Thoughts about Saab’s future

This is a post that has been floating around inside my head for quite a while. Many people have suggestions what Saab should do to get back on track. Well, here is my take on things. It’s a bit about a strategy for brand positioning, a bit about model politics, pricing, qualities – and about how to carve the right niche for Saab to exist in.

Get yourself some snacks and a drink, this is a long one…

Brand positioning is in my opinion one of Saab’s biggest problems. There was a time when Saab was recognized as a technological leader, a car for those who wanted to stand out. Things like driver oriented design, safety and turbo engines were earmarked to Saab back then and made a good starting point for advertising. This has changed. Many manufacturers picked up the issue of safety, advertised the hell out of being ahead of technology and turbo engines have become the common cure for getting fuel consumption down.

In that development Saab got lost a bit. It may have been that GM tried to make it more mass compatible. It may have been that competitors picked up the things that Saab was standing for to solve their own problems (which shows that Saab did a good job). Most likely a bit of both and some additional other things, like looong life circles for models and a small model range. In the automotive circus it sometimes felt like Saab was too exhausted because it did not know who to chase first, effectively getting close to noone. Well, at least not in public perception.

So what went wrong? Since 1999 I leased six new Saabs and all of them were grest cars. The drove great, were reliable and (except iPod functionality) offered everything I would have asked for. I did not feel I paid too much for them either. But why did only few people go for those values?

One thing is that while Saab focussed on building a great car to drive in recent years many manufacturers moved on to putting lots of more or less useful assistance systems and huge entertainment centers into their cars. Power opening doors. A friend of mine has a trailor hook on his Audi, that is driven in and out electrically. Sigh. This is not for me. But I know that the general public and the motoring press likes those blings and bleeps and the manufacturers advertise the hell out of it.

Which leads me to the next point – the lack of advertising. Here in Germany, just like in most parts of the world, Saab has barely been visible in advertising. I know many people here are always asking for big media campaigns but face it: advertising costs such huge amounts of money that we won’t see a really big campaign by Saab anytime soon. There are some new ways of marketing e.g. on the internet but Saab did not really explore those until two years ago. This is surely a crucial point. Having the better product is not the gurantee to sell it. You still have to tell people.

The best product – that’s much about perception. While I never had too much to complain about the interior materials I recognize that many people feel that Saab is behind the competition when it comes to that field. They may be right and I think that Saab made the right step with the 9-3 Griffin where materials have improved. With the 9-5 – having the same steering wheel as the Insignia and a bunch of other GM models may not help to get a quality feel though this is just perception. But as that is how the customer works, something needs to be done.

Another thing is the view the press has on Saab. Though I can remember that the 9-3 convertible beat the 3-series convertible in a comparison test at german AMS back when it was released in the past years there have not been too much fair or even favourable comments about what Saab offered. May have something to do with the inherent behaviour of the predator “man” to always attack the in his view weakest member of a herd or with the focus on the bling and bleep the competition offered – I don’t know. Sure there have been some eligible critics, but too often I just can’t get it.

Those are my observations. You think I should talk about pricing. Ok, here we go. My view is that a new Saab has to have a certain price. Trying to get customers just over the price is for Dacia and Toyota. I’d advocate to have a affordable, lower equipped entry model on the 9-3 range, at least until there is a 9-2 (or whatever it may be called) to cover the market below. This may hurt but the truth is that Saab can’t be the car for everybody anymore given what kind of technical stuff people expect to be in it. It shall be reasonably priced but it will never be cheap. Given that we are looking to break even at a production of about 100k cars/year there has to be a certain profit on every car. That’s just inevitable.

Land Rover for example took that road. They ask the price they need. And they still sell cars and make good profit. Lowering prices is not the way to go for Saab. The best solution would be to offer opportunities to the customers to customize their cars as much as possible and charge them for that. I’m pretty sure that there are enough people out there willing to spend that extra buck. One first step could be to offer Hirsch parts installed from the factory. Should be possible to handle since those only had to be at the line in time just like from any other supplier. The more difficult things like special paint, leather and so on could be done some time in the future as that would most likely require some extra shop inside the factory.

If the price is at a certain level financing options get even more important. I Germany and as far as I know most of Europe the company car market is the key to sales. That requires leasing offers that can compete with other brands. The problem is that the big ones like VW and BMW have their own leasing/financing companies and can offer much lower rates. A big task for Saab will be to find the right partner, maybe even different ones for local markets, to stay competetive. Resale value is a big issue here. Saab may have to put some efforts into that. But it will be more useful to spend some money here than to sell the cars at 20% discount.
While I think that Saabs has a great line up with 9-3, 9-5 and 9-4x those pricing politics will increase the demand for a 9-1 or 9-2 as an affordable entry model. No need to have four body styles like the 1-series has but a variety of engines and equipment levels will make a good offer for almost everyone.

Expanding the model range even more may be difficult. As BMW recently released the new 3-series they said that one third of the overall cars they sell are of that model. If you count all model lines and body styles they have you end up at 18. If four of them make one third of the sales you can easily imagine how difficult it is to make some others profitable. So until Saab has either some spare money or easy access to a whole lot of off-the-shelf-parts (like Audi) it makes no sense to follow BMW and Audi in making cars for niches nobody has seen before.

