We have something very special today for those of you who, like me, are not blessed with the ability to read/write/speak Swedish.
In their last print edition, Auto Motor and Sport magazine had a feature article on Saab. They surveyed over 1,400 of their readers and tallied their answers into a fantastic feature, which they submitted to Saab executives whilst on site in Trollhattan to photograph the 2010 Saab 9-5.
That article was only available in print, and only in Swedish. One of your fellow visitors to this site, Gunnar L, contacted AMS to seek permission to do a translation to English. He received their OK, as long as we waited until their next print issue before publishing it.
Gunnar got to work and when I got the email in my inbox, I thought I was about to open just a whole lot of translated text. What I opened in that PDF file was a whole lot more than that!!
Every one of you owes Gunnar a cool tasty beverage!!!
We do have a text translation for you to read on site, but we also have a full PDF in English, written on the source PDF imagery, direct from AMS. It as if you got a copy of the original magazine article, but in English.
You can download Gunnar’s PDF here: Hi-Res version and Lo-Res version (Right Click, then ‘Save As’)
I’d like to thank Auto Motor and Sport for granting permission to distribute this article in English. Thanks for a great, read, too.
Most of all, I’d like to thank Gunnar for doing an incredible job – a job so good that AMS themselves are distributing his file!!!
Click images to enlarge.
The Readers: DARE TO BE SAAB!
Saab’s future with Koenigsegg. 1,427 AMS readers have participated in a survey on our home page, expressing their views on what kind of cars Saab should build in order to survive. The Saab management was very impressed by the response and have received tons of inspiration. The reader’s views matches Saab’s own plans very well!
Text: Alrik Söderlind.
Illustration: Motor Forecast.
Translation: Gunnar Liljas
What’s so compelling about Saab? A small, Swedish car manufacturer that has been getting by through automotive history, thanks to unconventional designs and engineering – and a management group that has understood that sometimes you have to take chances.
Weak owners have put up with years of big losses, while customers around the world
have continued to love their cars, and maybe even more the image of their cars. An odd
alternative for aware people.
But many business journalists and politicians think that now it’s time to face the facts
and put an end to it all. “Don’t waste good money or even bad money. Let the company
declare bankruptcy. Saab is doomed. When not even GM, the world’s largest car manufacturer, is able to save Saab, how will a Swede, a Norwegian and unknown Americans and Russians be able to do it?”
Who knows? (The answer is in the survey and will be revealed later on).
At the time of writing we’re only weeks from the next chapter in Saab’s history, the acquisition by Koenigsegg Group. If it fails, the Saab/Koenigsegg chapter will be very
short and what comes next will be something completely different.
But, if we are to believe the readers of Auto Motor & Sport, the chance that Saab will survive as a manufacturer of exciting niche cars hasn’t been as good during the last five years, as it is now. It’s time to get started and make all dreams come true.
But, what kind of cars should Saab build, how should they look to make Saab profitable, and what technology should Saab focus on? Which image is right for the future? These are the kind of questions all car bosses around the world think hard about and which will decide the fate and survival of their brands.
1427 readers felt compelled to fill out the survey on our web page, and we didn’t only get answers to our questions but also loads of exciting comments and suggestions. All in all, 27 packed A4 pages with thoughts and advice. A mixture of realism and enthusiasm which in combination gives us: The recipe for the Saab’s success together with the Koenigsegg Group.
Of course we sent the entire compilation (with anonymous answers) to the Saab
management and Christian von Koenigsegg.
The response that came back: a big WOW!
The Saab CEO Jan-Åke Jonsson sent us a comment directly and Christian von Koenigsegg, who cannot comment on the ongoing process for obvious reasons, was also very impressed.
When we were invited to Trollhättan for the preview of the new Saab 9-5 – an article
will be released once the embargo time expires – we of course took the opportunity to discuss Saab’s future and the survey results with three of Saab’s key persons:
• Magnus Hansson – Manager Product Marketing, Global Brand and Sales Operations.
• Simon Padian, Saab Brand Design Chief.
• Mats Fägerhag, Executive Director Vehicle Systems & Engine Center Sweden.
Magnus Hansson: “This is very inspiring and exciting. The enthusiasm shown by the
readers! It’s great to get such a strong confirmation that we’re on the right track .”
The connection to Koenigsegg is of course very interesting and many readers have theories about Koenigsegg editions of Saabs. But the general recommendation to Saab from the readers is: Don’t be too eager to put Koenigsegg stickers on Saabs.
