Some final thoughts before the announcement about the fate of Saab

As I write this, were still possibly 24 hours or more away from an announcement. Therefore, I don’t intend to update too much beyond this entry unless there’s some material information that we’ve just got to know.
Who am I kidding? I’ll probably be back at it tomorrow morning…..
But most other things seem almost trivial by comparison at the moment. It feels like I’m studying for a university exam all over again. Nothing else really matters but that huge thing that’s bearing down on you, immense and overwhelmingly important.
Eggs, you’re all clear to call if something breaks. I’ve already told the Mrs I’ll be sleeping on the sofa the next couple of nights 🙂
For what it’s worth, here are my final thoughts on what we’re going through and what might be to come.
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Vale Koenigsegg
It’s my personal opinion that the best outcome back on November 23 would have been for the Koenigsegg deal to continue through to its conclusion and for Saab to go on under that umbrella. November 24 saw things take a different turn, though.
Much as I’ve come to enjoy my contact with Merbanco (I believe they’ll be great owners for Saab and hope hey get the nod from here), it’s always easier to maintain momentum than to build momentum.
I believe that Koenigsegg and Saab navigated some of Swedish business’ unprecedented waters – not without incident – but they did a great job against incredible odds. I believe they got monumentally skewered by a government riveted to its ideology and only now prompted into action by the jolt of KG’s withdrawal.
It should never have got to this and I really hope Koenigsegg and Saab can still partner up in the better times ahead.
Cowboy up!
We’ve had a bigger-than-expected amount of contact with Merbanco, who are one of the prospective buyers for Saab now and it’s been great that they’ve seen fit to make regular contact with their possible future customers.

Read moreSome final thoughts before the announcement about the fate of Saab

Maptuner – the plug-n-play tune-up for Saabs

When I visited Sweden back in September this year, I visited the guys at Maptun.  They’re sponsors here at Saabs United, and they wanted me to provide a review of their new Maptuner plug-in tuner.
Being early in the Maptuner’s life, there’s not one available for my model of Saab, so I had to find a friend here in Oz with a suitable car.  I tapped a bloke you know around here as PT, from Sydney.  Pete and the family have a 9-3 SportCombi that was just begging for an upgrade.
Here’s Pete’s upgrade story:

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The Maptuner upgrade to our 93 Linear SportCombi was easy. All we had to do was drop the engine, install a mild cam, bigger injectors and intercooler, rebuild the turbocharger, re-program the ECU and it was done. Simple enough and after all, there’s nothing like a bit of home mechanics to build the bond between man & motor. 
But that’s all a fabrication, of course. 
The motor didn’t move, the turbo is untouched, and yet every aspect of the engine’s performance seems altered – and all by a small black box and a length of cable that P1000290.JPG upgrades the engine to deliver the potential that Saab’s 2.0 turbo 4 contains. A blindfold test (not a good idea when driving – but you get my drift….) isn’t even necessary; the differences between the pre- and post-upgraded engine are like night and day. 
The first giveaway is the sound.  Start the engine after uploading the ECU re-map from the Maptuner device and you start thinking your ears are playing tricks.  Is that a deeper note…. a smooth, tenor vibrato?  Well, more air through the engine means more air through the exhaust and so the note becomes deeper and more purposeful. The tinny note of the 1.8t base spec engine is banished as the engine gets in touch with its inner Aero.  Its no race engine but there is a nicely balanced tone with a hint of turbo whistle.
FYI, our car was a base 1.8t SportCombi with 110kW and 220nm.  The upgrade has given us 164kW and 330Nm – a transformation in every sense.
P1000282.JPG
Things get even better under driving conditions, prompting me to turn off the stereo and lower the rear windows during a winding test drive down a local B-road.  It’s never going to upset a true 2.8T Aero but its certainly much closer to the spirit of the car. For the first few days I have to stop myself accelerating at every opportunity just to hear the engine.
Its in real world driving where the upgrade differences quickly make themselves known. Torque. Lots of torque.  Torque delivered in effortless motion that delays gearshifts and pulls the car along like an invisible string. This is what gives SAABs their wonderful drivability, the effortless ease through traffic or on the freeway.  Put your foot down with purpose, the exhaust growls and the car just pulls away. No fuss, no slamming gear changes. I’m reminded every day that our humble little Linear now has more grunt than the 2.0 Aero spec engines had only a couple of years ago. 
I should add that the 9-3 is my wife’s car and madam was quietly cynical that anything of purpose could be done via a computer cable. First time out with the updated engine she nearly rear-ended someone when the car picked up its skirts and boogied down the road with more purpose than expected. So, driving it has been a pleasant surprise for her too: the ease of acceleration out of intersections, roundabouts or from behind trucks.  Just knowing that the car could get itself out of bother quickly gives confidence and adds a reassuring cabability to what was a handy but slightly under-cooked family car.
It’s not about speeding or dragging off kids at the lights.  It’s about having the capability when it’s needed. To take the other view, if you want to take sensible and socially-responsible behavior to the nth degree, there is always the speed limiter built in to the Maptuner that can be turned on.  That feature alone would be a serious consideration if we had teenagers who were starting to drive.
Although the car came to us in Sport spec with the upgraded chassis, wheels & body, it was always very modest on the road. Now it feels like it has reached its potential and is the car it always should have been, thanks to a few minutes with the clever Maptuner software. To have access to this degree of performance via an upgrade process that is essentially no more complex than syncing your i-Pod is a joy.
P1000289.JPG
The Maptuner device itself can be used without instructions due to the cues that it gives you (although instructions would be a welcome addition to the pack guys, just to provide some reassurance for the customer) In a nice touch, the contact with Maptun can continue past the initial purchase and updates are available from their website for up-loading to your car throughout its life.
Downsides?
Hard to think of any of significance. The move to 98 octane fuel perhaps? The Maptuner is based on 98 and so that’s a change from the usually 91 for us but with the extra expense of the better quality fuel comes improved economy as well as the true potential of the re-mapped ECU so it’s a trade that we’re happy to make.
If you were to have a change of heart the Maptuner stores a copy of the original tune first that can be re-installed with the same straightforward plug-n-play process. This might help if you wanted to sell the car unmodified for instance but I can’t imagine another circumstance you’d want to take the step back.
On balance though, theres’ a lot to recommend a Maptune upgrade. Particularly if you have a car like ours that is well suited and really just fulfilling its potential.
9/10 for me. The missing 1/10? Include it (along with kindred spirits Hirsch) under the Saab aftersales/warranty program.
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Swade here…….
As well as the upgraded tune and speed limiter that Pete’s mentioned, above, the Maptuner also comes with a few other features that I should mention here.

