An open letter to the designers of the next Saab 9-3

I’ve written plenty of open letters to GM, to Saab and to various other parties over the last few years, and it’s in the spirit of those open letters that this open letter was sent to me for possible publication here.
I’m quite pleased to present it here as it makes a proposition many of us think about, occasionally comment on, but not always in such a comprehensive manner.
You could almost sum it up with four words – Bring Back The Hatch – but that’s incomplete, isn’t it? It doesn’t give the why, that particular point of difference that made Saabs what they were.
My thanks to Mark C, a regular here at SU (and a fellow Monte owner) for sending it in.

Mark C.
Whilst I possibly don’t need to state the obvious, I will. The next generation 9-3 has to be the single most important objective for the new Saab.
Yes the new 9-5 is very important and to a lesser extent the 9-4x will be important too (especially for the US market), but the 9-3 is still Saab’s ‘bread and butter’ model and the company’s very existence depends on it. These new models and the 9-3x will give Saab some breathing space, but they absolutely have to follow these cars up with a replacement for their most important model.
I’m sure even Saab would agree that a lot of mistakes were made with the NG900, the OG9-3 and the 9-3SS.
I’m not pointing the finger at Saab because it’s become apparent over the past twelve months what Saab has had to deal with every time they tried to bring a new car to market. With the number of compromises they had to make and the setbacks they had to endure, it’s heartening to know that Saab still builds cars!
The next gen 9-3 will have a lot of weight riding on its shoulders, because whether it works or doesn’t work, will largely determine Saab’s continued existence. That’s probably putting it bluntly, but I think it’s an accurate assumption. If Saab get this car wrong, they possibly won’t survive.
Simply put, the next gen 9-3 has to be a resounding success or there might never be another.
To come up with a successful design for the new 9-3, I think Saab needs to go back and examine their iconic 99 and C900 models. They needs to look at those cars and define what worked and what didn’t work. What made the 900 turbo a valid alternative to a BMW and why did people choose to buy the Saab instead? They then need to look at what went wrong with NG900, the OG9-3 and the 9-3SS and try and formulate a plan for a new car.
My own brief analysis of the cars:
99/99 turbo: Individual and exceptional praticality (especially hatch versions) but even in it’s day, a little old fashioned. But that probably added to the quirkiness!
C900 turbo: Great performance and strength and the same practicality but was becoming dated especially in it’s mechanics.
NG900: Still practical but perhaps not as practical as the C900? Very average platform that was never intended for a premium car.
OG9-3: Saab improved the platform as much as it could, but was still lacking especially noticeable on performance models. But still a much improved car.
9-3SS: Good platform and mechanics. Unfortunately no hatchback option. A bit too ‘ordinary’ for many of us.
A brief aside, just imagine a 3 door Viggen on a Turbo-X platfrom. I’m sure something like that would’ve sold like hotcakes.
Anyway, I think that Saab needs to be able to take the best ingredients and best selling points of the 99/C900 and also the later cars and then using the latest standards of space efficiency, safety and weight savings etc. use this as a plan for a new 9-3. I’m not saying that it has to be a 21st century clone of a 99 or a C900, but modern day take of that idea might work, after all it has worked rather well with the Mini for BMW.
You might say that Saab should try going in a totally different direction with the new 9-3, but I think would be very risky and probably a risk that Saab can’t afford to take. Instead, Saab needs to build the kind of car they know how to build and the kind of car that their fans want. This time unshackled by GM.
My single biggest disappointment with Saab was the 9-3SS. After seeing the 9-X and the 9-3X Crossover Coupe, I had such high expectations for the OG9-3 replacement and the 9-3SS was such a let down. It seemed so ordinary.
Please Saab, don’t let that happen again.

…..But it’s a PORSCHE!!!!!