Don’t share buttons, like Ferrari and Fiat did. Choose just a few models/versions, or build Koenigsegg sport Saabs in limited editions. No more anonymous Hirsch editions.
Magnus Hansson has a thought about the brand: “People don’t like the connection
to GM, but that is a bit unfair. Without GM there would be no Saab, and they have also given us a solid technical foundation. When I was in the USA many blamed GM for everything that was wrong.
Anyway, people love the new connection to Koenigsegg. Two small companies in a large market, similar cultural backgrounds, there is something romantic about it, which is very positive. The fact that Koenigsegg Group has all its focus on Saab is very good.”
Mats Fägerhag has this to say: “As long as Saab is owned by GM we can’t do whatever we want with the brand. It hasn’t been easy to develop our own, unique solutions with GM
as an owner. But, in the future….. As an example we are looking at Apple’s user interfaces
for future interiors.”
The readers completely agree that the Saab brand is intimately connected to turbo engines. The trick will be to take the next technology leap towards electrification , where there may not be any need for turbos. But Saab people are bursting with enthusiasm
about the different technical solutions which are aimed to make sure that Saab lives up to its slogan “Responsible Performance”.
A Saab should never be so lean that it becomes boring, but it must be environmentally
friendly and efficient. Below the surface a lot of projects are in progress that Saab either can’t or don’t want to talk about, and many of the interested parties in the new Saab have technical solutions that they want to make a reality.
Magnus Hansson: “There will be turbos at the bottom, with smaller engines but more kinds of fuel. Electrification at the top.”
Mats Fägerhag: “We are testing lots of stuff now and just imagine when we can tell you
about all the different projects. The investors have big plans, and they didn’t enter this just for the fun, but because there are great opportunities.”
Many of the readers’ comments are also about electric cars. Here’s one: There’s only one thing to say. Whoever is the first to release a sensible electric car will be the winner. Build
extreme intellectual niche cars with smart, green technology.
When it comes to the core values of Saab (see box to the right) there are only three headlines which are a bit controversial or where the Saab people disagrees with the readers.
Drivetrain specialist Mats Fägerhag: Electric drive is more important than the readers
think, and the same goes for light weight materials.
On the question if front wheel drive is extremely important for Saab’s image, Magnus Hansson says: “For me front wheel drive is holy. I wouldn’t commit to rear wheel drive in a project for 100s of millions of SEK”
Designer Simon Padian is more in line with the readers – only 22 percent think that Saab
must be associated with front wheel drive.
Simon Padian: “The driving wheels are no longer a very relevant issue for the customers,
given all the technical aids that exist now.”
Reader comments such as “Please build cars with rear wheel drive”, “Preferably rear
wheel drive”, “Rear wheel drive is a must if I’m going to buy a Saab”, “Build a rear wheel driven Saab and I’ll buy it” – were very common.
Absolutely clear from the readers point of view is that the airplane heritage must live on,
and manifest itself in both design, technology and culture.
Simon Padian: “It’s a bit surprising that the readers think that it’s that important, but Saab
and Subaru are the only brands who can make that connection.”
Magnus Hansson: “There is a significant customer benefit with low air resistance: economy and performance.”
The readers write: Saab’s core values are expressed as aircraft/carbon fibre/environmentally smart/cocky/Koenigsegg small in a segment where most customers can afford the cars.
Or: Exaggerate the cockpit feeling, so that all other cars feel like tractors.
Further: Extend the connection to air planes and dare to use extreme designs.
Finally: Go back to the old logotype with the air plane. The gryphon logotype with the bird with the burning throat must be dropped.
The question about which types of cars Saab should build is of course crucial for the survival of the company. Everyone agrees that the 9-3 model is the most important and that a 9-1 model should be next in line.
Powerful rumours claim that Saab has contacted Mini in England to get help with building a small car. When we ask if that is true we only get a couple of unsure smiles as a response.
The readers are clear that a Sonett type sports car is important, and Simon Padian
responds: “When Saab makes a niche car it doesn’t have to be extreme from a price point
or as a sport car, but it has to be focused. We should not chase BMW and Audi all the time, but instead do our own thing.”
Magnus Hansson: “It’s great that the readers want a SuperSonett and as a brand booster
it would be great. I’m not so sure about the business value, though. Crossovers, however,
remain in the business plan, fresh and a bit wild.”
Most agree that it has become perfectly clear that we should forget about SUV, MPV and 9-9. Then what about a smart city car? 42 percent of the readers think that a city car should be high on the priority list.
