An open letter to Jason Castriota – Saab Design Director

Dear Jason,

I have to apologise first, mainly for the fact that I don’t believe you’ve had a real welcome to the Saab community yet. In truth, your appointment came as a surprise to the enthusiast community and because Saab Design is such an emotive subject, the shock of your appointment tended to occupy the column inches that were dedicated to covering it.

I don’t know if you realise it, but you’ve now got a significant weight hoisted on your shoulders.

It was widely assumed when Saab were sold that Simon Padian would assume/continue the position as head of Saab Design. Simon not only had the respect of the people, he also had significant time-in at Saab, having joined the company over 20 years ago. That sort of record counts for a fair bit in a company that values its heritage as much as Saab does – at least in the eyes of the enthusiast community. Being installed in place of a man like Simon has led to some amount of reservation on the part of many people who visit here.

That’s weight #1.

Weight #2 is the weight of expectation. I don’t know if history will write up the development of the next Saab 9-3 as being as significant as the switch from two-stroke to four-stroke, or the development of the Saab 900. But right now, in 2010, there is no bigger project than the MY2013 Saab 9-3. There is no second chance for Saab with this car. If it fails, Saab will undoubtedly close shortly thereafter. It’s that simple.

That’s a big burden to carry and the concern of the people is weighted accordingly.

So what we’d like to see from you is some sort of sign. Some evidence. Proof of life. We’d like to see that you’re not just a pretty face and a slick presentation. What we’d like to see is some substance. Some sort of demonstrated understanding about Saab and what it should be.

Speaking personally, I’d love to see you driving a Saab 900 to work every day. I’d love to know your thoughts on the driving characteristics of the Saab 96 or even a Sonett. I’d love to see you fight with a Viggen and pick up a load of furniture in the back of a 9000 Aero.

For years, Saab were afflicted with people in control of decisions who we know didn’t “get it” when it came to Saab. We got cars that were progressively de-contented. Cars that were worthwhile in terms of intention but so poorly executed that they did more harm to the brand than good.

Burned by that experience and harrowed by the near closure of the company, we’d like to feel assured that the man charged with bringing the next generation of Saab’s bread-and-butter model “gets it”.

We may be wary, but I think I can presume enough to say that in terms of emotional investment, we’re all in this together. We all want this to work. We all want you to do well.

Welcome to the family. Please feel free to get in touch. Please feel free to share your thoughts and visions for the future design direction of this company.

We’ll all be very keen and excited to hear what you’ve got to say.

Video: Jason Castriota drives the Saab 9-5

I’m not sure how they managed to pull this one off, but Carscoop have premiered a video of Saab’s new design chief, Jason Castriota, driving and talking about the new Saab 9-5.

It looks like this was part of the US launch, as Fox News have a video with Victor Muller talking about the Saab 92 that is shot on the same location.

It seems Castriota’s been well schooled in the Saab design lexicon since his appointment. He’s certainly talking the talk.

Here’s the video.

httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mDC27v0M14Q

Thanks to Brett for the tip via comments

Wednesday Big Snippets

There’s a lot of stuff out there to cover today…..

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Popular Mechanics has a road test of the new Saab 9-5. It’s a little schizo, with this:

Cruising along Swedish highways at speed, the 9-5 is most remarkable for what you don’t notice. There is very little wind noise, bumps are absorbed, the engine is quiet, corners don’t slow you down, and downshifts and acceleration are undetectable except in their effectiveness. Noise, vibration and harshness have been utterly exorcised by the supple chassis, a plethora of sound-deadening material and engine and gearbox tuning intended to make progress effortless.

….being balanced by this:

The new 9-5 is a worthy also-ran in an incredibly competitive class. There’s no reason you shouldn’t buy one, but there’s no reason beyond a burning desire to own something with a Saab badge that you should buy one over an Audi A6 or a BMW 5 Series or a Mercedes-Benz E-Class, either.

They were cheezed by the blackness of the interior, which I think is going to be an issue for many until its resolved. Once fixed, it’ll go a long way to lifting the premium perception of this car.

