As I read through the latest round of 9-5 reviews published this week in the US media, I’ve been struck by the lack of depth that they bring to their reviews. Sure, they cover what details are on the surface, and they do a pretty decent job of bringing their own opinions to bear. But the surface is where it stops, and for anyone who knows anything about the car, it’s frustrating.
Jon B had some comments about the WhatCar? survey published last week. Saab were condemned in this user-content survey, whilst Skoda prevailed as #1.
What does it all mean and how can we help? Jon has some ideas and suggestions.
Jon has worked in the automotive industry for some time, and as mentioned in his text he recently has a stint with Audi.
For me the biggest issue is that the reader review section of WhatCar? will ONLY reflect the reviews of those who bother to post.
As was noted on another manufacturers enthusiast site, no-one posts about “well that’s another 1000 miles this month and nothing has gone wrong”. Generally people going on to a WhatCar? style site tend to have something on their mind.
The cars that do well (and Skoda is a prime example) tend to come from a base of low expectations, as witnessed by the frankly unfair comments about Skoda from some commenters. Skoda drivers are either lifelong enthusiasts who will defend the car to the death (does that remind you of the supporters of a certain Swedish Brand?) or newcomers genuinely astonished buy how good the car is compared to its reputation. These are the individuals who take the time to write a piece on the website spreading the gospel about their car.
On the flip side, sometimes expectations not met. Saabs (and any prestige car) are expected to perform without fault. This may be unrealistic but it happens; I certainly saw that repairing Audis. If a fault is repaired without a fuss then it is less likely soemone will go to the bother of slating the car on a web forum. In short, happy customers are less likely to praise a Saab on WhatCar? and more likely post on any (perceived?) faults (in my opinion).
Are there problems with UK Saabs?
Well, yes and no. I have run diesels for 5 years now and have a 75k mile Peugeot 407 as a daily hack. At 65k miles the clutch and dual mass flywheel needed to be replaced at a cost of £1000 (not paid for by me btw). At 80k the diesel particulate filter (DPF) will need to be replaced at a cost of £600 – £1000. These are considered “wear and tear” items.
The exhaust gas recirculation valve on all short run cars frequently clogs and needs to be repaired/replaced. This causes the issues raised by unhappy punters on WhatCar?. The inlet swirl flaps can break up and wreck the engine – an issue on several cars according to the Honest John Website. Check this for potential problems.
The main problem is that many people do not realise this; they are used to stories of million mile Mercedes and Peugeot diesels running on chip fat, without realising that within the last 10 years BHP and Torque have risen by maybe 100% from the same basic engine. So yes, there are reliability issues but often they are down to to inappropriate (constant urban use) or hard (flooring the car in 2nd and 3rd at every opportunity) abuse.
Diesels are VERY expensive to maintain over 60k miles and the Fiat engine in the 9-3 and 9-5 is no better in this respect than any other car and possibly worse than some. Guess what’s the best selling engine for UK Saabs (and therefore the likely cause of complaint)?
Aggressive driving and stop start conditions can aggravate these issues and cause them to occur earlier. Owners then get on the web with a complaint that can be genuine but also due to their own driving style and poor advice and guidance from the salesman.
Dealers need to be more upfront about petrol vs. diesel and set expectations accordingly. I know of a car sold to a customer from a dealership I worked for with a DPF, yet the customer only did 10 miles per day in stop/start traffic. The DPF never attained temperature long enough to regenerate and thus required 3 filters in a year. The customer thought his car was crap, it wasn’t – it just wasn’t the right car for his needs.
Ok so what can we do?
Life is 10% what happens to us and 90% how we deal with it. We could vent on SU all night but instead, the WhatCar? reader review section is open to all, so happy SU readers should use it to inform the wider world of how good their Saab is. WhatCar? slated my A5 Sportback – owners took the opportunity to set the record straight. Saab owners must do the same for 2012.
However, dealers have a part to play in winning unhappy customers back around, something Audi was excellent at when I worked there. I was frequently told by senior managers that all cars had problems, it was down to how the customer was handled that made the difference.
A recent survey released by Whatcar? provides what I think is a very disturbing result. I don’t believe that it’s an accurate result, nor do I think it’s been responsibly reported. None of that matters, though. It is what it is – Whatcar? have named Saab as the worst manufacturer according to their reader survey results.
Saab’s new owner, Spkyer, will be hoping the new 9-5 impresses you more than the ageing 9-3. More than 200 of you reviewed the saloon, estate and convertible versions of the 9-3, giving it decidedly average verdicts.
The old 9-5 isn’t included because it’s no longer on sale, but even its ratings wouldn’t have lifted Saab off the bottom of our table.
