Saab’s design integrity: 2010 and beyond

It seems this is a night for getting things off my chest….
I just wanted to put together a quick defence, however unnecessary, of the Saabs we have today and the Saabs we will have for the next few years.
There is a small but persistent thread of thinking out there in the internets that is willing to write off Saab’s current crop of models because Saab is still associated – and will be for some time – with General Motors.
Quite frankly, it’s elitist and it’s just plain crap.
As a Saab enthusiast, I’m accustomed to some accusations of elitism. I do think Saab cars are better than others because of a vehicle philosophy I understand and believe in. But there is a line.
I’m as keen as anyone for Saab to be carved out and separated from General Motors, but that’s not to say that there’s no Saab design integrity in the models we have now or the models we will have until the next generation of the 9-3 range arrives.
Yes, there are things I’d like to change in both the Saab 9-3 and the new Saab 9-5. Yes, GM did go too far with parts sharing and yes, Saab’s DNA has been diluted somewhat over the last 20 years.
But the one thing you can say for GM is that some time in the recent past, they realised the error of their ways. If I was to nail it down to a particular year, I’d say it was late in 2004 or early in 2005. If it weren’t for what GM did at that time, there’s a reasonable chance that we wouldn’t even have a Saab to celebrate today.
What GM did back at that time was make a decision. That decision was to actually take a conscious look at Saab, shake some trees and make a conscious investment in the brand.


That decision killed at least one model variant of the Saab 9-3 as well as killing the entire new Saab 9-5 range that was due shortly thereafter (GM also gave the platform the 9-5 would have been on to Fiat as part of their settlement with them). That decision also meant the end of the button dashboard and the unification of the Saab 9-3, as much as was possible, with other Epsilon based vehicles. That decision meant that GM put the clamps on just about everything in Trollhattan and threatened to make the plant just another manufacturing point for GM cars, instead of a Saab factory. That decision led to the resignation of Peter Augustsson as Saab’s Managing Director and the appointment of Jan-Ake Jonsson.
Things were looking pretty bleak at that point. More than we knew, in fact. But there was some hope on the horizon because GM, as part of their decision making with regard to Saab, also settled on investing in new models.
The red letter day in this process was when they green-lighted the Saab Aero-X concept car, a vehicle that would formulate the design language of future for Saab.
Whilst the 9-5 that was due ended up being cancelled, they green-lighted the development of the new Saab 9-5 that we wait for today, which is an all-round excellent car and should do well for Saab.
They also green-lighted the development of the Saab 9-4x, a much needed entry into the SUV world. Much needed. Please don’t kid yourself. Saab have to be in this segment, which is still a massive selling segment in the United States, where the overwhelming majority of the car’s sales will come from.
Now it’s true that these cars were designed under GM’s umbrella and it’s true that these cars will be chock-full of GM parts. That’s the nature of things.
But it’s also true that these cars were designed full in the belief that Saab had a future, and with the realisation that Saab had to have a distinct design language and DNA. This was something new to General Motors – distinction – but credit to them because the Saab 9-5 and the Saab 9-4x both look like extremely competitive vehicles in their respective segments and both will be very capable ambassadors for the brand.
Does that mean that Saab should rest? Of course not.
Porsche don’t rest. BMW certainly don’t rest. No creditable car company rests in today’s market and Saab won’t either.
Under Spyker’s ownership and control and without the decision-making hassles of a big conservative parent, I’m quite sure that things will be brought to market quicker and that when they do, they’ll be edgier and closer to an enthusiast’s ideal image of Saab.
But until then, nobody should pooh-pooh the vehicles we’ve got right now. They have been developed and built with a significant contribution from Saab’s own people right around the world. They have been developed with Saab’s future in mind.
To put them down puts down the people who worked so hard on them and it puts down the choices made by people to support the company and buy them.
And if the 9-5 is representative of everything else that was done in this time, then I can tell you from personal experience that the near future is very good indeed.
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Sorry, I’m starting to feel better now…..

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