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April 2010: the editor's take on things SAAB-Spyker

SAAB news from around the globe: April 2010Just before Easter, SeriousSAAB received advance news about new shape 9-5 prices and specification information through the SAAB grapevine.

The race was on to publish before the official release of SAAB's own website updates and the new brochure. We managed to achieve this and while not exactly a world first, it is always good to be 'in the loop'.

Without the patronage of General Motors, SAAB would have withered and perished a long time agoNot only has nearly all the information provided proved accurate but also conjecture about detailed differences in specification has been very close to the mark. With the benefit of time to study the final specifications in detail, the overall assessment of the new car is good and the difference between the new car and the outgoing model merely underscores the inescapable fact that a new model was desperately overdue. Critics of former owners General Motors have always cited lack of investment and poor understanding of the marque and its followers as key reasons contributing to unprofitability but the fact remains that without GM support, SAAB would have withered and perished a long time ago. Make no mistake, not only the new 9-5 but the eventual 9-3 replacement will be heavily dependent upon GM technology and this is no bad thing.

The author always joked with long time SAAB drivers that GM bean counters clamped down on unnecessary 'fripperies' like under bonnet lights and nice touches like gloves and a plastic bag for dirty spare wheels (SAAB 9000) but their real contribution was insisting upon the use of existing components and GM technology. Achieving this was less easy than might be imagined because engineers at Trollhattan have a track record of digging in their heels when it suits them - fierce resistance in the collaboration with FIAT, Lancia and Alf Romeo led to less than five components being shared across the joint venture that produced the SAAB 9000, Alfa 164, Fiat Croma and Lancia Thema. Collaboration with GM slashed development costs and bore fruits for owners buying certain brake and suspension replacement parts in the form of reduced cost price and greater availability than might otherwise have been the case.

Paltform does not mean base or bodyshell but refers to a few underlying core componentsThere seems to be a misunderstanding prevalent among pundits and the public alike concerning a term that is commonly bandied about in the media. That term is, of course, platform. In terms of motor vehicle manufacture, platform certainly does not mean base unit or bodyshell but only a few components that make up part of the floorpan, yet somehow, the public consciousness seems to have become imbued with the notion that cars that share platforms are identical clones. This has given rise to the idea that some SAABs are nothing more than rebadged Vauxhalls, which is patently untrue.

There is a new feeling of optimism at SAAB dealerships and amongst dyed in the wool enthusiasts.  After a dire year in which personnel associated with the brand all over the world feared for their jobs, people are starting to look forward to a promising future rather than the glory days of the past.  The charismatic and eminently likeable Victor Muller, however, is looking at the past and currently examining ways in which the very essence of iconic models such as the very first SAAB and even the 900 can be captured, distilled and incorporated into new models.  For many years, people have asked the author why SAAB did not make a small car and the response was always forthright: “SAAB haven’t the resources to make one”. 

Plans are nothing; planning is everythingFor the foreseeable future, SAAB-Spyker will rely heavily on GM technology but already SAAB are seeking new partners for a next generation product range.  It is known that BMW are keen to switch to front wheel drive and it is also known that SAAB are seeking a supply of proven engine designs.  Both companies could benefit enormously from a mutual exchange of knowledge.

While Operation Overlord was being developed during World War 2, General Eisenhower warned against complacency and over reliance upon a fixed plan. In effect, he was making an important distinction: plans are essential but essentially useless if they do not react, respond or adapt to events or changes in circumstances. It is a good mantra to adopt for business and whilst SAAB can benefit from a rash of new ideas and consider new alliances, prudence is called for to balance a new wave of enthusiasm that envisages new markets and ground breaking products.

Victor Muller has declared that he is keen to see a smaller SAAB in the iconic tradition of the Mini and the VW Beetle but choosing the correct partner for the project will be essential because SAAB simply has no experience in this fiercely competitive market sector. Brand traction will only be attainable if the product is focused, different and properly developed. Computer software isn't the only thing that needs to be debugged: when Mercedes-Benz resolved to break into the compact car market and add a new line of business in the guise of their A class range, the press latched onto the now notorious Elk tests which exposed an unfortunate handling trait. Such problems merely serve to underline the fundamental importance of choosing the correct business partner and since the end product will need to be perceived as up market, the choice of potential suitors will be limited.

In Trollhattan...
We hear that production of the new 9-5 is running at a steady 1,000 units per month. This is good news but with the official launch just weeks away, it is clear that supply problems and waiting lists will be inevitable. In the UK, dealers report strong interest even though the full product range will not be available until release of the 2011 model year cars but in the USA, one commentator has expressed misgivings about the price structure. Obviously, as production has been only resumed recently, SAAB Spyker have wisely decided to match models to markets and it makes good marketing sense to supply the V6 Aero to the USA in greater numbers than to Europe and especially the UK where fuel prices and excise duty are punitive to the bigger car owner. Traditionally, cars bound for the USA have been better equipped than their UK counterparts os on balance the decision looks good.

In the USA...
Owners seeking to renew their 9-5s may struggle to find the $50,000 asking price for one of the new cars but the car is bigger, better and much more up to date than its predecessor. In the last few weeks, the author learned that SAAB Spyker have resolved to continue with the On Star telecoms package (not available outside North America). Curious readers here in the UK and elsewhere have probably never heard of the system, which, is actually rather clever.

OnStar is a telematics system available as an option on SAABs sold in North America from model year 2001. The company is a wholly owned subsidiary of General Motors and cars are supplied pre-wired from new so owners wishing to take advantage of the system only need the system activating by taking out a subscription. The service has various levels that combine GPS, hands free communication, route finding and can automatically summon emergency assistance in the event of an accident occuring in which the airbags are deployed.

In China...
First glimpse of the BA1 model 9-5 purchased from SAAB in 2009

As reports started to filter through that the new Chinese version of the old shape 9-5 (acquired from SAAB last year) had appeared at the Beijing Motor Show, the Just Auto editorial team report that Beijing Automotive Industry Holdings (BAIC) plan to build a large new production facility with capacity for 300,000 vehicles per year. This initiative together with the ongoing purchase of Volvo from Ford by Geely are clear signs that China is set to be a major player in global car manufacturing.

In the UK and Europe
We are receiving many reports of cars being affected by volcanic ash fallout, which, is essentially sand and very small particles of glass. Although air filters are more than capable of preventing particluates from being ingested by SAAB engines, damage is being caused to vehicle paintwork. Owners are urged to soak car paintwork with a hosepipe before using a proprietary vehicle shampoo (Note: do NOT use washing up liquid as this contains salt and other additives that will harm your paintwork!) and gently washing the car in the normal way. Do pay particular attention to buckets and sponges, which should be washed out thoroughly after use.



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