On my way to work this morning, I saw a Porsche 944, just like the one below, pulled up at a set of traffic lights.
I had two immediate and concurrent reactions.
porsche-944-turbo-front-2_165.jpg One was “Wow, that looks fantastic!” and the other was “what a pity it doesn’t drive anywhere near as good as it looks”. For those who might be new around here, I looked at buying a 944, only in silver, earlier this year. All my childhood fantasies turned into mush when I finally got to take it for a comprehensive and unaccompanied test drive.
The car was selling for $8,000 and at that price, it was the cheapest 944 for sale in Australia. I considered it for quite a while before knocking it back. I was considering the Mazda MX-5 as well. I had dinner one night with some friends and Greg, when I asked him what he thought of the options, answered with some kind words about the MX-5, then said “……but the other one is a Porsche!!!!”
That’s pretty much what I thought for most of my deliberation period as well. Forget the shabby and incredibly dated interior (this was a pre-86 car) and the A-pillar right in front of my face. Forget the big noisy engine that puts out only 85% of the power my old 900 Turbo did, despite being 25% bigger. And forget the fact that it ran hot on the test drive, despite $15,000 of service history over the last few years. Forget that I feared having to re-mortgage my home just to do the clutch…… It was a Porsche!
If I’d spent that money, I’d be weeping right now.
Instead, I spent a few thousand more and bought a low mileage Mazda MX-5 and I look forward to every weekend now. Last Saturday I had to run two errands to get my internet connection fixed up. There I was, in the middle of the Tasmanian winter with the roof off and a huge smile on my face.
That was living!! And I’ll do it again next weekend, too.
I didn’t just write this to re-hash my car purchasing stories all over again. There’s more to it than that.
Koenigsegg have just signed an agreement with GM to purchase Saab. I guess you could call this entry some sort of open letter or appeal to Koenigsegg to remind them of something (not that they need the reminder at all. Just because it came to mind).
We’ve all heard, read and spoken a lot about Saab’s heritage and model history. That’s because to a large extent, there’s not been a lot else that’s been positive to talk about in recent years.
Saab’s history is now in your care. It’s up to you.
Saab have a number of revered models, especially the 900. Needless to say, though, they can’t trade on memories any longer. Even the most die-hard of fans will only harbour affection because of those old cars. It won’t make them buy a new one.
People don’t buy Boxers or Caymans because of their memories of the 944. They buy them because they’re good, modern Porsches.
We’re all looking forward to the 2010 Saab 9-5. It’s the first all new Saab in around 6 years and it’s the first since GM “re-committed” to Saab back in 2005. It’s Saab from the ground up and I’m sure it’s going to attract heaps of interest.
But the next round of Saab cars is yours to design and build. They can’t rely on the Saab name or the Saab badge. They have to be good, safe and smart because all those elements were designed into them.
I can’t wait for the future of Saab Automobile to come around. It’s going to be a cracker!

The Saab-SU group hug

Just in case you missed this entry a few days ago, James wrote a heartfelt open letter to the people of Trollhattan – the people who make the cars that we all love and enjoy.

Throughout all the GM years, through all the bad press about Saab being GM’s “Swedish loss-making car unit” you went to work at the Saab factory and did your best. YOU, the factory worker, the engine builder, the dash assembler, engineer… still desired to design and produce fun to drive, safe and reliable cars…..
….In closing allow me to say “Thank you” for building a safe, fun to drive car to haul myself, my wife and our three Shetland Sheepdogs in, we very much enjoy each and every flight!
Very soon the black clouds will disappear and a brighter day will shine on Trollhattan and Saab!
Best of luck to my new friends in Trollhattan!

A lot of readers echoed James’ sentiments and I was pleased to publish them as they reflect my own feelings toward the people and the city of Trollhattan. I’ve been there, toured the city, the factory and met a number of the people – and I love the place.
What I wanted to share here in case people missed it the response from a couple of Saab people who read the letter.
Lundin went to the trouble of printing it and posting it at the Saab factory:
dsc02446rrk.jpg That’s it to the right of the 9-3 poster.
These words accompanied the posting:

Thanks for you kind words. Today you contributed to a brighter future for Saab and made the difference for some workers here in Trollhättan.

And then there were these comments, from Emil:

Thank you James. I’m one of the engineers at the Trollhättan plant, each day wondering as I take off from home whether the radio news will announce a new owner. Rest assured that the current turmoil isn’t getting to us though. Bucketloads of cool things are emanating from our workstations each day, and although production is low at the moment, even larger loads of shiny, new Saabs are coming off the line on the other side of the road.
Thanks for your kind words and thanks to those other commenters too, it’s always nice to know what you do is appreciated.

Does anyone know of another car company where this sort of thing happens? Maybe some of the small producers have the ability to be in touch and share some sentiments between customers and workers.
I just feel it’s part of the special atmosphere that surrounds Saab cars and the very real relationships that people share with them.
Group hug, everyone. Group hug.