       

  • Shift up lamp (manual transmission only) – A shift up lamp will appear whenever it is more economical to use a higher gear. It will also appear if you are approaching the rev limiter.
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  • Fault code reader – If your Check Engine light is lit, the MapTuner is able to read the fault code and erase it with a few key strokes.
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  • Wheel circumference – Different wheels have different circumference. With the MapTuner you can easily calibrate the car so that the speedometer is accurate.

Thanks to Maptun for providing PT with the Maptuner device for the purposes of this test.

Saab – not your average BAIC sale

Oh, such clever and un-search-friendly headlines…..

I think we can definitely pencil BAIC in as contenders:

Asked by reporters whether BAIC would consider approaching Saab as a solo buyer or only as a part of a consortium, Wang Dazong said: “I would just say, ‘stay tuned a little bit’.”
Speaking on the sidelines of a China-European Union business summit, Wang said BAIC’s strategy of going global was still in place.
BAIC must decide its next move after a consortium of which it was a member, led by tiny Swedish luxury car maker Koenigsegg, pulled out of talks last week to buy Saab, putting in doubt the future of the loss-making GM unit.
“I cannot control GM’s timetable. I obviously have no way of influencing GM’s timetable. I would just say we are very dynamic and impatient people. We want to do things fast.”

Now the big question is whether or not GM would sell the whole of Saab to a company from China. Maybe they could work out a deal like Ford have done with Geely with regards to Volvo intellectual property, etc, but that deal between Geely and Ford is taking time that GM probably don’t have.
More from ‘the Wangster’

Asked if Beijing Auto would follow Geely’s example with Saab, Wang said. “We don’t see a need to buy a new plant. I don’t see a need to buy a building; I don’t see a need to buy a robot. So what’s left? You figure it out.”

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If it makes you feel any better, people who I’ve spoken to about the various parties that toured Saab earlier this year said that BAIC were very much the preferred party to deal with in terms of Chinese groups that came through.

Monday morning snippets – the wait (weight?)

It’s two minutes to midnight, people. The waiting really is the hardest part, isn’t it?
Sorry, double musical cliche there, but only one worth the link IMHO.
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The situation as it stands now:

  • A lot of sources are reporting at least two, and some of them three, potential buyers for Saab. BAIC and Merbanco have been mentioned regularly. We know that Merbanco is definitely interested and BAIC have said they’re “assessing their options”. Renco have also been mentioned in some reports, but there’s been no confirmation from anyone there.
  • My own source at Saab said last Friday that they’ve had talks “with more groups than what’s been reported”
  • The Industry Ministry Secretary, Joran Hagglund, has hopped on a plane for Detroit, apparently in order to assure GM that the Swedish government remains prepared to honor loan guarantees for an EIB loan should a buyer who passes muster with the EIB be selected. “If the new buyer were to use the funds in the same way, for energy efficiency and green technology projects, the loan approval process could be quite quick,” Hagglund said. “There’d be no need to start at step one.”
  • Jan-Ake Jonsson and other Saab execs are also Detroit-bound to make a presentation for Saab’s future. Godspeed, fellas.