Did I say Saab should not follow BMW and Audi in model politics? Let’s just extend that. Saab has to appear self confident enough to step away from making those comparisons themselves. The motoring press will make them anyway. But there is no need to chase anybody literally. Saab has its own strength and that is where the focus has to be. You can’t be a unique brand by trying to be like Audi. Step away Saab, go your own road. There are a lot of technologies like eXWD and iQon under development and will be seen in the next 9-3 in about one year from now. Most likely we will see a few more innovations. This should be reason enough for Saab to be confident enough and define their own niche where they want to be. Sporty but still practical and a true driver’s car. It won’t be everybody’s darling but with the sales numbers we’re aiming for it does not have to be. Be different. Be quirky.

Wait until the car is ready for production until you launch it, so that people can go and order it right away. Let the launch event take place at the Trollhättan market square. And offer test drives for those who are there, not just the press guys. Just make it a real event for customers, too. After all, they are those who will buy the cars.

While such things would surely make great news the best thing would be to stay out of the news most of the time. It needs a stability in the company and the ownership structure so that it is all about developing, manufacturing and producing cars again. We are facing three to five years that are needed to rebuild reputation and position the brand right. Saab needs investors and owners that understand the identitiy of the brand and are able and willing to carry that cost to lead it into the future.

The identity of the brand – indeed one of the most important issues for a small niche manufacturer is identity. You have to be able to feel the origin of the car. Look at Land Rover for example, it’s British, even though it is under Tata ownership. You can feel that once you get into it. I believe that a Saab is a Saab because it is made by people in Sweden. It represents how they feel, their relationship to their work. Talk about design. That special safety measures regarding moose incidents. The superior handling in bad weather conditions. Those are all values that are clearly related to Sweden and were evaluated because they were needed there. Saab would not be the same if they were developed and made somewhere else. And this is why I want that Saab. Even though I don’t live there I benefit from those values a lot. I would not want a Saab that is made anywhere else. There has to be a crear emphasis on this to make people to see and understand what is so special about that quirky car made in Sweden.

60 thoughts on “Thoughts about Saab’s future”

  1. My comments are short.

    I think SAAB should follow the likes of MINI and Lotus, and maybe Land Rover/Jaguar.

    But SAAB can carve its own identify by being:

    – boutique yet not “snooty”
    – niche
    – specialty
    – eco-friendly
    – sporty
    – versatile
    – unique
    – fashionable & trend-setting, not “trendy”,
    – unpredictable

    • Totaly agree with SaabKen…
      and already seen some Evoque…who look absolutely great for…17.000 euros less than the 9.4! here in belgium!!!…here in belgium again, the 9.4 is the same price as Porsche cayenne!!!!!!
      and both Evoque and cayenne are available with diesel engine

      • I can help with that…the Evoques is a spin off from the Freelander which was never a true Landrover-you will be able to spec is as 2WD (sic) so its style over content for all the people that can’t be asked to research what real kit is. in a month or two’s time they will be stuck in the snow and wondering why.

        Moreover the choped hot rod low roofline look is highly stylistic and sacrificial (as is the other practical element mentioned above). but hey it’ll sell to the likes of Victoria Beckham and other self obsessed clueless individuals who have no idea what they are buying is singificantly less up to the job than any previous iteration-unless you are just popping to H&M for a new dress-in which case it’ll do you just fine darling.

        Worse still this is the future of the Landrover Defender who have shown similar concepts recently.

  2. Having driven an Evoque 2.2 TD4 Coupe the other day, it did bring a smile on my face. Yes, it is a good looker, yes, it is very well equipped, but no, it won’t land on my driveway as my first car. Fun as it may be, not my car. I’d love one to play with, not as a daily driver. I cannot see doing with it what I do on a day-by-day basis. My 20 year old Saab 900i does that for me, and does it well. Do I want something newer, yep, but within reason.

    Saab has always had its own identity, an identity which may have become watered-down during the GM era, it was still there. Saabs are more of an individuel thing then indeed a brand to serve the big masses. I also have seen the usual remarks in car magazines about the level of trim “not being up to the German competitors standards” and that always makes me grin. Saabs are not followers of fashion, they are bloody reliable, here and there somewhat clumsy, but they are like a good companion. It is not for nothing ther brand has a loyal following.

    In Europe it would be a good idea to offer smaller models. It would also be adviseable to keep engineering costs at bay. Having niche models is all nice but does that really bring in the cash?

    Staying close to what one is know for, seems to be a more logical approach. Not the same things perhaps as 20 years ago, but a solid engineering, no fuss car with a high safety and driveability record.

    Saab owners seem to recognise that, embrace it and not want it any other way.
    The weird thing is, being a small boy at heart me thinks, that a new Saab excites me. There is something that tugs at the heart strings 😉 Let’s not end up with boring over-engineered cars (like a BMW of a MErcedes) but let’s get the show back on the road and build on the heritage as was and is there.

    Let’s push boundaries forward in a way which will satisfy us Saab drivers. Clean lines, a comfortable interior that lasts, safety features as there have always been, roadholding like no one else.

    And the BMW 3 series? hmm, seen it, it seems to be yet another variation on a theme. Things are even worse when one sees the new 1 series. I shall not go into describing what I thought when I saw and drove one. It would be a violation against the posting rukes here 😉

  3. According to my previous experience
    with SAAB 900 & 9000, those cars are wonderful to drive,
    but they are very troublesome and very expensive to own and maintain.

