On Saab, the future, and customer expectations

It’s normally a bad idea to annoy your readers, but sometimes you’ve just got to let off some steam and get a few things off your chest.
This post was prompted by an article at Autoblog, where they complained a bit about having to pay for a TomTom app for iPhone, as well as paying for the hardware that will help make it work properly in your car. In essence, you can turn your iPhone into a fully functional TomTom GPS unit for around US$200 (for both app and hardware).
Autoblog complained (mildly) that the app should have come bundled with the hardware. It’s a small thing, but it’s symptomatic of something I see more and more these days: unrealisitcally high consumer expectations.
People seem to want more and more. They want more gadgets, better quality, more comfort, they want it yesterday and it must come in their choice of color, flavour and orientation. They want it to do things their own particular way but their particular way should be fully warranted by the company that’s made the item, regardless of whether the item is used as the manufacturer intended. Like good ole country and western types, the product, despite being brand new and measurably improved, should be exactly like the old one it replaces. And if they don’t like it, they want the company to change it to something they do like. Tomorrow.
Whether it’s phones, cars, DVD players or clock radios, people seem to forget that they cost money to develop and produce and they have to be sold for money – real money – to enable the development of future, improved models.
I’ll put it down to the fact that we all care so much, but the number of people who appear to be purposefully looking for a way to bring down the new Saab and its new offering is mildly disturbing and more than a little frustrating.
It’s natural that we all waited for the Saab 9-5 with considerable anticipation and therefore, it’s natural that the fact that it may not meet our individual, precise expectations may lead to some people being somewhat disappointed.
But I’d ask you all to sit back for a minute, take a breath, and think about what’s going on here. Here’s a few home truths from the house of SU for the glass-half-empty types.

