Lance Cole: Ok Victor, so what do you do now?

Lance Cole is a writer living in England and has penned several books on automobiles and aviation. Saab enthusiasts would know him best for the book Saab 99 and 900: The Complete Story, which is an excellent and essential volume and available for sale at the SU Bookshop.

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Lance Cole on the need for Spyker to take us beyond the Saabness of things. Getting all spyked up for a tough road ahead…

The saga or Saab’s survival reads like an Arthur Hailey novel, yet here we are in the cold clear blue light of a dawning reality – Spyker saved Saab – with some help from the internet, the Saab community at large, Saab’s management team and workforce and a colorful cast of potential bidders.

Saab lives and we must not undersell the unique contribution made by an internet-led series of Saab Support Convoys in over 60 cities around the world. GM got a message, that in PR terms, must have made them realise the risks of contaminating their own backyard if they dumped Saab in the manure heap.

Alright then, so what now?

Can we Saab enthusiasts offer any insight to Mr Muller, and to Saab’s management? I reckon we can.

So here are some thoughts of my own, egged on by a few of you. We discussed these things in the recent article, How only design and money can save Saab. Well, Victor got the money, so what of the design?

In the short term, Saab cannot deliver the new small Saab or the coupe that it needs to reach the parts it once reached; those ideas will have to wait. Although, as I told CAR magazine last week, Saab needs, and always needed, a small car – but that car needs to be an icon, a little gem, a jewel of a small car with the handling to back up its looks.

The new small Saab, which would sell in its hundreds of thousands if it hit the target in these times of social and climate awareness, must not be a retro-pastiche and neither must it be a con-trick. It needs to be as smart as the BMW Mini, as funky as the new Fiat 500, as well designed as Citroen’s new DS hatch, and as useful as GM’s calm but excellent, little new Opel/Vauxhall Corsa.

A new small Saab would reflect Saab’s roots and re-build the brand’s customer base in Scandinavia – as well as all around the world. There is nothing to stop it being based on a current floor pan and drive train that could be bought in. After all if Aston Martin can launch a car (the Cygnet) that is a re-skinned Toyota IQ, anything goes…. but not at the expense of the car itself and its chances of selling… Our small Saab must feel and handle like a proper Saab – no woolly steering thanks, ok? (Ed note: If Saab ever do anything as lame or cynical as the Cygnet, I will chew off my own hands at the wrist rather then touch it. Just sayin….)

But that is for the future – as is the VW Sirocco beating coupe that Saab also needs to reinvent its self and its brand pillars with – as is the case with, ‘bring back the hatch.’
So here goes with some themes for the current model range that could be done – soon:

  • Launch the new 95 fast, get it out there now in the existing spec, then during 2010, create some special editions.
  • Give us a leather lined ‘Spyked- Up’ new 95 that is trimmed in proper tan leather in the same style as a Spyker – but be sure to keep a non-reflective dark grey ‘top roll’ on the fascia and door tops. Throw in some B and O / Phllips sound technology, add a touch – but not too much, bling. Oh and some racy alloys: Avoid festooning the design with spoilers and sill kits (YUK!) So give us a Spyker edition new 95. And see how good it will look in metallic dark cobalt blue, or Saab thistle green, as well as in dark ruby red or a purple -indigo-black.
  • Give us the new 95 wagon / estate soon – and offer us a really sporty version – Spkyed-up if you like. Hey an Audi RS 6 wagon and saloon competitor! Think about it – a hyper car version of the new Saab 95 to take on the Audi RS range…. Power, alloys, 4WD, amazing blue or red paint – with ‘sports- tech’ equipment, all this is quick and easy to offer us.
  • Make the most of that almost forgotten love-child, the 9-4x and get the Police to use them all over your world markets, especially in the UK, USA and Europe. That way the car will have visibility in the publics’ eyes. Oh and ‘Spyke’ that up too – to eat footballers wives and bankers BMW X6s’ alive. Product- place the 9-4x with yachtsman, glider pilots (like me!): Do a Saab version of Volvo’s Ocean Race brand if you like.
  • Flag up the 9-3 TTID. As I have said at SU before, the TTID drive train application is superb. It’s a great car with all the best attributes of diesel torque and overtaking power. So, make more of the TTID in trim variants and in your advertising. The TTID has to be driven to reveal its talents. Get people driving them – especially company car drivers.
  • Spend a small amount of money to upgrade GM’s low rent interior plastics on the current 9-3 – change those floppy electric window switches and the hard grained door trims. It’s easy and cheap and would lift the whole interior and increase sales as people are put off by that cabin plastic in the showroom.
  • Re-launch a Viggen range – and use it to bejewel the current 9-3 convertible range with enhanced trim and options – adding lustre and sales appeal.

So, give us enhanced trims, alloy wheels (which Saab excels at), special editions – with integrity, not tat. Offer us that Audi RS range competitor: Offer us Spyked up cabins and options. Earn hard cash getting the new 95 saloon and wagon into high profile marketplaces. Push the 9-4x across the Police, mountain rescue, coast guard, sports clubs, and outdoor events ranging from horse riding to gliding clubs.

What of the Turbo legend, what of the EMS trim? These were icons, can they not be used again in the classic re-invention of a wider Saab marque?

The above tweaks could build profile and create showroom traffic and ‘brand up’ Saab – making the most of all the affection we saw in the Save Saab movement. Sponsoring outdoor events like cycling, riding, gliding or the like, could build a following – a la Volvo Ocean race…

In the medium term, Saab could gain many new sales if it invested in turning the new 95 into a hatch back – all it needs is a low cost re-engineer of the C pillar brace by creating a shear web support fin in either C pillar – to run down and back to the rear wheel arches. Then that rear end will be stiff enough- despite its new hatchback. Bingo- the hatch so-beloved of Saab buyers would be back and sales would rocket – they would, we love the hatch – and Audi and BMW just proved that the hatch is back with their own hatched versions of their existing A5 and 5 series ranges: Proof then that a 9-5 hatch would be in fashion.

Would it not be quite easy to build a two-door coupe version of the new 95? A quick B and C pillar tweak, with a longer door and you have a premium quality executive coupe to hit Audi, Mercedes Benz, Lexus et al with… that could be so elegant, so svelte and timeless.

In the longer term, Saab needs to invest soon in that small Saab icon we are crying out for and have been for years. But please do not create a new Saab by welding the front and backs of two cars to create a new one – Saab did that once you know, see the Saab 90 story here at SU
The new small coupe might be called Sonnet, it might be called something else. Whatever, just give it us by 2014/15 please and make it of composites and trim it – slightly Spyker style.

Oh and one last thing….

If ever there was a car brand that encompassed new thinking – carbon fibre composites, aerodynamics, electronics, solar power, hybrid drive, organic and sustainable trim materials, advanced design and the move your mind, lateral thinking, it was Saab. So surely the ultimate Saab-Spyker would blend all that together in an iconic update of Bjorn Envall’s Saab EV 1.

Now with that, Saab Spyker really would move the mind of the world.
Lance Cole (c) 2010.

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Ed note: We all may have to wait a while for that small icon, as both Jan-Ake Jonsson and Victor Muller have recently said that a new 9-1 could not be done without significant additional investment. Saab are concentrating on the new 9-5s and the 9-4x, as well as the design of a new 9-3 range. But that 9-1 would surely be nice……SW

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