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CAR Magazine also have a road test – of the Saab 93 driven by Victor Muller in the Mille Miglia.

They were glowing:

What an invigorating drive – the engine dominates the driving experience!

The Saab Museum’s absolutely perfect Saab 95 stroker wagon was also available and is actually a better drive than the 93. I wonder if they drove that one, too.

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CAR Magazine also mention that they have an 8 page feature on the new 9-5 in their July issue.

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New Saab Design appointee, Jason Castriota, has spoken briefly with the New York Times Wheels blog.

Mr. Castriota pointed to the success of the Mini Cooper as a model for the success that the 9-2 might achieve. “There’s some behind-the-scenes talk going on for platform sharing with other companies,” he said, adding that he will have a voice in Saab’s marketing.

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Nick Taliaferro will be speaking at the Saab Owner’s Convention next month.

He’s jotted down some ideas for his presentation and invites your input to help make it better or more relevant to what you want to hear from a US tuning house.

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There’s some interesting commentary on ethanol from John McElroy over on Autoblog.

I didn’t realise that despite all the outcry over food shortages a few years ago, food prices are now falling and even though that’s happening, ethanol production has more than doubled.

Even more encouraging is the growth in cellulosic ethanol plants in the US.

As might (or might not) know, Saab will introduce the 4-cylinder version of the new Saab 9-5 as a BioPower vehicle, Saab’s first BioPower car to be released in the US market.

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And finally, CarAdvice are reporting on a list of cars compiled here in Australia. The list is intended to guide parents as to what (used) cars are good to buy for their first-car-owning kids. The vehicles are said to be safe and affordable.

The Saab 900/9-3 makes the list, as does the Saab 9000.

What’s interesting is that this list has been compiled by the Victorian state Government, the same government that bans new drivers from owning turbocharged vehicles (there might be wiggle room for an exemption under power/weight ratios, but the exemption has to be applied for and proven).

My 2cents on the Jason Castriota appointment as head of Saab Design

Oh boy. I feel like I’m biting the hand that feeds here, but Saab like this website to be independent, so independent and opinionated it will be.

Saab appointed a new Design chief yesterday. Jason Castriota comes with a fine pedigree and a range of striking and beautiful designs in his personal portfolio. Under normal circumstances I’d throw my arms wide open and say welcome to the family.

But these don’t feel like normal circumstances to me. So whilst I’m excited that Saab has someone like Castriota on board, I also feel uneasy.

Victor Muller has often commented on the fact that Saab has the most loyal customers of any car brand, bar none. I happen to agree. However, in the more focused enthusiast world, I think that loyalty extends a little beyond just the cars. Many of us also have some amount of attachment to the company and the people therein that we get to know over time.

It’s hard to hear this announcement about Jason Castriota and not wonder about what might have happened to Simon Padian. Simon has been described as being the head of Saab Design for the last few years. He’s been the face of many Saab films and design-related releases and his work has been valued to no small degree by the fans of the company. He did all this through some very difficult times for the company. I guess you could say he’s been as loyal to Saab as what many of the fans have been over the difficult years.

In writing all of this, I have to say that I’m completely unaware as to Simon’s fate in light of this decision. He may be staying on at Saab and continuing his work there. he may be moving on. I don’t know, but I do know that he was a notable absentee from the 9-5 launch event I attended in Sweden just over a week ago.

Simon Padian is a Brit, but he’s worked for Saab for 20 years, lives in Sweden, speaks Swedish and has led a team of dedicated Saab designers. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that he ‘gets it’ when it comes to Saab.

It should be noted that the Castriota appointment appears to be the outsourcing of some Saab Design. Castriota’s entire design company will work on Saab and his offices are in New York and Turin. Saab’s origins in Sweden and the functional design implied therein are crucial values in the fabric of the company. There’s no word on how much time Castriota or his people will spend in Sweden, but the other question that must be asked in light of this corporate appointment is what will it mean for other members of Saab’s Design team? Will it still remain the size that it is?