    SAAB has never manage to sell like its rivals for several reasons,
    mainly quality and price.

    For instance, the German quality in Mercedes is much better than that of SAAB,
    whether its in and outside of the car:
    For example, the engine that was fitted on MERCEDES E 200 (Model: W123)
    was far better and more reliable than that of SAAB 900 classic.

    Another example is the dashboards,
    Compare the German dashboards with the Swedish, and you’ll
    notice that there is a big difference in the standard of quality of material.

    In terms of pricing,
    In my point of view, SAAB is OVER PRICED.

    I think that SAAB’s price should be
    roughly 50% (HALF the current selling price of a BMW, Mercedes and Audi),

    but in the best case scenarios,
    the price should not exceed
    75% (3/4 the current selling price of the above premium brands).

    These are my thoughts

    • As a SAAB 9-3 owner, I agree with most of your comments – I would not have bought without the substantial discount and free service x 3 offers.

    • People keep real !!
      50% of the BMW Merc or Audi price is a joke, you don’t get no car for that money.

      But in any case, Saabs are lower priced than the Teutonic Three, maybe higher than a VW, but we have to pay for the exclusivity, it is as easy as that.

      My wife is waiting for her 9-3 Griffin, and she has checked what other brands have on offer, just in case, and she told me that even an equivalent VW Golf would be as expensive as her 9-3.

      The new A6 is 5.000 € – 10.000€ more expensive than a 9-5 Aero.

      And I could continue.

      Till has put it right, Saab has a problem with the Leasing but not with the price.

      • The price of BMW 320, Merc C 200 compressor, and Audi A4 T is almost: AED 150,000
        One Hundred Fifty Thousand (United Arab Dirhams)

        The Price of SAAB 9-3 should start from roughly: AED 75,000-110,000
        Seventy Five Thousand Dirhams to One Hundred Ten Thousand Dirhams

        In terms of price, SAAB 9-3 could position itself to compete with European premium cars, for example:
        Peugoet 508, Citroen C-5, VW Passat, Opel Insignia, Ford Mondeo, and Japanese cars like
        Nissan Altima, Honda Accord, Toyota Camry. They are all good cars, sell well like cup cakes,
        they do have a good reputation, and they are all profitable.

        Therefore, it would be better for SAAB to quit the premium market of (MERC, BMW, and AUDI), its the market where SAAB didn’t have a chance to compete in, and did not have a chance to make
        good profit to sustain its Independence and growth.

      • I can’t but agree about rust issues, it has become a common issue with all manufacturers: Merc, Lexus, Honda, Nissan, and others.

        But, focus on the tiny details and design, feel the quality of German Dashboards, there’s something unique in them. Perhaps the German have invented and adopted their own standard “DIN”, that’s what make them durable and long lasting

    • You must be kidding my friend… Get real.

      “German quality in Mercedes is much better than that of SAAB”

      I ever heard the exact opposite from drivers and mechanics. Mercedes from the 90’s, and even more in the late ’90s became reportedly of lower quality in terms of construction and materials. This is a worldwide known issue. Why didn’t you see Merc W140’s in the age that was typical of a daily driven Saab on the road? They barely lived their tenth year of age! Get a bit more factual and serious. Swedish quality matches or tops German quality. I never forget my firend jumping in my Saab from his Audi A8. His audi was half of the age and – as a premium car – at least 3 grades up of my Saab NG900. His first question was: Why do you have a much cooler dashboard that I have in my Audi? And his surprise was darn serious.

      • I too have seen the famous Audi quality first hand. They sell the cars on that magnificent feel you get in the car, the switches, the materials, the seats, etc. But what does that help when the engine goes. And the engine in an A8 is not cheap to fix.

      • sorry I made a typo and so my phrase could’ve been misunderstood –
        The original qoute was meant to be:

        “Why does your saab have a much cooler dashboard than that I have in my Audi?”

    • I think you need to by a 2nd hand Hyundai Matiz

      NOW THAT’S VALUE!!

      although its nothing else I would expect form a car, and the peple that drive them generally know less about cars than anyone else. But they are cheap.

      I think that niche has already been filled-especially at entry level and by the Koreans and the French, none of it remarkable and none of it on my driveway.
      Period.

    • “In terms of pricing, In my point of view, SAAB is OVER PRICED.”

      ??? What ???

      “very troublesome and very expensive to own and maintain”

      Ever owned a brand new Volvo? BMW?

      Man, you do not know what you´re talking about!

    • My GM 9-5’s have been extremely reliable, solid transportation for many years. The 2004 Arc Wagon is at 135K miles and the 2003 Aero Sedan is at 208K miles. They have needed the normal suspension components (bushings, shocks) and other maintenance items (brakes, fluids, etc) but other than that, all I’ve replaced are batteries, one DIC, an alternator and a heater bypass valve. The biggest positive thing I always say GM gave Saab was quality control.

  4. Did I say Saab should not follow BMW and Audi in model politics? Let’s just extend that. Saab has to appear self confident enough to step away from making those comparisons themselves.

    This is something that Saab must do. Stop comparing with said brands and stop telling everyone the cars are luxury. I love the new 9-5 but I would never ever call it a luxury car, a luxury car is not for me. A Saab is for me. Practical and fun to drive. Of course the interior must be of high quality but don’t call it luxury since that word will trigger every reviewer to find flaws.

    This is what Saab should do: Be Saab.