An open letter to the Saab people in Trollhattan

James (aka 74Stingray) shot me an email with this idea: that he’d like to write a letter just to let the people of Trollhattan know just how much enjoyment he’s received from his car, which they built in the Saab factory there.
I’d had a similar idea in mind but hadn’t got around to addressing it, but the more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea of Someone other than me passing on these sentiments.
One, I think the people of Trollhattan know how much I love the place and the superb work they do. And two, James’ 9-3SC is his first Saab and I liked the idea of someone being moved enough by their first encounter with Saab to want to write about it in this manner.
So – to the good people in the good city of Trollhattan: this one’s for you….
Open Letter to Saab Employees: Thank you for having made, and continuing to make, fine automobiles.
In all the hustle and bustle of the automotive industry with GM and Chrysler filing bankruptcy, Opel, Fiat, Renco and Geely… all the big names are mentioned, the dollar amounts are thrown around, but the key part is often forgotten…. The assembly line workers in Trollhattan.
Throughout all the GM years, through all the bad press about Saab being GM’s “Swedish loss-making car unit” you went to work at the Saab factory and did your best. YOU, the factory worker, the engine builder, the dash assembler, engineer… still desired to design and produce fun to drive, safe and reliable cars.
For 10 years I have worked and maintained Ejection Seats for the Pennsylvania Air National Guard here in the United States…. But due to the “Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC)” of 2005, I will be out of work in a few months as my unit gets forced to close. But each and every day I still produce expertly maintained and safe ejection seats. I feel a dedication to my career as you do, to produce quality each and every day on the job. You have no end date, you go to work not knowing if an end date will come…. but still you produce beautiful, safe and downright fun to drive automobiles.
Aero Combi 74.jpg Honestly, I never thought I would buy a Saab until I test drove and bought a “Certified pre-owned” 2006 Sportcombi in February 2009. The looks of the car grabbed me, the rush of the turbo power refused to let me go. Since then I have fallen in love with the car and the Saab brand.
Each morning I read Saab news on “saabsunited” and eagerly await the 9-3X’s arrival in the US. I speak highly of my “combi” to fellow car enthusiasts here at work as they have Hondas, Nissans, Audis ect. They love to brag about how reliable their cars are. When they drone on about their cars I ask “But do you get excited to drive it?” and I always get the same response: they look at me strangely….. You see, I love driving my Saab. I drive it as much as I can and enjoy each mile I log on it.
In closing allow me to say “Thank you” for building a safe, fun to drive car to haul myself, my wife and our three Shetland Sheepdogs in, we very much enjoy each and every flight!
Very soon the black clouds will disappear and a brighter day will shine on Trollhattan and Saab!
Best of luck to my new friends in Trollhattan!

Memo to a young, new Saab – build the Aero X!

I know I’m now getting into the realm of fantasy, but it’s late, my internet service provider was down all afternoon until just an hour ago, and I need something to cheer me up.
So I thought I’d tap this story from Autoblog, which claims that Citroen are actually considering building their GT car, which was initially designed as an actor in a video game.
It’s called the GTbyCitroen, it looks quite desireable and most of all, would be a massive “look at me” from Citroen. Much like 8C Competizione was for Alfa – my goodness what a beautiful car that was. Just writing it’s name gave me goosebumps.
Back to the GT:

The indication of Citroen’s deliberation reportedly comes straight from the mouth of the company’s product guru Vincent Besson (think Bob Lutz with a beret and a dangling Gauloise). Apparently Citroen has received a number of prospective orders from potential buyers who’d like to see the supercar drive off their plasmas and into their garages.

Ignore the stereotypes. The news here is of a car company willing to take something to the edge. Citroen have re-discovered some of their mojo in the last few years. They’re selling (in comparative terms) like hotcakes here in Australia and look great on the road.
A marquee model like this would do them no harm at all in the publicity stakes.
And what better way for Saab to reintroduce themselves to the world as a new, fresh and independent entity that by doing what we’ve all been wishing they’d do since way back in 2006 – by building the Aero X.
Imagine if they were unveiling a real production model!
It doesn’t have to have the fancy canopy top. I just needs to look this cool and drive as good as it looks.
I’d love to some some Saab engineers doing what the Holden guys did with the monaro, what the Saab guys back in the old days did with the original Sonett. Get out into a shed on the weekends and figure out how to get this done.
Now THAT would be a statement about Saab being able to do something under their new owners.
OK, time to wake up…..