The answers to questions about Simon Padian and the size of the design team may not involve negative answers, but in the eyes of someone who values loyalty to the Saab brand, they’re questions that are worth asking. Maybe design needs some new blood, as some have suggested, but the question is still worth asking.

There is no doubt that Castriota is a young star of the design world. Like the appointment of Adrian Hallmark, this is a move that’s a great coup for Saab, but at what cost?

Simon Padian and the Saab Design team understand the brand. They live it. I’m very keen to see what Castriota will bring to the table but I hope the Saab Design appointment means more to him than another feather in his cap. I’m pretty sure it meant more than that to his predecessors.

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Press Release: New Design Director at Saab Automobile

The following press release has just come through from Saab, confirming the Bloomberg story from earlier.

Thanks to Ted Y, here’s an interview with Castriota at Jalopnik.

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New Design Director at Saab Automobile

– Former Pininfarina and Bertone designer joins Saab leadership team
– Will lead design for Saab’s product expansion program

Trollhättan, Sweden: Saab Automobile today announced the appointment of former Bertone and Pininfarina designer Jason Castriota as its new Design Director.

Castriota, 36, now takes the lead role in design at Saab, reporting directly to Saab Automobile CEO Jan Åke Jonsson. He and his design company will be responsible for exterior and interior design and will lead the design activities at Saab as the brand renews and broadens its product range.

Announcing the appointment, Jan Åke Jonsson said: “We’re delighted to welcome Jason to our leadership team. He has an outstanding track record in automotive design and will help us take the brand forward. He will play a key role in expressing all that’s best in the innovative tradition of Saab design as we carry our brand’s roots into the future.”

“I’m greatly looking forward to joining such an iconic brand,” said Castriota. “Saab has a very strong and distinctive heritage which gives it great potential to develop. This is an exciting opportunity for me to help shape its future products.”

Victor Muller, Saab Automobile’s Chairman, added: “Bringing a young, highly-talented designer to Saab underlines the company’s determination to produce cars which stand out because of their unique aircraft inspired, Swedish identity. With Jason heading up Saab design, we will be making landmark cars for the foreseeable future.”

Castriota hails from New York and graduated from Emerson College in Boston before attending the prestigious Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. In 2001, he left the college to join Pininfarina’s design studio in Turin, Italy. He took up the position of Director of Design at Stile Bertone in 2008 and then opened a design consultancy with offices in New York and Turin.

His recruitment is an important strategic step by Saab in its renaissance as a newly-independent carmaker.

Jason Castriota appointed head of Saab Design

I’ve just received the following:

June 18 (Bloomberg) — Jason Castriota, the U.S. designer known for creating the Ferrari P4/5 and Maserati GranTurismo, will head Saab Automobile’s design team to help the Swedish carmaker take on Bayerische Motoren Werke AG and Audi AG.

The report has once again come in from Ola Kinnander at Bloomberg and I’ve received some confirmation externally as well.

This is a big appointment and whilst Castriota’s career includes some noteworthy achievements with Pininfarina and Bertone, long-term Saab fans will feel a little for Simon Padian and other long term members of the Saab Design team.

From the Bloomberg report:

The first assignment for Castriota’s design firm is to create an upscale version of Saab’s current 9-3 model, scheduled for release in 2012, the 36-year-old said in an interview. Aerodynamics will be a focus of the new design, he said.

“It’s absolutely vital we get this car right,” Castriota said from New York late yesterday. “This is Saab returning to its roots, not having to worry about being part of a much larger machine that they were before in the GM organization.”….

…..Castriota will play a major role in fashioning the new 9-3 and other models, said Eric Geers, a spokesman for the Trollhaettan, Sweden-based Saab.

“The 9-3 design as made by him is basically done, and I can tell you it is spectacular,” Muller said by telephone, adding that the design will be completed within weeks. “It is truly aircraft-inspired and Swedish-clean.”

The design of this new 9-3 is going to be critical for Saab. The three cars that they will release in the next 12 months or so will be the launch pad but the new 9-3 will have to be the bread and butter car that inspires a new generation of Saab fans.

This is big, big news.

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