    • In which case, they will need to change the model numbering system! The naming of the 9-3 was targeted at the BMW 3-series and the 9-5 at the BMW 5-series.

      p.s. I agree that

      “Saab has to appear self confident enough to step away from making those comparisons themselves.”

  5. Till, I concur with 99% of what you say. I notice that in the first paragraph, there is an (intended?) “self-contradiction”, since you start talking about brand positioning, but the para then slides into the field of technology. This really is a problem, since brand positioning is defined well through available technology, and here, Saab does not have enough money for developments. They will continue to rely on licensed/purchased technology. At the time we see a plug-in hybrid from Saab, they will be commonplace. Saab needs to focus on different aspects.

    There are “mainstreams” in technology, like in fashion, albeit a bit more expensive. One company (the innovator, rare!) starts out a trend, and if succesful, at least for the time being, the rest follows. Right now, dominant trends are coupe-like body styles, downsizing, curve/turning headlight. Previous trends include things like assistence systems (going down in popularity?), evil eyes, third seat bench retractable in the floor (mini vans), cross-overs, V8 engines, V12 engines (boy, that’s been a while now), etc. Some make sense, some are just fashion.

    Saab cannot compete here. But it hasn’t found a new unique selling point that it has the funds for developing, and attracts enough customers. “born from jets” (not rue), “individualists” (“We are all individualists” (Life of Brian), ecology etc. evidently did not work.

    “Best driver experience” (suspension, silence, seats, utility) might work, but unfortunately is something that cannot be put into a broschure, and requires first-hand experience.

    Our discussion can go on forever, but fact is, nobody has yet found an approach to open that Gordic knot.

    • After all, the Gordic knot was opened through a, well, different approach… 😉

      Regarding the self contradiction: it’s hard to talk about positioning without getting into technologies as the car that has to lead that new positioning, the next 9-3, is still under development. And after all, Saab was always defined through technology by a high grade.

      • That was my impression as well, and certainly attracted me to the company. My posting was to confusing, sorry. In shorter words: Saab can no longer compete on this front of ever changing technology trends. And actually, they already gave up (no engines). But I just don’t see what else could attract buyers, in their present brand positioning. This will be one of the main tasks ahead.

  6. Thanks for that article, Till! I couldn’t agree more!
    I really like the idea of getting a “hirsched” Saab right out of the factory!

  7. After all the Stuff that has happened in recent years to SAAB, and I am one of the brand’s loyal followers with two cars in my drive, the perception of the brand is now in such a precarious position it is looking near impossible to overcome the apparent, and real, negativity that exists.
    Look deep into your own wallet. Would you yourself, a fellow SAAB enthusiast who reads this excellent Forum, actually buy one at the moment? Most likely not.
    And that is the crippling problem SAAB has. It will take many years before the future customer decides to take the risk and layout the cash.

    • So true. And yet one of Saab’s greatest selling points is that is an authentically Swedish, whole product. If projections don’t meet reality for its new Chinese owners and they decide to move much of the production to China when their factories come online (which they’re already quite close to being), will the world regard them with such high esteem? Will we?

    • Would you yourself, a fellow SAAB enthusiast who reads this excellent Forum, actually buy one at the moment? Most likely not.

      Actually, I would.
      If I were the kind of person who buys a new car. But I usually buy a car either when it is two or three years old or when it is 15 to 20 years old.

    • Just did exactly that. Yes, discounts helped make the decision, but I drove LOTS of cars and the continuing comments about how the current 9-3 is old and not competitive just does not hold water with me. My wife is not very brand loyal at all and she just makes decisions based on what she likes and how it compares to others. She voted for the 9-3 in the end. It is a very competent car. I did not try BMWs and Audis, and yes I think the $35k US price was a little optimistic, but at the price I paid, or even somewhat higher, other vehicles at the price could not really compare. In the end, it is the car I liked, the price was what I wanted, and the warranty is backed by law. Perhaps this does speak to where Saab’s price point and brand placement ought to be, as Till and others have said, but to say Saab cannot compete and the damage to the brand cannot be overcome is overstating things. People will buy from Saab if they feel the ownership is now stable and the product is what they want.

  8. There are few points, that were mentioned, but key points are omitted:
    – Saab is missing a competitive range of engines for the European market: With such big and heavy cars like the 9-5 and 9-4x, a six cylinder Diesel with 250+ hp is imperative. Without that, forget about Saab’s selling in Europe. In Europa, 90% of sales in that market segment are Diesels.
    – Even in the field of gasoline engines, Saab has lost some of the competitive edge, the brand used to have in past 30 years: 4-cylinder turbos with much more torque, much less real life consumption than comparably powerful 6 cylinder engines. BMW’s future 4- and 6-cylinder engines are one step ahead with significantly less fuel consumption than Saab’s current portfolio. Thus, Saab will have to tackle the fuel consumption issue.
    – In the same field, the gearbox is a disadvantage to German competitors, as their more sophisticated systems allow for lower fuel consumption. It is the engine / gearbox combination, that counts. Moreover, large Diesels with their enormous torque ask for more advanced gearbox / transmissions.
    – Cheap interiors/ dashboards have been mentioned, but they have been recognized and the issue progressively tackled, with the latest progress in 2012 models. The perception as rebadged Opel’s will remain for some time, however.
    – What I am missing, is the functionality advantage that the 900/9-3 and the 9000 had in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Big car trunk. The current 9-3 and the OG 9-5 do not have particularly big trunks, though versatility has been very good.
    With respect to pricing, things are more complicated. But when quality will be restored and competitive, Saab’s should be priced somewhat below the Germans. Those will continue to have a margin on their brand and furthermore on useless gadgets and technical features. To get production up, a more sophisticated approach, depending on markets, will be needed. Europe is much about fleet sales, thus other parameters count. In the next 2-3 years, no doubt substantial cheaper prices than German’s or even Volvo’s will be required, given the badly hit brand image.
    But first, Saab will have to survive, and production to resume.