Magnus Hansson: “A Saab should be able to handle everything and have all the necessary characteristics. We can’t sacrifice safety and comfort. Saab will not make cars with lots of compromises and a city car is often full of compromises.”
When I ask Simon Padian about the city car called Mindset, an extreme creation with an exposed rear wheel, he becomes excited. “Mindset is a Saab! We must have the guts to show that responsibility can be fun. Actually, narrow wheels are a designer’s dream. It’s still the case that the cars road holding and the tyres contact surface decides a lot of the design.
But if it feels like you’re driving fast even when you’re not, everybody will be happy!
I actually think that we have come to a turning point with the large wheels. It has to stop now. The car bodies must become smaller, and we need to make lighter cars. The big wheels are just an evil circle that drives car weight upwards. As a designer, to ask for smaller wheels doesn’t feel right, but I wouldn’t mind if they were more narrow.”
The powertrain area is a tricky one, where all manufacturers air going in the same direction. Smaller engines, more types of fuel and of course electrification, in various degrees.
Right now it looks like Saab is going to continue to have quite a lot of technical cooperation with GM and that means that they can buy the right to use several interesting systems. It also makes a lot of sense since most of Saab’s engineers currently work in GM projects. But Saab won’t use new technology just to reduce fuel consumption.
Mats Fägerhag: “Sure, we could just put smaller and smaller engines into the cars, in order to get low certification values. But then they wouldn’t be Saabs. A Saab has to be fun to drive and have good performance. To us, the word “hybrid” doesn’t mean “boring car”. Quite the opposite!”
The readers want Saab to follow in Volvo’s footsteps, by focusing hardest on a plug-in
hybrid, which can run shorter distances with an electric engine, and reload at home over
But Mats Fägerhag isn’t sure that this is the right thing for Saab: “a plug-in hybrid has few advantages on long trips, it’s expensive and weighs a lot. On the other hand, electric engines could easily be used to achieve great performance with low fuel consumption, when combined with smaller combustion engines. For city driving I think we’re approaching a technology level that makes purely electrical cars interesting. The technology from Electroengines is very promising and exciting.”
When it comes to image, it’s all clear. There are four criteria that Saab must fulfil: sportiness, climate smartness, high tech and design. Quite a simple order for the coming cars.
The “Premium” definition is not really important for Saab, and many readers have become tired of Saab’s constant talk of the premium segment. Stop chasing Audi, BMW and Mercedes. Do your own thing!
The Saab people are very happy that the design language of the current concept cars
gets so high ratings from the readers. Most readers like what they see and want to see it in production. If they should change at all, then go for even bolder and more challenging designs.
Simon Padian: “People expect us to create more extreme and quirkier solutions. That’s a dream situation for everybody at Saab.”
Speculations about how many cars the new Saab should build per year have appeared in the media. The majority of the readers says 250 000, and Magnus Hansson responds: “That’s quite a good estimate”
Most readers thinks that the prices should be at Volvo’s level, possibly a bit higher. Magnus again: “Currently we don’t deserve a high price level, but our goal is to be at Audi’s level or higher. We’re finally in the game now, and for coming generations…”
Who should lead the new company? Christian von Koenigsegg gets 42 percent of the
votes and Jan-Åke Jonsson gets 37 percent. Kenny Bräck 4 percent and old Bob Lutz one percent.
Magnus Hansson: “I hope that Jan-Åke remains as CEO and Christian would be a very good chairman.
Time to conclude. The readers, Saab’s management and Christian von Koenigsegg have
very similar views on the future of Saab. The cars must have exciting technology and stand out from the crowd with design and function.
The old, coward “GM-Saab” doesn’t exist anymore.
Simon Padian: “I’m very surprised by the amount of goodwill Saab has. People really want us to succeed. I think that Saab has become a symbol for a succeeding Sweden.”
Magnus Fägerhag: “Which car company can start from zero today? We can and will. It will of course require a lot effort in the start and maybe even more in three years time. But if everything goes according to plan we have a really good chance of succeeding.”
Magnus Hansson wraps things up: “There’s an annoying pessimism and “we can’t” attitude among uninformed Swedish journalists. Foreign journalists, on the other hand, often approach us and say things like the world would be more boring place without Saab. We’re going to bring more fun to the world.”
Finally, one of the readers: Do something non-Swedish. Give it all you’ve got and slam your heads into the tiles.
Don’t settle for “lagom”.