branding and trying to build iconic imagery for themselves. Saab had an icon in the 900 that it was forced to abandon, to some degree, but has a genuine opportunity to reclaim – and it’s an icon that’s still got plenty of value. I’d be happy to argue that the 900 badge still has as much currency as the 9-3 badge we use right now.
There’s one thing that must be present for Saab to do this. It’s non-negotiable and Saab shouldn’t even consider this without the following condition being present.
It has to be the right car. The Saab 900 became a cult hero because it offered so much to its owners:
- It had curious styling that forced people to have an opinion. It wasn’t a classical beauty, but a functional beauty that could end up looking damn hot in the right clothes.
- It had the typical no-compromises approach to safety that Saab was famous for.
- It had fantastic equipment, wonderful interior design and materials.
- It had a combination of practicality and performance that was unmatched by any regular sedan in its time. You could take it to the track in the morning, the hardware store in the afternoon and the opera in the evening – and it wouldn’t be out of place in any of them.
The replacement for the Saab 9-3 has to offer these qualities as well as a few new ones that the modern age allows for. If it does these things, it’s a chance to win those customers we need, and it’ll also be a worthy inheritor of Saab’s most famous name.
I can hear the protests now…… WE CAN’T GO RETRO!
And I agree.
But this is talking about a name only, and a name that symbolises Saab for many people like the 911 symbolises Porsche for many others. The key, once again, is to get the car right. If the car is thoroughly modern and delivers an outstanding driving and ownership experience, then any concerns about being ‘retro’ will go out the window.
Again, we’re not talking about rebuilding old 900s here. Or even cars that look like the 900. We’re talking about creating a new legend, with the real and intangible qualities that made the 900 outstanding, and then attaching Saab’s most famous name to it.
Instant warmth. Instant recognition. An icon that has currency built-in from the start. And for Saab’s own creative types – it’s one hell of a reputation to live up to.
Your thoughts are welcome below…….