  9. I have always thought that Saab will have an own identity similar that Porsche has. Instead, they have most often tried to compare itself with Audi, BMW and Mercedes. Look at Porsche 911. A model that during many years has undergone only lightly and sophisticated extraneous changes but is up to the best when it comes to technology development. Porsche has admittedly increased the model assortment gradual but I do not believe they come up in those volumes on a million vehicles and more as the three other German brands.

    When Saab now becomes Chinese and production also will happen in China they should intend on which strategy they will have. It should at least be possibly to limit the factory in Trollhättan and to invest on high-technological models both as regards coach, furnishings and technology. Use the best materials that are available. Engines of last generation with environment intend however with performance in Porsche class. Not as Porsche a mass additional extra but the cars will be completed equipped from the start. It will not be cheap cars, but they are not suitable for the man on the street. They do not become an alternative to the three German. How does it go for the all Saab fan? Gradually it comes out second-hand cars. Costly cars fall more and faster than the cheap. It will become possible also for Saab fan to buy a Saab. The people that buy a Saab will not be equally sensitive in order to the car falls in value that they that buys cheaper models produced in million editions.

    The factory or the factories in China will produce cars with Saab technology, secure, environmentally friendly and funny to drive, but with materials and equipment that does them competitive against most other brands. If these models will have Saab emblems or other emblem can be discussed. If they keep the Saab brand name it could maybe also be an alternative for some Saab fans.

  10. Interesting stuff because it helps put a European perspective to the marketing of SAAB. Certain values are universal but the US market is so large and crowded that other dynamics become more important.

    First there is far less public perception about SAAB. Most potential buyers in the price range would respond “Oh yeah ,I remember those , Seinfeld had one 20 years ago. GM killed them along with Saturn”. There is only one way in this market to be a player and that is to ADVERTISE in all of the manifold ways possible. And that costs lots of money. If you don’t have the money, can’t play.

    Next is a wide spread dealer structure. This is a physically large market and buyers need to be able to have a dealer within a reasonable distance or else your advertising will be for naught.

    The cars themselves must not be crippled. That is manual transmissions and AWD need to be available , interiors have to say WOW to the buyer and as importantly to his friends. No cheap looking radio displays and of course a now universally required level of technology in the entertainment communication section.

    Value for money is an absolute requirement to rebuild the market share. The Korean cars that were totally unknown a dozen years ago built their niche with incredibly low prices and a 10 year warranty. Today these companies have models selling for up to $60,000 and are a major player. Saab you will say is not trying to sell millions per year but it must stand out in its price range as great value given what you are getting in the vehicle as well as an assurance of the best warranty in the US.

    It can be done but if an aggressive plan is not instituted soon many dealers will continue to disappear in vital markets and that will end the viability of SAAB in the US.

  11. This is a very strong piece of writing Till.
    The point being, where can Saab have a unique selling point (to stay in marketing terms) given its “natural recources”.
    Should that be in styling like the Evogue, mentioned above?
    In my opinion the Evogue is the opposite of what a Saab should be. Its a beyond reallity styled over exposed bling bling car that has no suspension (thanks to Top Gear).
    So where can Saab excel? Of course that should be in the aircraft heritage, where simpel functionality goes hand in hand with less weight. And everybody wants to fly a plane.
    Saab should make this heritage more plausible. This can be done by tuning on weight,
    A Saab should generally be made out of aluminium and be 10-20% lighter than the competition. This couldn be done with the technology they have and for once and allget rid of the GM radiance.
    It’s in line with long live cycles.
    This also gives new distinctive design possibilities, for instance: Rivets that can be seen
    This could be a feature that all cars will need (in styling terms) in the future, but Saab will be the only where they are plausible.
    The black painted massive A pillar should disapear for at least one covered by glass or a very small one (900 classic, including bulb side window).
    Inside materials:, What about reindeer leather and birch wood?

    The definite wheel arches of the 9.4 X, that can also be seen on the new 9.3 image are a non funtional styling mistake.
    Styling has nothing to do with design.
    A Saab should not look like a plane, but be designed like a plane.

    • Lightweight is a fine concept, no doubt about that. However, there are serious trade offs as well:

      -less weight means less towing capacity. Presently, Saab is on par with the other premium offerings. Maybe not important to you, but to me.
      -more noise, as insulation and dampening is heavy. Not good for long distance cars.
      -lighter seats assumably means less comfort
      -structural integrity requires a certain dimension of elements for collisions etc and limit the weight reduction. I believe that safety standards are the main reason for increased masses.

      • Yes i think that that is correct too regarding increased mass and Safety.

        However, it is fully possible to develop technology and materials that are considerably more lightweight with the same strength and insulation
        Regarding Towing capacity, which is also important to me, the main limitations for towing capacity in EU comes from your drivers license, not from your cars weight.

