Wrap-up: The SU Hi-Po Challenge

I’m in two minds as to how things have gone with the SU Hi-Po Challenge.

I’m really pleased because it gave a few people the chance to express their thoughts on what high powered Saab should look like. We had everything from maxed-out Hirsch tuning to aftermarket co-operation to full-on engineering programs involving high-output electric motors being used in hybrid applications. They were all fun to read and they certainly provided food for thought.

On the other hand, the whole challenge was born out of a frustration that I had with a seemingly relentless stream of comments lambasting Saab for not having a high powered model like the one described in the criteria for the challenge. Most things born out of frustration or anger tend to lead to unsatisfying outcomes and I must admit that I’m still somewhat frustrated by the whole situation. The whole challenge was set up on a negative premise, with a bar so high that it was inevitable that I’d have to shoot down submissions that seemed unrealistic according to the criteria (read: all of them) and that’s a very unsatisfying thing for all concerned; it’s a horrible prospect for me as someone who invited submissions and it’s a horrible prospect for someone who’s taken the time to prepare a submission.

I’m glad it’s over.

The point

I don’t think a high-powered Saab is a priority. It’s like telling a subsistence farmer who’s got a small pot of savings to forget the ox he was going to buy and get a leather sofa instead.

I don’t believe Saab see a high-powered halo car as a priority, either, otherwise they’d be taking steps to build one. Instead, their business plan is centered around a core model range coming over the next 18 months and the expansion thereof by adding a smaller vehicle than the Saab 9-3 when they get the funds to do so. This plan is essential for building a company that can gain some stability and move on to do the really fancy stuff later.

Others think different.

There are a vocal minority out there who think that Saab needs a high powered Saab now – for whatever reason. It might be because they’re cashed up and ready to move into that segment. It might be because they see the addition of a high-powered halo Saab as the only way the company can credibly compete with the German competition. I won’t presume to know their exact reasoning.

The whole point of the SU Hi-Po Challenge was to get people thinking about the reality of the situation facing Saab. Making comments on a website can be a nameless, faceless exercise with no accountability. I felt that the people condemning Saab whilst they make these demands for a high powered model weren’t taking full stock of Saab’s current situation, so I decided to call them out on it and ask them to lay out their plans.

The process

There were a few important things that people were asked to take account of in order to meet the demands of the challenge and it was very important that these things were met. Why? Because Hi-Po Saab advocates are demanding that Saab address them when they demand this sort of vehicle. If Saab have to account for them, then Hi-Po advocates have to account for them too.

These included:

  • Where they’re going to source their powertrain.
  • What modifications would they make to the rest of the model in order to make it stand out as a high-powered halo model should.
  • How long it would take to test such a vehicle in order to prove it prior to sale and offer it with a factory warranty.
  • How many they think it would actually sell, and for what price.
  • Given that Saab have a fixed amount of money right now, what budgets would they cut, or what programs they would eliminate in order to get their desired high-power model to market. i.e. What’s less important to Saab than a high-powered model right now?

People met these criteria to differing degrees. Most of them, to be honest, didn’t meet some of the key criteria very well. That’s not to say they didn’t make for enjoyable reading or interesting conceptual thought, but in strict terms with regard to evaluating a vehicle proposal as well as laymen like us could, some didn’t progress past being interesting food for thought.

Many didn’t address the resources issue in any depth and for me, that was the most critical component. Anyone can come up with a plan to make more power, but how were you going to pay for the development and testing of this plan. Resources are the egg to the plan’s chicken and most entries focused on the chicken.

I can’t, and don’t, criticise people for not addressing that issue adequately. The truth is we just don’t have enough detailed information to address it fully. But there is a pretty good understanding out there in the SU community of Saab’s situation, their business plan and how critical it is Saab get its core models right. And that’s why this was a key part of the challenge – thinking deeply about the situation and asking oneself how important this high-powered halo model really is in comparison to Saab’s key goals over the first few years of its re-birth.

The outcome

There was no prize on offer and there are no winners or losers here. There are only the people who chose to think to about it and make a submission to the challenge and I have to thank them to taking the time to do so.

Many subvented the aim and told us about their ideal Saab halo car and I’m sure they had heads nodding in agreement. Some of those cars are available now with a bit of aftermarket work (officially recognised or not) at the buyers expense. Others involved more extensive re-modelling of what’s on offer now.

I guess if there was going to be a winner for this challenge, it would have to be Jeff for his huge volume of work in developing a proposal for a high-powered Saab hybrid. Jeff’s submission had an almost exhaustive examination of the technologies currently being developed by Saab, as well as some extended work that could be done to reach the upper end of the spectrum. Maybe what he suggests there will actually come to fruition some day. But I have to think that if it were that easy, and if it were inexpensive enough to fit into Saab’s budget, then more companies would be doing it. The great thing about the advance of technology as we move into the future is that they just might.

A final word

Perhaps another dissatisfying element to this challenge is that spending so much time on it takes away a little from the enjoyment that people get from their cars right now. The vast majority of readers on this site, and I’m sure this extends to Saab fans in general, get plenty of pleasure out of their cars as they are.

Some extend the capability of their Saab with aftermarket tuning or upgrades of various elements of the car. Some, I’m sure would welcome their own vision of a halo car being added to Saab’s range.

But I’m am sure that a huge majority get a LOT of pleasure from their Saab(s) right now. The 9-5 is an absolute cracker and more people are going to make themselves familiar with its pleasures as time progresses. The 9-3 is still a fun and incredibly serviceable car, about to be enhanced with some more goodies to see out its model life. And personally speaking, I can’t wait to get behind the wheel of a 9-4x for a test drive.