All cars involve compromises
Car companies today have to deal with myriad factors that effectively govern what they can and can’t do in designing and manufacturing an automobile. They have to balance safety requirements, emissions legislation, available suppliers, new technologies, costs, customer expectations and design heritage.
Saab could try and satisfy the power-hungry rev-heads of this world. They have the knowledge and technology to do it. But doing that would lead to significant penalties for not meeting fleet-wide emissions legislation in the future.
They could put the most luxurious interior together that you’ve ever seen, but who would pay the price?
The simple truth is that all cars involve compromises. The trick to doing it right is to make the right compromises in order to come out with a car that people are willing to try, and hopefully buy. In the Saab 9-5, the company has put together it’s first new product in 6 years (7 by the time it hits the market) and it’s one that’s been hampered by a company sale, the mandatory use of GM componentry, a limited budget and an uncertain future. Then there’s the aforementioned factors like legislation, etc.
Despite all this, they’ve managed to produce one heck of a great looking, great feeling and great driving car. It won’t please everyone, but it’ll please a lot – if they give it the chance.
Fingersnap solutions are not possible in the car industry.
I’ve mentioned this factor in a previous recent post at SU.
Development in the car industry takes years. These are awfully complex machines that companies have to design and produce to an extremely high level of quality and durability in order to meet customer acceptance. There are several thousand parts in each vehicle and each part has to be work in harmony with the part next to it, and the part next to that one, and the part next to that.
Suggestions that Saab should do this or do that are fine as long as the suggestions are accompanied by a realistic understanding that Saab can’t do much today that will be seen in a car tomorrow.
The 9-5 is the bridge to the future.
Despite being a great car and a great accomplishment, I don’t think the new Saab 9-5 is a realistic candidate to push the Saab 900 from it’s position as being The Saabiest Saab.
It is a great car, but the fact remains that it was developed and designed 100% under GM’s wing, with the compromises that that implies.
What we’ve ended up with is a high quality vehicle that will satisfy most, though not all, of the Saab purists out there, as well as one that offers a great package and will undoubtedly bring interest from those premium market shoppers who manage to be exposed to it.
Some people won’t like it for not being ‘Saaby’ enough and I can understand that. But what everyone should understand is that like it or not, the Saab 9-5 is the bridge to the future for Saab.
Saab will only exist long enough to sell a new, all-Saab-designed 9-3 by being successful with the Saab 9-5. That’s how this industry works, especially for a small player like the one Saab is about to become.
Do you want a smaller hatchback with a hot body and a screaming turbocharged engine? The new 9-5 is the company’s ticket to getting you that vehicle. It doesn’t get simpler than that.
Old cars are not better than new cars.
I drive a 1999 Saab 9-3, which is built on a foundation that started with an old Opel Cavalier (or whatever it was called). You will not find a more compromised chassis in all Saabdom, especially in relation to the power being put through it.
Thank goodness blogs weren’t around when that car was released because if people had have known the basis for that car in such as way as we do now with the new 9-5 then Saab would never have sold a single car.
Despite my car’s seemingly poor foundations, I absolutely adore my Monte Carlo and I still pine for the Viggen I had a few years ago, which was built on the same troubled architecture.
Today’s cars have better dynamics, better engines, better safety credentials, better equipment and better fit and finish. Where it can be objectively measured, it’s a fact that the new Saab 9-5 will be better than your current Saab in nearly every way. Despite this, we still seem more than happy to put forward the opinion that there’s no way we could come to like this car, despite the fact that we often fall in love with cars that are measurably inferior.
Old cars have history, character and relationship. And with the possible exception of looks, which are very subjective, those are the only things they’ve got over newer cars, simply because the new cars haven’t had the opportunity to create a history yet.
This company should not be allowed to die.
I love the Saab car company. I love their products, their philosophy, their underdog status, their smarts, their spunk and the fact that they’re a great representation of a national philosophy that values intelligence, utility and good design.
I’ve come to know a good number of people that work for the company. They’re dedicated, smart and hard-working people that share a love for their employer and their job that I’ll never know with my own employment. They create something that people value and I love ’em for it.
There are so many generic carmakers out there and Saab were (and technically, still are) an unloved child in one of the most generic car companies of them all. GM didn’t do niche. They didn’t do individual. They didn’t understand Saab.
Saab’s chance to break away from GM means more than just a new chance at individuality. Saab have never, in their entire 62 years, been the sole focus of their corporate parent. First they were a spinoff from an aviation division. Then they became the little brother of a truck company. They then relied on crumbs from GM’s table.
All this time they still managed to do some great things and the Spirit of Saab still lives in Trollhattan. For the first time under Koenigsegg Group’s ownership, Saab will get a chance to be that sole focus of a corporate parent. Saab’s people will finally get a mandate to make things as good as they can possibly be without having to go through 10 different comittees to make a decision.
Don’t like it? Move on.
I think that once many of you see the Saab 9-5 for yourselves, you’ll really come to like it. I have total confidence in that fact for 99% of the people reading this post.
There will, of course, be some people who either don’t like the 9-5, or for whom the 9-5 isn’t a suitable vehicle.
If it’s not suitable for your needs, that’s fine. You can share your thoughts about it whether they be positive or negative and hopefully you’ll be happy to see people who differ from you take up an interest in the car.
If you just don’t like the car, you’re welcome to say so. But I’d counsel you to have your say and then move on. Why dwell on something you don’t like? It doesn’t do you or anyone else any good.
I spend my time writing about Saabs because to spend my time whining on BMW or GM forums would be a waste of my time, and needlessly discouraging for the people who like those vehicles. I don’t need it. They don’t need it. No-one benefits from it, so why bother?
Saab are working flat out to make the best car they can in order to satisfy the customers of today, and to give themselves the best opportunity to build something that’ll please the customers of tomorrow, and yesteryear.
Personally, that’s something that I’d really love to see and you’ll have to pardon me if I shape my behaviour around the fact that I really want to see it happen. I’ll be honest with my opinions and I’ll be happy to listen to yours, but i’ll also be reasonable with my expectations and optimistic about the future.
Saab have very few shots left in the locker. Personally, I’d love to see them hit their targets every time.

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