According to Whatcar? readers, Skoda were the best manufacturer, with their vehicles having an average rating of 4.4 out of 5.
Saab were 31st, and last, with an average rating of 3.3.
These results are based on owner/user-based reviews of their own cars. I’d query the placements of more than a few manufacturers, but it would be a pointless exercise. The reviews are over and done. More importantly, they’re published and accessible.
Saab has had a reasonable amount of negative perception over the last year or so because of the near-closure and sale of the brand. As is noted in the quote, they also have an aging Saab 9-3 as their primary seller, which might not have helped (although the quality and reliability of the Saab 9-3 has been rated highly elsewhere).
Whatever the situation, part of Saab GB’s job is to help buyers feel that they’re getting value for money, to feel good about their purchase. Saab make good cars, but the volume of noise made by the press in the last year or so has dramatically outweighed the positive messages – the right messages – sent out by the company and in Great Britain, that’s Saab GB’s domain.
As always with car companies, it’s all about the product. But the right message helps a lot.
Thanks to Ronan for the link.
UPDATE – comments are now closed. Please click on the headline to this entry to read them. Thanks to all for the robust discussion, but I think we covered all that needed to be covered.
As much as I have concerns about Consumer Reports and their ratings systems, their work is relied upon by thousands of people looking at new cars in the US.
Hence, this initial report on their blog is of some interest and it’s good to see yet another positive introduction to the US consumer:
We had a chance to drive a new Aero, and found it to be a pleasant car, roomier, quieter, and more refined than the old 9-5. The six-cylinder engine provides quick, smooth acceleration, and the car handles nicely, with a comfortable ride. Some GM switchgear remains as a reminder of the past, but the upside is the 9-5 inherited OnStar from its ex-parent.
It’s a measured piece, but positive overall and worth a quick read. It doesn’t contain anything that will be new to regular readers, but it’s good to see where the media is heading with this.
Thanks to Alan H for the tip.
I can’t believe my eyes!!
A news release today from Consumer Reports ranks Saab at #11 for predicted 2010 model year vehicle reliability.
I’m not sure what the etiequette is in this situation. I’ve spent a lot of time deriding CR’s methodology in the past and I stand by that 100%. I guess it would be somewhat duplicitous of me to get too excited about this.
I’m please to see the improved result, however, if only because it helps remove some of those negative GM stereotypes that Saab would like to shuffle off before proceeding down their own path in the United States.
Of course, it’s interesting to see that two of the brands GM is discarding are placed higher than any of the brands they’re keeping. Interesting too, is the not-unusual domination by Asian carmakers in the top 10.
Thanks to Seth for the heads-up
Saab jumped 12 places in this study.
The big loser was Mini, falling 14 places, with Lincoln down 9 spots and Subaru down 5.
Click to enlarge…. of view the full chart at autoblog.
Also, the Saab 9-3 is now a recommended pick…..
Thanks to Logan for the heads up on these…..
I got taken to task a little in comments for criticising Consumer Reports’ description of Saab’s restructuring procedure last week.
Time to go again.
Consumer Reports have covered Saab’s production problem this week on their blog, and they’ve got it wrong on a number of counts:
After seeking bankruptcy protection on Tuesday, Saab shut down its Swedish factory after customs agents seized control of it, according to an English-language Swedish news site.
According to The Local, Swedish customs authorities blocked parts deliveries to the factory from outside the European Union, over unpaid duties on the imported parts. Since Saab relies on many GM parts from the United States, the lack of these parts shut down the factory.
A spokesman for the Swedish customs service was quoted as saying the amount Saab owed was “considerable.”
Saab has since resolved the dispute by negotiating with Swedish customs authorities. The touch-and-go nature of this arrangement speaks to the challenges General Motors and its various divisions face.
That first paragraph is kinda jaw-dropping in its inaccuracy:
…..after customs agents seized control of it
Do you have images of armed, uniformed men standing at the gates, rappelling down from rooftops and overpowering line workers as they try to install a dashboard on a 9-3?
Of course, no such thing happened. And I’d question several other elements of their report as well.
If Consumer Reports had followed up on subsequent reports on this issue, they’d know that the stoppage of production was more to do with one supplier, Schenker, rather than the Swedish Customs issue.
Both the Schenker and Swedish Customs issues happened on the same day, but the entire stoppage was attributed to the Customs issue.
All of this, of course, is attributable to the changed conditions under which Saab are now trading as a result of the reconstruction process. The timing of their payment obligations changed suddenly and these issues are the teething problems symptomatic of that changed process.
What annoys me is that an influential publication like Consumer Reports can get it so wrong, effectively flinging so much mud at Saab in the public arena.
I hope they print a correction and publicise it as effectively as the original blog article.