Memo to a young, new Saab – please get more into some form of motorsport

A big part of Saab’s storied heritage lies in their success in motorsport.
Back in the day when the sport was perhaps a little more amateurish and gentlemanly, Saab took their little two-stroke cars and fanged them around corners, screaming their little heads off. Saab were probably the first and even more probably the only company to compete the Monte Carlo rally with a station wagon, with Erik Carlsson running a Saab 95 into a high placing in the early 1960s.
The wins and the names that achieved them have been all over these pages since day 1. Mellde, Molander, Moss, Carlsson, Eklund, Blomqvist….from the backroads of Sweden to the glitz of Monte Carlo, the rallycross tracks of Europe to deserts of Africa and Mexico – and of course the dizzy heights of Pikes Peak – Saab competed in all of them and competed well.
Saab’s ability to punch above its weight in motorsport won it a lot of respect and interest from the public back in those early days. Saab piled up wins in early rally competitions but was forced to withdraw when rules changes made the cars uncompetitive. Also, it’s no coincidence that teams started getting more professional and team budgets started to exceed what Saab could afford.
Today, in these difficult times, even some modern companies with proven records of success have had to pull out of professional motorsport due to the prohibitive costs involved. Some of them may be back when times get better, but some will be gone for good.
There is a different way to compete in motorsport, however, and take advantage of some of the associated marketing opportunities that come along.
All around the world there are a number of boutique events that bring with them a lot of local coverage and many of them a lot of local prestige. Many of these are for historical vehicles and some of the are for modern showroom vehicles with minimal modifications – which means lower barriers to entry whilst achieving some great coverage, and having a bucketload of fun.
Here are two examples from Australia….
The Bathurst 12-hour Enduro
The Bathurst 12-hour Enduro is run on Australia’s most prominent circuit – Mount Panorama. The biggest event on the mountain every year is the Bathurst 1000, a V8 Supercar race that happens in October each year.
The 12 Hour Enduro takes place in February and is for production vehicles, which run basically in showroom specification but with obvious mods for safety, etc.
Consequently, the vehicle cost is fairly low and what’s more, Saab are already on the eligibility list with their Saab 9-3 TTiD in Class I – Eco Diesel/Hybrid Under 3.5 litre. There were only two entrants in Class I in 2009. One of them (Holden Astra) failed to finish and the other (Alfa 147) finished last out of the running vehicles. I’m sure there’s room for Saab’s fantastic TTiD to improve on that!
The event is run as part of the Bathurst Motor Festival and it’s big. The 12-hour itself attracted national TV coverage this year and was an entertaining race to watch. As part of the Bathurst Motor Festival it’s one of many events put on to please the crowd. There’s a number of other races as well as trick driving displays.
Saab Performance Team, anyone?
This is just one opportunity somewhere in the world and I’m sure there are others.
Here’s another Australian example, one that’s very close to my heart (and home).
Targa Tasmania.
Targa Tasmania has broadened its horizons in the last few years. After an event with several dangerous crashes, one including some spectators, Targa has had to soften its edges a little.
It still has the ultra-competitive modern class with the latest road rockets setting people’s jaws a-slack, but theres now a rookie class, a touring class and….a showroom class.
Again, these are basically production vehicles showing what they can do on closed roads. The Mitsubishi EVO’s are the most successful in this class, but there are also Mazda’s, Volkswages, Minis and even a Fiat Grande Punto!
A Saab 9-3 Aero XWD might not take out the EVOs in the competition, but I’m sure it’d give a good account of itself.
Given the pace he was able to generate on dirt in a Turbo X last year (with an auto transmission!), I could well imagine XWD pioneer, Peter Johansson, seeing the sights of Tasmania at 200 km/h in a V6 9-3 XWD Aero.
Again, the entry cost isn’t prohibitive (less than $10,000) and the payoff could be quite effective when compared to $10K of TV ads on some obscure channel that nobody watches. Targa Tasmania is one of the premier tarmac rallies in the world with marketing opportunities abounding if you use them properly.
Saab Sweden – do the right thing and put a 9-3 in this picture next year!!
I’m sure there are more examples of botique events that Saab could take advantage of.
Retrospective Motorsport, a small privateer team, won on handicap at the Le Mans Classic event in a two-stroke Saab 93 last year.
Retrospective team manager, Bo Lindman, also heads up Swede Team Motor, who have also had significant success in endurance racing.
Saabs seem to be pretty good at endurance racing, actually. Maybe more of these big enduro one-off events could be targeted for some cost-effective and big-time fun exposure?

