Memo to a young, new Saab – please keep the driver-focused dash

Last week I was on the road, which gave me my thrice-yearly opportunity to once again appreciate my hatred of the ubiquitous Australian rental car, the 2008 Toyota Camry.
Modern manufacturing has done many great things for the automobile, but the need for modern profitability has created one of the things I hate most of all – the left-or-right center console. Designers make the center stack so that it can be fitted in either right or left hand drive cars, they save a little bit of money and supposedly, people are happy.
The Camry has it, and plenty of other modern cars have it nowadays as well.
Autobloggers in the US are going ape-droppings over the Ford Fiesta at the moment as Ford are running a brilliant little marketing scam where they’ve only allowed a limited number into the country and people had to apply to drive them. Supposedly, it’s a great little car, and the car-bloggers queued up to create their own Fiesta moments. A few succeeded.
As with the Camry, these short-term Fiesta drivers will be faced with a generic left-or-right center console:
Ford_Fiesta_Review_3.jpg
It’s not offensive.
My problem with it is that it’s impersonal. And whilst it may not be such an issue in a small car like the Fiesta, in a larger car like the Camry the buttons and dials to the far side of the console take a reasonable amount of reaching.
From the Saab 900 onwards, Saab curved their dashboards towards the driver. It was a simple change, but combined with superb ergonomics in terms of control placement, it was a change that made the driver’s life one heck of a lot more comfortable and enjoyable.
If you’re driving a car that’s meant to be driven, then the experience should be enjoyable. A driver’s car should be driver focused (which is one of Saab’s current brand pillars) and a Saab should always be a driver’s car.
Saab took the driver-focused cockpit first conceived in the Saab 900 to a new level when they released the Saab 9000, seen below in Aero form:
9000aerointerior.jpg
…..And they refined it further with the button dash layout in the Saab 9-3 and 9-5, with the 9-3 Sport Sedan version of 2003-2006 shown below:
9-3buttondash.jpg
New cars in the future means new designs and of course, Saab need to be profitable. I hope this need for cash flow doesn’t come in the form of a cheaper center console arrangement that takes the focus away from the driver.
Having seen the Saab 9-4x, I’m encouraged by the belief that this won’t be the case. The 9-4x featured an evolution of Saab’s driver-focused interior and I’m pretty sure it’ll be the interior treatment that’s used for the 2010 Saab 9-5 as well.
Nevertheless, Saab won’t hear it unless it’s said – the driver focused nature of the Saab interior is a major selling point. Please don’t change it unless those changes make it even better for the driver.

Memo to a young, new Saab – please move your US headquarters out of Detroit

As I look forward to a new, wholly-owned-by-a-responsible-company version of Saab, I thought I’d dream a little of the Saab I’d like to see. These are just the thoughts of an enthusiast and I don’t really know how viable they are, but I don’t think they’re beyond being a possibility.
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A renewed and optimistic Saab will hopefully have the chance to do more than just bring out three new models in the next 18 months.
A new, separate Saab will also hopefully have the opportunity to re-vamp its sales and marketing networks. In Saab’s biggest market, the US, those functions are based at GM’s headquarters in the Renaissance Center in Detroit.
I hope the Detroit natives who are reading this aren’t offended, but having visited there in January last year, I can honestly say that I think Saab’s employees in the US would be at least 20% more productive in a better environment – through nothing more than sheer happiness with where they’re living.
There’s obviously some good neighborhoods in Detroit, but they were some way away from the bits of the city that I saw. What I saw was a concrete jungle that was surely just a shadow of its former self.
I don’t know of any other city in the world that’s been the subject of a number of recent photographic essays focused solely on the city’s decay. Here’s one at Time Magazine, for example.
reliques_10.jpg
I’m not sure what the community spirit would be like there with so many people in the same boat. I guess you’ve got to either pull together, or crumble together. I’m guessing they’ve figured out a way to accentuate the positive and work together.
But still, I wonder how many of Detroit’s serious car guys and girls would prefer to be practising their chosen profession in a warmer and more friendly place.
With their independence from GM literally just months away, I hope Saab give some thought to relocating their staff in Detroit to a new location.
Perhaps they could move back to Saab’s heartland in the north-east? Maybe they can try and expand their outlook with a move to California or join the collective mile-high cub in Colorado?
It’s a new dawn, a new day. Time for the Saab staff to start feeling good.

