In the past, I’ve written open letters to head honchos at Saab, usually in the USA. Jay Spenchian got one, as did Steve Shannon. Those open letters were written out of concern that those guys didn’t really ‘get’ the Saab brand and given that they were in charge of Saab’s single biggest market, it was felt that maybe they needed an introduction to the brand and the customers they would be serving.
This is a little different. First, you’re not in charge of a particular market, you’re in charge of the whole Saab Spyker operation. Second, I’d never actually met Jay Spenchian or Steve Shannon before I wrote to them, whereas I have had the pleasure of meeting you personally. And finally, You’re a different kettle of fish in that you don’t hold the same fears for us when it comes to understanding what Saab might be all about. There’s a feeling that you do already “get it” when it comes to Saab.
Nevertheless, the custom exists and there’s no more poignant a time in SU’s and Saab’s history than now for me to put figurative pen to paper and craft an exhortation.
Officially – Welcome to the family
One thing most of us know about tight family units is that they stick together, through thick and thin. And I don’t think times get any thinner for a business/family than what they did for Saab in the last 15 months.
Whilst there were some skeptics, most of us welcomed the Koenigsegg Group with a lot of optimism, open arms and a great deal of excitement. It wasn’t until that deal fell through, however, that we really felt the threat to Saab’s continued existence and with GM’s very serious threats to close the company down, it was time for a family meeting.
Those family meetings took place all over the world, mostly during January and I know that you got a good sense of what you were fighting for when you saw those Saab Support Convoys take place. We saw your determination, too. There was a little of “us vs them”, a whole lot of love for an iconic carmaker as well as a recognition of your efforts involved in those convoys.
Now that it’s all said and done, I think everyone who attended is well pleased – not just because Saab has been sold, but also because Saab has been sold to you.
So…… welcome to the family.
We’re a picky bunch and we don’t always make sense
I don’t pretend to speak for everyone here. I’m just a guy with a loud voice.
I can say with a high degree of assurance, however, that over all, the Saab community does have a very good understanding of the brand’s roots and history. And if you look at the core of what we communicate to you through sites like this one and others, then you should be able to get a good broad understanding of what the market is looking for.
We do have moments where we don’t make sense, though. Like whining about the very first 9-5 offerings when we should be happy that it exists and patient enough to wait for more variations. Or loving a Mini with a Saab grille photoshopped on the front.
Those are some of the exceptions, but over all, you can read some pretty good information from us about the products we like and the best ways to engage and interact with us.
So…. onwards and upwards, then!
Turbo is essential but it’s no longer the difference
I personally think one of GM’s bigger failings with Saab was not being able to read the tea leaves and see how important fuel economy was going to be in the future. Saab offered them the potential to get a massive headstart on the competition in terms of turbocharging but GM’s focus was on the cash-cow: American trucks, or SUV’s as we call them in the outside world.
Turbocharging is still an essential part to Saab’s DNA but we have to be honest now and acknowledge that it’s no longer a differentiator. There are a lot of companies doing turbos now and some of them are doing it better than Saab right now.
Please don’t ever release a new Saab range without a turbo unless it’s an all new fuel/energy system that makes turbocharging redundant. That turbo rush is one of the things we love most about driving our cars. But I guess the fact that everyone’s doing it now means that we’ve all got to look for something else to be the point of difference.
Design, Design, Design
My guess is that Design is where that point of difference is going to come from. And when I say design, I don’t just mean the way the sheetmetal looks or the patterns and colors inside the car – I’m talking about engineering design as well.
Early Saabs had the dual blessing of looking like nothing else out there, as well as driving extremely well in the conditions they were built for. Middle-era Saabs enjoyed even more distinction as they still looked unique, were incredibly practical and safe, and provided a driving experience superior to many of their contemporaries.
Modern Saabs, despite still being superb cars, have not enjoyed such a comparative advantage against their contemporaries, whether it be in terms of design or performance.
That Saab had some of their more successful sales years in recent times speaks more of GM’s massive sales reach and Saab owner loyalty than it does of pure, distinctive design prowess. Yes, these modern Saabs have been very good vehicles – the Saab 9-3 SportCombi is a true Saab in every meaning of the word – but I think it’s fair to say we want more.
A more dynamic driving experience.
More functional passenger and cargo load space.
More economical delivery of useful power.
More smiles per gallon.
We’ve heard several times through news reports as well as through factory sources in comments here at SU that Saab has some excellent technology waiting in the wings. Our message to you would be to unleash these crazy Swedes and let them do their thing.
You’ve got a great design team there in Trollhattan. These are people who have worked wonders with the brief given to them by GM in years past. And I’m quite sure that they’re also people who recognise the extraordinary opportunity they’ve got working for such a distinct brand as Saab at such an open time in the company’s history.
They will eventually have a blank canvas to work with, unfettered by concerns about other internal vehicles or politics. This must be a production designer’s dream scenario and I hope you’ve got them all suitably fired up about the future.
Did I mention design? Did I mention engineering? OK.
The hatchback. It became an essential Saab identifier, mostly in the 1980’s when the Saab 900 brought the Saab name to the fore. Right from the mid 1970’s, however, the hatch gave Saab a practical component that few others could match. With the progressive evolution of the original Combi-Coupe design in the 1980s, Saab refined one of the most identifiable profile shapes in motoring.
One of the design tests that people like to use is the long distance profile and there are few designs in history that have such an instantly identifiable profile as a Saab 900 hatch.
Give us hatchback – please! Make it useful and beautiful and everyone who has ever been touched by a 900 will be interested again.
For the near term….. the one thing I hear people asking for over and over and over and over again is the combination of XWD and diesel. This is so important for the European market, where diesel is so prominent. It seems we’ve got the TTiD/XWD combination coming in the 9-5 in 2011, which is fantastic. I don’t know if the combination is economically feasible for the 9-3, especially the 9-3x, but if it is, then I know it will find a big marketplace.
Interiors. I know you know something about making a distinctive interior because I’ve seen the interiors of your Spyker cars. Saabs don’t need quilted leather or an exposed gear linkage (much as I love that linkage) but they do need interiors that ergonomically sound and incredibly comfortable to drive in. Saab seats have always been a hallmark in the industry and must remain so. Intelligent ergonomics are a must. Please bring the window switches back to the center console.
Should things go well…..
…..and I believe they will, then you might well have the opportunity to do something that’s a little less in the ‘essential’ column and more in the ‘enjoyable’ column.
That small car you’ve been talking about would be absolutely perfect. Saab need a new icon and if that’s the first car Saab get to design completely from scratch, all by themselves, then I really hope everyone’s primed to really hit one out of the park.
The right design, the right engines, the right chassis – essentially the right philosophy – will give Saab a chance to build something that truly is a statement. Make it fun and useful for younger buyers and give it plenty of room for upward growth for the tuners (the aftermarket is absolutely huge nowadays and there’s no reason you shouldn’t own a slice of that).
It’s been a pleasure watching you emerge and take charge of this company we all know and love so much. It’s been a pleasure writing one of these open letters where I can talk about the future and rant and rave about the past.
We’re all in your corner. We’ve already seen what believe to be a great team in you and Jan-Ake Jonsson and the existing Saab management. It’s an incredible team and workforce you’ve bought into there in Sweden and as you said in your toast back on 23rd February – let’s all look for the day when GM say to themselves “we must have been nuts to sell this company”.
We’ve all fought so hard and for so long. The struggle isn’t over yet because now you have to actually build cars and reach customers. But everything’s in place to make that happen.
Welcome. Go hard and go well. We are all with you.