The last thing these cars deserved was a dedicated effort to make them feel in any way inadequate, because they’re not. And maybe suggestions to that effect are part of the reason I got frustrated enough to launch this challenge in the first place.

My thanks once again to all who took part either with a submission, or in comments. Let’s call this one done and dusted for now.

12 thoughts on “Wrap-up: The SU Hi-Po Challenge”

  1. “I don’t think a high-powered Saab is a priority. It’s like telling a subsistence farmer who’s got a small pot of savings to forget the ox he was going to buy and get a leather sofa instead.”

    Well you know Steven…if he bought the Ox…kept it for a few years…he could eventually MAKE a leather sofa out of it…now couldn’t he? Seems like a win-win situation to moi. 😉

    Seriously though…SAAB need to get their market share re-established first…then think about the cherry on the cake…meaning a “Hi-Po” car. The market for such a vehicle is just too limited for SAAB to produce at this time.

    SAAB currently have Hirsch (now thankfully in the US) to “tart up” a car to add performance, and that requires no extra capital expenditure from SAAB at the moment…and that’s a good thing.

    Once SAAB have had a few profitable years, then they could think about an in-house performance car. But it still should involve Hirsch…ala AMG, BMW Motorsport, etc.

  2. Quick question…Will the newer MY 2011.5-2012 9.3 get the more up-to-date 4 cylinder engine (Direct Spark Ignition) (220hp)?? Just curious…The present 4 cylinder (210hp) gasoline engine is way out of date…..actually it’s not that efficient…

  3. totally agree! saab needs to simply strive to offer the best customer service, build the best cars it can that address their core customer and win over the customers that would otherwise be buying audi, merc, vw, volvo etc.

    Loyal saab owner and fan here. want to buy a saab that addresses my desire for a near lux european brand. they do it well…i buy I saab. they suck…and I buy an audi, volvo merc or vw.

  4. I don’t see the prospect of all this as a zero sum game. Trying to compete directly with the germans is not what Saab has been for the last 60+ years. Trying to ‘out BMW’ BMW is missing the mark (imho) of what a Saab should be. We, meaning Saab, need to be a compelling alternative with true distinction and difference. Making a Swedish M3/M5 may be the wrong approach. A 9000 Aero was very different than an M5, and SPG or Viggen were very different than their contempary M3’s.

    Understanding the limited resources, I would like to see some spice added to the cars in terms of power, appearance, and emotive engineering. I see the 9-3 as the easiest place to do this and the part of our line-up where it is most urgently needed giving its price point, age, and sales potential. Build some want factor into the car and sales will follow. While not a cure all, this can be as simple as wheels, interior/exterior trim, more modest power gains etc. Find a niche that we can fill and exploit to the success of the greater company. I guess my overall point is it doesn’t have to be: A. all (crazy HP and technology built by unicorns of the latest unobtanium), or B. nothing (210 HP 9-3 with no foglights, no power passenger seat, same body kit on all iterations, ‘Aero’ nameplate reduced to a barely distinguishable trim level etc). There should be room for improvement.

    Some of the best performance and niche cars in history were born from late night skunkworks on shoestring budgets. Perhaps we can make SOME positive steps in that manner. Thoughtful but modest changes and enhancements that have a positive synergistic effect on the whole. Saab does have 1,001 herculean tasks to accomplish in the coming months, but making the right or wrong product decisions on the last 5% of tinsel and details can drastically change the perception (read sales) of any product today, today, today. Many thanks to Swade for hosting this and giving us all a voice and many thanks to everyone who ponied up and submiited an entry.

    • Yes, I am replying to my own comment. Please don’t construe my ramblings as doom and gloom. I am very positive on the outlook for Saab’s future and think VM, JAJ, and the rest of the crew are doing a bang up job managing many irons in the fire all at once. On a personal level I would like to see some of these things happen, but I also think it would have a positive impact on sales and brand awareness. I am NOT a card carrying member of the “do this thing I want or Saab will fail” club. Just had to get that out…

  5. I believe the company should adhere more to the traditional strengths of the powertrain. Forget about 0-60 numbers – who, besides pimply teenagers, is dragging away from the lights? The key aspect needs to be 1) responsible/green level of power and accident avoidance handling (Saabs are sporty, but not sportscars in the vein of Porsche) 2) Real-world power when you needs it, i.e. merging/passing.

    For the foreseeable future, the halo should be Design, Practicality (Swiss Army knife of cars), Safety, Innovation (i.e. the next generation of ideas like heated seats, self-repairing bumpers, cabin air filters, whiplash prevention, etc.)

  6. I guess this challenge made us think deeper about this Hi-Po car in one way or another. And that’s a good thing.

  7. “Instead, their business plan is centered around a core model range coming over the next 18 months and the expansion thereof by adding a smaller vehicle than the Saab 9-3 when they get the funds to do so. This plan is essential for building a company that can gain some stability and move on to do the really fancy stuff later.” – and, I agree.

  8. Thanks for the vote of confidence Steven 🙂

    I agree with you 100%, and I’m glad you shot down so many of the complaints that anonymous commenters so often throw Saab’s direction. Who knows what the future holds for Saab, I just hope they’re smart enough to stay ahead of the trends as they always have.

    Beyond sad to hear you’re taking a break, but more than happy to keep the spirit alive as long as possible. Saab means a lot to all of us.

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