Memo to a young, new Saab – please lower your prices

As I look forward to a new, wholly-owned-by-a-responsible-company version of Saab, I thought I’d dream a little of the Saab I’d like to see. These are just the thoughts of an enthusiast and I don’t really know how viable they are, but I don’t think they’re beyond being a possibility.
Designing, building, marketing and selling cars is a long-term project. Finger-snap solutions aren’t going to work. But what we’re all after is a long term future for Saab so that we can all buy their excellent vehicles for years to come.
These memos are just my thoughts about how that might happen.

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Saab make great cars. I’ve driven almost everything in the current range and loved every minute of it. I’d be proud to have any of them in my driveway.
But let’s call a spade a spade here. One of the reasons Saabs have sold in small volumes for the last few years is because the models are perceived to be a little outdated (or a lot outdated in the case of the 9-5).
Another reason is because they aren’t competitively priced in many markets where they sell.
The Saab 9-3 in it’s most basic form (now called ‘Touring’ in the US) has a 2.0T engine and costs $31,135 according to the spec sheet I just looked up. It has a great high-pressure turbo engine. Styling is subjective but I love it. I’ll submit to you that the interior material quality is inferior to Saab’s suggested competitors in BMW and Audi. The car is reasonably well equipped, though there’s a lot of desirable equipment at that level that’s held over for the four variants above.
The Audi A4 that Eggs just picked up under his work-sponsored scheme is $1,000 less in its basic form. The styling is subjective, the performance figures are pretty much the same as the 9-3 and the interior materials and comfort are reputed to be amongst the best in class. This is an all-new car, too, which is pretty important to return customers.
The baseline BMW 328i has more power, reputedly better handling, very questionable styling and whilst it comes with decent standard kit, there’s a bucketload of options as well. It stickers at just over $33,000.
Objectively speaking, from the point of view of the standard buyer in this segment, the A4 will probably present as being the best value for money. That’s why Audi are handing BMW their own asses on a plate at the moment. The Saab 9-3, unfortunately, will be relegated by Joe Average to a distant third place. Drive it for a while and see how practical it is, factor in the safety, and a distant third possibly shouldn’t be the case, but Joe Average will be months into ownership of his Teuton long before he would have come to appreciate the Saab.
What we end up with, then, is a case where Saab have to add heavy incentives to their vehicles in order to sell them. This lowers resale and perceived brand prestige. It’s a lose-lose case for just about everyone.
What I believe Saab need to do in the future involves a choice between two things – price or specification.
They either price the vehicle realistically to create a new idea of brand value, or they equip and finish the car in such a way as to reinforce value perception at the current price.
Ditch the standard GM radio that you can get in a Chevy that’s half the price. Upgrade the interior materials to something more like a Hirsch interior. Provide stuff that should be standard equipment as standard equipment (hello, heated seats!).
There’s a conspiratorial belief that Saab have had to include a ‘GM premium’ in their prices. I don’t know if that’s the case and I don’t think it’s the case. But I hope that an independent Saab will be able to adjust its pricing to better reflect demand and better build some real brand value.
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Comparative prices in other markets –
These are basic models and I’ve tried to do appropriate comparisons but some of the websites were a little difficult to navigate in foreign languages.
Australia
Saab 9-3 – $43,400
Audi A4 – $50,900
BMW 320i – $54,500
Great Britain
Saab 9-3 1.8t 150ps £22,080*
Audi A4 – £19,460
BMW 318i ES – £21,520
* There is a 1.8i version of the Saab 9-3 for 2K less, but really…..
Sweden
Saab 9-3 – 239,900SEK *
Audi A4 – 266,300SEK
BMW 318i – 260,000SEK
* There is a 1.8i version of the Saab 9-3 for less, but really…..
Germany
Saab 9-3 Linear 1.8t – €28,950*
Audi A4 – €26,500
BMW 318i – €28,400
* There is a 1.8i version of the Saab 9-3 for less, but really…..

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