Memo to a young, new Saab – please lower your prices

As I look forward to a new, wholly-owned-by-a-responsible-company version of Saab, I thought I’d dream a little of the Saab I’d like to see. These are just the thoughts of an enthusiast and I don’t really know how viable they are, but I don’t think they’re beyond being a possibility.
Designing, building, marketing and selling cars is a long-term project. Finger-snap solutions aren’t going to work. But what we’re all after is a long term future for Saab so that we can all buy their excellent vehicles for years to come.
These memos are just my thoughts about how that might happen.

Saab make great cars. I’ve driven almost everything in the current range and loved every minute of it. I’d be proud to have any of them in my driveway.
But let’s call a spade a spade here. One of the reasons Saabs have sold in small volumes for the last few years is because the models are perceived to be a little outdated (or a lot outdated in the case of the 9-5).
Another reason is because they aren’t competitively priced in many markets where they sell.
The Saab 9-3 in it’s most basic form (now called ‘Touring’ in the US) has a 2.0T engine and costs $31,135 according to the spec sheet I just looked up. It has a great high-pressure turbo engine. Styling is subjective but I love it. I’ll submit to you that the interior material quality is inferior to Saab’s suggested competitors in BMW and Audi. The car is reasonably well equipped, though there’s a lot of desirable equipment at that level that’s held over for the four variants above.
The Audi A4 that Eggs just picked up under his work-sponsored scheme is $1,000 less in its basic form. The styling is subjective, the performance figures are pretty much the same as the 9-3 and the interior materials and comfort are reputed to be amongst the best in class. This is an all-new car, too, which is pretty important to return customers.
The baseline BMW 328i has more power, reputedly better handling, very questionable styling and whilst it comes with decent standard kit, there’s a bucketload of options as well. It stickers at just over $33,000.
Objectively speaking, from the point of view of the standard buyer in this segment, the A4 will probably present as being the best value for money. That’s why Audi are handing BMW their own asses on a plate at the moment. The Saab 9-3, unfortunately, will be relegated by Joe Average to a distant third place. Drive it for a while and see how practical it is, factor in the safety, and a distant third possibly shouldn’t be the case, but Joe Average will be months into ownership of his Teuton long before he would have come to appreciate the Saab.
What we end up with, then, is a case where Saab have to add heavy incentives to their vehicles in order to sell them. This lowers resale and perceived brand prestige. It’s a lose-lose case for just about everyone.
What I believe Saab need to do in the future involves a choice between two things – price or specification.
They either price the vehicle realistically to create a new idea of brand value, or they equip and finish the car in such a way as to reinforce value perception at the current price.
Ditch the standard GM radio that you can get in a Chevy that’s half the price. Upgrade the interior materials to something more like a Hirsch interior. Provide stuff that should be standard equipment as standard equipment (hello, heated seats!).
There’s a conspiratorial belief that Saab have had to include a ‘GM premium’ in their prices. I don’t know if that’s the case and I don’t think it’s the case. But I hope that an independent Saab will be able to adjust its pricing to better reflect demand and better build some real brand value.
Comparative prices in other markets –
These are basic models and I’ve tried to do appropriate comparisons but some of the websites were a little difficult to navigate in foreign languages.
Saab 9-3 – $43,400
Audi A4 – $50,900
BMW 320i – $54,500
Great Britain
Saab 9-3 1.8t 150ps £22,080*
Audi A4 – £19,460
BMW 318i ES – £21,520
* There is a 1.8i version of the Saab 9-3 for 2K less, but really…..
Saab 9-3 – 239,900SEK *
Audi A4 – 266,300SEK
BMW 318i – 260,000SEK
* There is a 1.8i version of the Saab 9-3 for less, but really…..
Saab 9-3 Linear 1.8t – €28,950*
Audi A4 – €26,500
BMW 318i – €28,400
* There is a 1.8i version of the Saab 9-3 for less, but really…..