  12. About quality, yes as a owner of SAAB,s since 1973,my newest is from this october( 9-3 SC Biopower),
    I have some wiews over developments since those early days.
    First qualitys;
    As a wintercar, first class:The feel that you are in control of the car has, always been there.
    Fun to drive.
    The appeal the car give you. l I can`t describe that.
    No one has never let me done.

    Bad things;
    Early 1976 models, 99GLE especiality, had quality problems with painting, bad preparation in building in different items ,that caused corrosion problems. There is other thing but I leave it for now.

    Then the GM years.They have made good things, especially the modern factory.
    But they did not understand the brand. Nowadays Bob Lutz talk farly well about SAAB.But I can witout problem remember his jokes at different fairs where he made fun and headlines over GM`s own brand!!!
    The turbolent last two years has hurt the brand, but credit to Victor Muller. If things go that way I hope , he will be remembered as the man that saved SAAB!
    Finally;
    My 9-3SC Biopower Model 2011, is a great car! I enjoy every tour. I hope that will last.
    I believe in the future for SAAB.
    Thanks.

  13. Read the new book by Issacson on Steve Jobs:
    1. Don’t try to capture all markets. Appeal to a few,
    2. Focus on your strengths.
    3. Simplify.
    4. Forget market research. Do what you think is right.
    5. Make the product great. It doesn;t have to be the biggest or baddest, but what you make has to be wonderful.
    6. Introduce to world with fanfare. The greatest thing we;ve ever made. We are changing the world.

  14. Good post, Till. I share many of your points but would also like to comment on the pricing debate:

    It shall be reasonably priced but it will never be cheap

    A Saab doesn’t need to be cheap – it only needs to be worth the price. Simple as this. However, looking at the current pricing of the 9-3 Griffin models, I wouldn’t buy one at the moment as the car’s basis is too old compared to the competition, while the price has increased and the entry level engine was cut away. I think that was not a good idea.
    When I bought my current 9-3 SS 1.8t BioPower Linear (MY 2009), it was mainly because it was THE best offer for a long-range premium car at that time. I bought it even though I was not looking for a middle class! However, as a Linear it had a 2-zones automatic AC, CD radio with AUX interface, 8 airbags, even some leather-like applications on the doors and seats. The only thing I needed to add was a leather steering wheel to make myself feel good in that car, which at the same time had a much bigger and very useful size than I was up to. I didn’t necessarily need alloy rims or stuff like that as long as the technical basis of the car was up-to-date and fully developed as this was back then. The strongest argument for me, anyway, was the 175 hp out of a turbo-charged 2.0 liter engine with an alternate drive (BioPower) and a 6-speed-gearbox. No other car manufacturer had (and I believe still has) that combination to offer! And all this was available at a price considerably below 30,000 Euros, while being not too much more expensive than the old 5-speed 1.8i with only 122 hp. Plus, it was a middle class SAAB! You couldn’t even get a similar equipped compact Audi A3, BMW 1 series, not to mention the A4 or 3 series, or Volvo S40 or Subaru Impreza or Legacy or what have ya… at that time.
    Nowadays, Saabs middle class (even lower middle class) competitors are still too expensive, but Saab can’t really beat the technological progress they have made (i.e. start-stop, brake energy recuperation, or the like) when it comes to the question of value for money. It simply isn’t a true alternative at the moment. I know, I know – the Griffin is much better equipped than back then, and the new DI engines are certainly more modern, too. But the cheapest version here in Germany is at 29,500 Euros, which would force me as a person with a limited budget to look for a smaller car. That would be fine, too, but this is something Saab just can’t offer (and won’t offer for at least 3 to 4 years). Lacking a basically equipped entry level 9-3 at a price one would normally have to pay for a better equipped compact car, potential new customers like I was wouldn’t even consider looking one class up were you can get a little more value (and space!) at the price of a Golf, when there simply is no such offer.
    I hope you understand my point and don’t get me wrong. So, to make a long post short: The 9-3 Griffin is too expensive being yet too old as to have the potential to attract new (or bring back lost) customers to the brand. It doesn’t stand out enough (as a 9-3 used to back in 2008 when the all-embracing facelift came out) to justify its price. Saab should maybe add a “Linear” or “Tour” version just as Skoda did with the “old” Octavia or Seat with the old A4-basis now being the new Exeo. Although this might not be the behavior of a “premium” brand, isn’t it more important to sell as many cars as possible after production resumes? I fear that the current 9-3 Griffin will end up as a shelf warmer.