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Here’s a question worth pondering……
Have the Koenigsegg Group left the building yet?
GM have a decision to make in the next 48 hours and chances are they’ve got a group of proposals in front of them right now. But what if they don’t like any of them?
The Swedish government have had extensive dealing with Koenigsegg and they know the plans they had and the reasons why they felt compelled to pull out. If push comes to shove and GM don’t like what they see, will the government simply let the cards fall where they may, or will they do what they should have done months ago and get motivated?
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And what if GM decide to keep the brand for themselves? Is this a realistic option for a bankrupted and government-owned GM?
And what would it mean for us?
Personally, I really don’t know. Not to be too melodramatic, but that’s a question I’d rather not ponder.
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Let’s say you’ve got a freebie option.
You can decide one model that you’d like Saab to build in the next 2-3 years. The options are wide open as to the style and class of vehicle. SUV, coupe, roadster, sport sedan – anything’s open.
The future of the company does NOT depend on your decision. You can play the whole field.
What do you build?

Q & A with Christopher Johnston from Merbanco

I sent some questions to Merbanco CEO, Christopher Johnston earlier today and he’s just provided me with a few answers.
Given the time pressures he’s under at the moment, I really appreciate his efforts to provide us with a glimpse into his thoughts about the current situation and the potential for the future.
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Swade: Saab comes with a faithful following but it also has some baggage in motoring industry terms. What do you think are the strengths with the Saab brand?
Christopher Johnston: Saab is a special brand even in these tough times. It is suffering from low sales resulting in large part from uncertainty. There are several strengths: The people, the history, the culture, the location, the dealers, and the loyal following from customers. Saab has several exciting new products that are ready to go.
SW: Saab are one of two car companies in Sweden. How do you see the automotive sector there and Saab’s place in it?
CJ: The auto sector is stressed in Sweden just like everyplace else. I don’t agree with some that Saab should be considered mere overcapacity. Saab will always be strong and important in Sweden and will be a strong niche or pocket brand in other countries. I would hate to see both Volvo and Saab potentially moved out of Sweden.
SW: Prime Minister Reinfeldt has cited the over-capacity of the global car industry as one of the reasons that Saab should effectively be left to sink or swim. What do you think about that? Why do you think Saab has a place in the modern automotive landscape?

Read moreQ & A with Christopher Johnston from Merbanco

Heart and Soul – the Story of a Swedish Underdog

God bless Google Translate!
Those of you who are fortunate enough to read Swedish should click here and read this great account of what made Saab an icon in Sweden and around the world. It’s appearing in SVD and is a great read.
Those of you who don’t read Swedish should head for Google translate and copy the text in there. It’s not a straight readable English version but it’s god enough to get the essence of the piece.
SaabSpring.jpg
And what a great piece it is.
What I like – it really does sum up well the progress Saab made throughout the years in developing into a company with some very sophisticated and advanced cars.
What I don’t like – it almost reads like an obituary.
Fingers, toes, arms and legs crossed that it does not come to that. If Ed Whitacre’s got good people around him then he knows it’ll cost GM less to sell Saab to the right company (heck, they’ll even make money) than to liquidate it or close it down. Sanity should prevail.
With thanks to ErikM in comments.

Another new dealership in Netherlands

Our mates from Saab Apeldoorn in The Netherlands have done it again….
On April 1 this year, Ruud Blokhuis and his partner Fernand opened a new dealership in Apeldoorn. This was in a year when Saab’s supplier in the Netherlands went bankrupt so supply was virtually non-existent. Oh yeah, and GM put Saab up for sale, too.
These are not the ideal conditions to start a business, but start they did and despite the difficult year, things are going OK at Saab Apeldoorn.
Once again, at a time when GM’s about to pass on a decision on Saab’s future, Ruud is posting another vote of confidence by opening a second Saab dealership – in Utrecht.
The message from Ruud:
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I’m pleased to let you know that I will start a new Saab dealership at Utrecht on the first of January 2010 together with Jody Kok.
Jody was Dealer Development Manager at Saab Netherlands, before the bankruptcy of Kroymans Corporation. Fernand and I met him when we started our Saab dealership at Apeldoorn. The contact with Jody was good and continued when he lost his job because of the bankruptcy. Kroymans Corporation was the owner of Saab Netherlands and several Saab dealerships, for example at Utrecht and Amsterdam.
Jody’s experience and contacts were very useful for me, when I was thinking about a second dealership. Together we investigated the opportunities to start a second Saab dealership. I knew that Jody would like to manage a dealership himself, if we would succeed in finding a good opportunity.
Because Jody lives near the city of Utrecht, we first tried to restart a Saab dealership at Utrecht. When investigating the opportunities there was one big problem: we couldn’t find a good and affordable location. After very many disappointing meetings with the owners of automotive locations we came to the conclusion that starting up a dealership at Utrecht wouldn’t be possible.
saab utrecht1.jpg
But then…. we got a phonecall about a suitable location at Utrecht. After several negotiations we had a contract to rent the location, and a Letter of Intent with the distributor. In the front part of the picture you can see the former Saab dealerlocation of Kroymans Utrecht. Behind it you can see the Smart location where will start at the first of January 2010. At the left side you can see the A12, one of the main highways in the Netherlands. The A12 begins at the Hague and ends at the border with Germany.
We hope that Saab Utrecht will be have the same success as Saab Apeldoorn. We have a simple website now, that will be soon upgraded to an official Saab Dealerwebsite.
The webadress is: www.saab-utrecht.nl.
SaabUtrechtSide.jpg
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With thanks to Albert and of course, Ruud!

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