Memo to a young, new Saab – please make the details a priority

I have the best photo that was ever taken of my Viggen as my desktop wallpaper on one of the computers I use and as I fired that computer up this morning, I thought to myself “Wow! What an awesome looking car.”
This is the photo, taken by my mate Stu the lens genius. Many of you will have seen it before:
My mate Richo in Sydney had a Viggen until recently. His was actually much better than mine. He’d BSR’d it and it had a brand new engine installed last year with only around 4,000kms on it when he sold it. The young lady who bought it, Suzanne, got one heck of a good car for very good money.
I had the chance to drive Richo’s new car on the weekend, a BMW 3-series coupe. He bought it brand new. It’s got the detuned 6 cylinder so the performance isn’t hot, but it’s quite adequate. It’s very comfortable, looks pretty good (if you like that sort of styling) and definitely has quite a presence by the roadside.
Seeing my old Viggen photo again this morning made me compare notes in my head. Richo’s old car vs his new car. I can only do this from my perspective and I’ve only had a short drive in his new car but it was enough to form an impression.
The impression that I got was one of solidity. That’s probably the best word I can use.
The car looks solid. It looks like an evolution of its forebears and therefore has a solid history behind it.
The car feels solid. There are no moments as you open or shut things, as you operate any controls, as you drive, that suggest any sort of fragility. There are no “oh, I didn’t expect that” moments whatsoever. There are no moments where you wish they’d done something different.
The best example I can think of – and it’s a small one but demonstrates the comparison perfectly – can be found in the stalks that operate the indicators.

Read moreMemo to a young, new Saab – please make the details a priority

Memo to a young, new Saab – please find a way to build the Aero-X

We should never neglect or forget about the Aero-X. Naturally, we tend to focus on the cars that we can actually drive and concepts tend to be flash-in-the-pan affairs, but this one should be different.
No-one would have believed that Saab would go from this:
Maroon92b copy.jpg
….to this…..
1000199 copy.jpg
….but they did, however briefly. It’s amazing what a small team of dedicated engineers can achieve. The Holden Monaro is another case in point. It was a private, after-hours project that turned out to be a fantastic success and a great statement for the company.
The Saab Aero-X could be the same thing with the evolution of the more radical elements to more production-capable elements (i.e. roof and doors) and a darn good driving experience.
The main reason I’m still thinking about what is a pretty remote possibility is because of an email I received a few days ago.
It’s from Chris S and I think it’s pretty self explanatory:

Swade, I work in a nice town in Michigan called Birmingham. The other day I was driving back from a meeting, passed a building called the “McCann World Group”, and right in the lobby window was my dream car. The Saab AERO X!! I stomped on the breaks.
Being a Saab nut I couldn’t help but snap some pictures and pass them along for your viewing.
The Freakin’ Aero X….right in the display window! I was amazed. This car is beautiful in pictures, but to see this metal sculpture in person is unreal. The body lines, the front end, the overall shape and attention to detail. Its sex on wheels….

Now, I should add here that the Aero-X that Chris saw was most likely (I don’t know for sure) the Aero-X copy that GM had made up for display purposes. The real Aero-X lives at the Saab Museum and whilst it does move around for car shows from time to time, SaabUSA had a mockup vehicle made up for displays like this. It’s quite convincing, but it doesn’t have all the details of the original in terms of the interior, etc.
Whether this was the real Aero-X or not is irrelevant. What matters is the undeniable effect that the Aero-X has on all who see it in person.
This is Saab’s 8c Competizione and everyone knows the enormous positive PR that car has given Alfa Romeo, not to mention the continued reverence it will build for the brand in times to come.
Chris’ enthusiasm about seeing the car was palpable. My own reaction when I saw the car for the first time was one of awe. It’s a truly fantastic machine and on some level, it must be do-able.
I’m not talking about a madcap vehicle with a canopy roof. I’m talking about a smooth driving, hard cornering coupe with a Kamm back and true Aero-X looks and style. Something around Audi TT size and class.
It’s got to be do-able and it’d be the perfect calling card to announce that Saab is back in town.
Build it. We will come, and many more with us.
Here’s the Aero-X as Chris saw it the other day.
Thanks to Chris for the email!
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