  15. Living in Sweden I believe we look at SAAB our way, and abroad somewhat different. But what we all have in common is a special spirit. So does also the employes in Thn.
    I am driving a NG 9-5 TiD auto. Have now driven it close to 70.000km. Many km in mid Europe. I have unfortunately seen very few NG 9-5, and many dealers are gone. Having a technical problem can be rather difficult to find help to solve. I am an entusiast yes, have an order for a 9-5 SC since April, and now finally I hope I will get it hopefully early spring.
    However I have looked at alternatives. Compared prices with approximate same equipment. The 9-5 is well eqipped “naked” and the upgrade packages are at good price. Found Mercedes to be the most expensive, BMW sligthly lower price than MB, and then Audi sligtly lower than BMW. This is prices in Sweden. The 9-5 TiD 4 auto ends up well equipped at around 360.000SEK net. The Audi A6 with close to same equipment ends up at 410.000 SEK after rebate. BMW520 +5% and MB E+10%. We shall not forget Volvo V70 which at least in Sweden is a very tuff competitor. -10% compared to SAAB price.
    I will this weekend test drive an A6 Avant 4 cyl. diesel with auto. Shall be interesting. Is it worth the higher price. We have already 3 BMW520D as company cars. But thats´s no alternative for me. Can not motivate me for the higher price and to be pushed on winter roads. But BMW engine is great. Here SAAB is missing something on the diesel side. The TiD4 does it´s job, but for people who are thinking to maybe buy a SAAB, are not so impressed, Difficult to even have them in for a test drive. Ok there is the TTiD4, but it does not come with auto(stopped by GM I heard), and the running culture of that engine is not smooth, and fuel consumption too high. I have made an upgrade on my engine, runs smoother and as high performance as the TTiD at lower consumption.
    On German autobahn I have notice with the NG 9-5 that other drivers move out of the way better then for the OG 9-5. The look in the mirror when comming up from behind is impressing. And the total look of the car is great and different. But interior quality is on the lower side compared to all 4 competitors mentioned. This must be up to a higher level to be able to compete.
    I have friends in mid Europe that I years back convinced to buy a SAAB after have tested the one I had at that time. They can think about buying a new, but problem is where to find a dealer. One want to have them close, and this will not be easy in the future. In mid south Sweden a large dealer, Holmgrens, have stopped. They will not take in SAAB again the owner have stated this week. They have instead taken in BMW.

  16. Guys – great comments but we need to consider something. To make volume levels work you either need a unique product- new to the market- substaninable over long term with profit led pricing (This is hard). Alternatively you need an adequate/acceptable product, accepted by the market and substainable by discount/offer led pricing.(easier option- GM strategy with saab for many years). VOLUME will privide cashflow and cover your factory and marketing costs – allbeit at reduced profits. I dont know how Saab will manage to get back on track with this approach given the damage to the brand in the western markets?? For me the only option is MAKE the phoenix something truly unique- only chane of getting back into the market right now within the west. Meanwhile take current 9-3 to china, cover the volumes off and cover some of your costs. Sounds simple…it wont be

    • I’m with you on making something truly unique is going to bring us back on track, which would also be in line with hughw’s comment above (“Make the product great. It doesn;t have to be the biggest or baddest, but what you make has to be wonderful.”) However, it might take too long until the NG 9-3 is in place. What shall Saab do in the meantime?

      The good news is:
      The NG 9-5 (both sedan and combi) already is outstanding.
      The 9-4X already is outstanding, too.
      The 9-3 Griffin, however, is not. And thus not worth the price (any more). Priced a little lower, it would still be an interesting alternative even for customers you don’t even look for a middle class car.

  17. The key: A Saab must look great, first impression is the key. Thinking outside the box when design the cockpit.

    So the next generation 9-3 must deliver true Saab values and it has to be “a feast for my eye”. If people think that
    Saab will succeed. It must look sporty and fast and have some uniqe features that strengthens the identity.

    So it´s up to JC to deliver the visual and the engineers to fill it with Saab durability and true Swedish enginering skills.

    Saab must stand out from the crowd, Forget about the Germans.

  18. Nice piece! After reading the comments, here’s what I’ll add….

    Wait until the car is ready for production until you launch it, so that people can go and order it right away. Let the launch event take place at the Trollhättan market square. And offer test drives for those who are there, not just the press guys. Just make it a real event for customers, too. After all, they are those who will buy the cars.

    This is a great idea, especially the part about the Saab community getting the first test drives! That would be different. Saab has done something similar and on a smaller scale in the past. At the 50th Jubilee celebration in Trollhattan, a US contingent of the community got to experience the first gen 9-5 introduction presentation journalists received followed by test drives the next morning. Granted, the 9-5 was already introduced to journalists but it was during the introduction of the then new model.

    Those are all values that are clearly related to Sweden and were evaluated because they were needed there. Saab would not be the same if they were developed and made somewhere else. And this is why I want that Saab.

    In the relatively recent post about Steve Jobs, I put a link in comments to an article that looked at how Saab and Apple could learn from each other. One of the things mentioned was that it doesn’t matter where the “product” is manufactured as long as the brand attributes are clear and the end result is great. For example, Apple designs and tests its products in the US (California) but it is manufactured in China. It is the design and customer experience of the product that provides the magic. For Saab, the Scandinavian connection is key to the brand attributes, and Saabs should still be manufactured in Trollhattan but it is OK for the Swedish design (i.e., the look, functionality, engineering, integration, etc.) to be built elsewhere. That was the case for the Saab convertible until recently and certainly most of the other manufacturers build cars outside of their home nation with no brand recognition issues.

