The line in the sand

Not for the easily offended……

Things ain’t a whole lot better around here than when I wrote the Break post a few days ago, but I figured some level of stilted continuity is better than none. Unfortunately I’ve got to deal more fully with some of the issues on this website that contributed to that break.

What I’m talking about here are the attitudes displayed by some people in comments who seem to have developed themselves in to industry experts, seemingly overnight.

I’ve been immersing myself in this industry as a writer for over five years now, with Saab as my particular focus. Those five years come on top of another five years where I immersed myself in Saab’s history and the ownership of several vehicles. Despite all that time, I know I’m only just beginning to really understand the variables that effect this business. But I still like to think that I’ve got a reasonable handle on how many aspects of the car business work, particularly as they relates to Saab.

Be that as it may, I would never be so arrogant as to say that I’m any sort of industry expert, because unless you’re working in it, day in and day out, you just don’t know how complex this business is.

Even on a small scale like Saab, it’s a massive exercise. A car is an incredibly complex machine, requiring thousands of parts to be engineered to come together just right. You’ve got to develop and incorporate emerging technologies in an incredibly competitive marketplace. And on top of all that, you’ve got the challenges of dealing with an international marketplace, with all of the varying standards and regulations to be met in those countries.

Those challenges are hard enough to meet when you’re a big company with 100 years of experience. Reputations for greatness can come to mean little in pretty quick time (hello Toyota and Porsche) if you can’t execute – time and time, and time again.

When you’re a company that’s been starved of real development for over a decade and you’re coming off the leanest year in your history, a year when you were nearly killed off, those challenges are even greater.

Personally speaking, I love the Saab car company. I love the cars, first and foremost. I love the company’s history and the philosophy upon which it built that history. I love the city of Trollhattan and the surrounding region and I’ve taken a real liking to all the aspects of Swedish culture and thought that I’ve had the good fortune to be exposed to in the last few years.

Those are the reasons why I worked so long and hard during the sale of Saab to make sure that every important aspect of that sale was covered. It was out of respect for the company, what they’ve done and the people who work there. I wanted to do my bit, however large or small that would turn out to be, to try and keep the spotlight on the sale process. If GM were going to make a decision to kill Saab, then that decision wasn’t going to be made in the dark. From my point of view, it would have to be made in the full light of day, with everyone knowing that GM were positioning themselves to kill off a viable car company, for no other reason but simplicity.

Having put in all that work, having covered all the work and effort that other people poured in to supporting this company, it was very rewarding to see it bear fruit. More than that, though, it means that all the people – me included – who worked hard and lived through the process have a vested emotional interest in seeing the company succeed.

My job, the job of this website, is to support the Saab car company as best as possible. That doesn’t mean we gloss over issues as they come up. I’ve pointed out my perceived flaws that can be improved on in the new 9-5 and I’ve expressed my concerns out the recent appointment of Jason Castriota as head of Saab design. That’s called honesty and objectivity.

What I don’t do – and won’t do – is throw the baby out with the bathwater and condemn the company to failure because of one or two little things – things that only I, personally, might perceive as issues.

I write this website as an enthusiast site that supports the company. I do not write it so that people can blow in, full to the brim with their own sense of entitlement, self-importance and ‘expertise’, and proceed to condemn a recently-almost-dead company that’s doing its level best to make some damn fine cars – which is what they are doing, by the way – just because that person can’t get the exact model that they want right this second.

You are a potential customer, and that’s important. But you’re not the market and it’s a little presumptuous to think you are.

What we have right now is the earliest beginnings of a range of vehicles. We’ve been told that Saab will try and get more flexibility in their range in the future, but that doesn’t seem to pacify those for whom right now is the only timeframe that matters.

Some people raise what start out as legitimate points, but then proceed to do so with a finality (i.e. an inflated opinion of their own authority) that does little other than undermine their own argument.

For example…….. comparisons between the 9-5 and competitive vehicles from other brands – with an accompanying pronouncement that the 9-5 is dead – are of absolutely no use, a) because such things are always subjective, b) because even the people who are remotely qualified and logistically able to make them haven’t got to test them side by side yet, and c) because I’ll wager at least half of the people making those comparisons right now are doing so based on nothing more than a few photos and a spreadsheet that compares 0-60 times or some such.

Drive the car. Get some balance. If you don’t want to do that, then save your opinions for your dog or some other being who hangs on every word that you speak. You are wasting your time, my server bandwidth and the time of others who want to read some balanced opinion from like-minded people.

Others are raising legitimate points about things in the 9-5 that could benefit from some more finishing. You’re correct in that there are some elements of the 9-5 that can be improved – I’ve written about them in my reviews – but temper your thoughts and acknowledge the scenario that Saab find themselves in.

1. There are no fingersnap solutions. Things take time, but it was very important for Saab’s viability that they get the cars released.

2. Acknowledge that your requirements in a car might be different to someone else’s. Again, it’s ok to be anxious about something and want it fixed, but don’t condemn the company to death because the 9-5 isn’t perfect at this point.

3. Despite any flaws that have been identified, this is still a brilliant car, a brilliant achievement and technically speaking, the best Saab that’s ever been produced.

Scratch the surface and you’ll find that no car, and no brand, is perfect. Saab know what needs to be improved with this car, and with the other cars in the Saab range. Saab know what they need to do.

What you probably don’t know is the full extent of work that has to be done to make those desired modifications available for sale in various markets. If you did, you might be a little more understanding.

You and your friends might be able to install a bigger turbo or an intercooler over a weekend. For Saab, it’s a little more complex. The amount of testing and certification that has to go into providing a new model variant or option would make your eyes pop. It has to pass safety. It has to work in harmony with the rest of the car in all sorts of driving conditions. It has to be durable. There’s no point to rushing an addition to the car only to have 50,000 warranty claims in six months time.

There are other issues that people have been complaining about – the size of the dealer network, model configurations, performance figures.

For all of these things, have a look at the bigger picture, what Saab have been through and what they’re going through and what their organisation is trying to do right now. They’re much more aware of what they need than what you (or I) are and they’re getting to things as quickly as their limited size will allow.

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This is not a fanboy site. It’s an enthusiast site and I make no apologies for that. Plenty of issues have been discussed over the years and plenty of criticism has been levelled at various people and/or decisions.

In the midst of that, however, there’s always been an underlying respect for the company. On top of that, if my knowledge on a subject that I’m writing about is limited, I say so – out loud and up front.

If you’ve got a negative opinion about something, that’s welcome here, as long as it’s done the right way – say it once, accept that there might be other points of view to your own and that there might be a valid reason why a situation is the way it is.

If you don’t want to do that, clear off.

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