  19. As far as marketing goes, big media blitzes, etc.: I don’t know how long it lasted, when it was put in place, etc. but back around 2000 Saab (at least here in New England, US) they had a referral bonus system. I was not really aware of it, but had demoed(?) my -99 9-3 to a friend at work. He was thinking of buying a Beemer 528 at the time. He got interested enough to see the Saab dealer in Nashua, NH and tested a 9-5 Aero. He told me afterwards that he drove the living daylights out of the car on back roads, but the lady salesperson just sat calmly in the passenger seat as if taking a slow trip on a Sunday afternoon. He bought the car and was really happy with it! I got a call a few weeks later and received a “referral bonus check” from Saab Nashua! I think it was for a couple of hundred $.
    My point is: maybe this is ONE way to market the cars, get people into the show rooms and give some incentive to the person(s) doing it.
    Weekend “rentals” – this may be difficult to manage, but if you were allowed to take a car for a low cost and drive it over a weekend to really get a feel for how it fits in “in your daily life”?
    Safe drivers class: especially in New England and other snow-infested areas – driving with instructor on a skid-course.
    This is a real long shot: get a couple of new 9-5’s built up to US police car standards and place with a couple of PDs here in the US for “evaluation”. Weren’t there Saab police “cruisers” in Colorado way back?

  20. A simple statement:
    The pricing has been far too low for such a long time that it affected quality for some years.

    What we can expect is a steadily raising price for some years to come, and hand in hand
    with that also the best quality (as before GM). That would be the best for the brand, that
    deserves better treatment!

    I guess the Asian market want´s to see a northern quality that feels exclusive and somewhat
    “exotic”..?

  21. Hi guys, I just finished reading Kampen om SAAB and found a bit in the bokk that really made me simile.

    “The factory did not know how long the money would be enough, but you knew it was getting crisis. Meanwhile, production must continue. One day there was a flat tire on a small wheel that looked at the cars changing direction inside the body shop. Production was stopped. Would they follow instructions and write in a purchase request, it would take a long time. Arbetslledaren the maintenance department, Kenneth Eriksson, stood speechless on a form, but put it aside. He sighed and took the car over Stallbacka bridge to the backyard chain Harald Nyborg and bought a new hose for 35 SEK from their own pockets. After half an hour, they could start up production.”

    Google tran…….

  22. Very good article with lots of good points.

    The most important, I think, is what Till says about brand identity. Saab’s identity back in the ’80s, as we know, was innovation (turbo, etc.) + safety + driving experience. At that time, this clearly defined them vs. other brands because nobody else at that time combined these factors that well. As Till points out, today, that Saab still focuses on those items, but so do other brands so the differentiation is not as strong.

    Due to its size, Saab cannot compete with a bigger advertising budget, but it MUST decide how it is going to define itself to customers today and then be consistent in that message. It can still focus on its core values (as those are things that make a Saab a Saab and a desirable car to own), but the key is how to define their cars to the public in a clear, consistent and compelling way. The internet opens a great opportunity as more and more people get their news and information about products that way. But Saab needs a clear message.

  23. I firmly beleive there is still a gulf between the Korean kit and the German kit, and Saab should still vie to be the name when it comes to filling that void.(Apart from the French who they ought to out perform on build quality) being economical yet sophisticated and capable.

    Saabs size should make it more agile as a company-particularly with funding and that should help with innovation.

    Saab should still have a party peice like the mid range accelleration of a porsche that the 9-3 Aero used to have (being in 3rd between 50-100 was like making the jump to light speed and surprised many people over the years including some porsche drivers and my passengers)

    Saab should not loose individuality-it should not make its cars all the same-there should be big differences in the designs-not this cookie cutter approach where everything looks like a 9-5 only bigger/smaller/cross-over etc.

  24. Everything I could want to say has already been said which leads me to another comment unrelated to the post, but to the comments.

    I don’t think I have ever seen so many long responses to a single SU entry ever. Must be because it’s Friday? Or it was a very good entry that is very open to responses? 🙂

  25. Very good article, very good comments. Albeit I’m fairly sure, although I could be wrong, that putting reindeer hide in a car is against international laws. But, hey, while we’re on the subject why not go the whole hog and have a pop-out gorilla-hand ashtray and an ivory gearknob? Enjoyed the diversion about the Evoque, too – this is the last thing Saab should be emulating in my humble opinion. It’s a handbag on wheels, not a car, which is fine for those who want it. I really liked the point about aviation grade processes and materials being brought back more into Saab’s DNA, coupled to design flourishes that echo it. Aircraft style riveting would be very interesting to explore. Might work, might not. Let’s see a concept. Also agree on the Apple comparison, even though I personally can’t stand the smugness of the Apple campaign and brand identity. Is it possible to say “we are God’s gift” without sounding smug? Also, I am becoming more convinced by comments such as a number on this thread that perhaps top-notch quality with a high price tag is the only way to go in order to get the essential company sales volumes. The rest of us, private family-car buyers, can then pick up an approved used 9-3, or whatever, at our price point when the car is 2-3 years’ old. Otherwise … you need to drop the prices and reposition. Abandon the company market, perhaps? Is that unthinkable? But maybe that’s what you need to do, especially if the cars are going to become properly quirky designs again? Or, a third way (how very Swedish), how about a boring, expensive model with lots of unnecessary toys and titanium-plated panels for the fat-bottomed execs, and an utterly bonkers triangle on wheels with no toys or frills but an amazingly efficient engine, tough as old boots bodyshell (check: current 9-3 already is), lots of quirky features and loads of family-friendly load-lugging room for the rest of us? Job done. Next!

    • See Safety, wild-life accidents.

      During the winter months in Sweden we have 150 wild life accidents PER DAY! Last year a total of 46 889 wild-life accidents were reported.

      That would make a half year production (if it were all reindeer).

  26. The best way for Saab to get back on track is for Saab to be bought by some entity with several billion dollars of cash. The best ideas in the world mean nothing if everything is underfunded.

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