Saab 9-3x: You’ve built it, now market the daylights out of the thing, please!

You’re a little Swedish car company and you need to sell cars. Desparately.
You’ve tweaked an existing model to make a ‘new’ model that sits nicely in a growing niche. With the costs of running a large vehicle getting prohibitive, you’ve got a great midsized hauler with a proven engine and a fantastic new AWD system. You’ve got a formidable reputation for safety (that you haven’t much enough noise about) and brilliantly comfortable seats. You’re different.
You’ve made the car. Now make some noise!!!
——
The Saab 9-3x is now out of the bag. It’s probably six months or so before you’ll be able to buy one (for reasons only known to Saab and GM) but Saab have started to do the groundwork now.
The press release is out and this car is – officially speaking – for the rugged, outdoorsy types who like to do it rough occasionally, but don’t necessarily want to do it rough all the time. That’s the line that the press are taking, largely because it’s the line that Saab have fed them in the press release.
I’d suggest there’s more to be made from this, however and if it takes the gay uncle writing for a Mom-blog to tell us, then so be it:

I’m often asked to field questions like: “What kind of car is good for a mom with two kids?” I usually start by boomeranging. “What are you thinking of?” And the answer I often get is “…A Crossover, or SUV?”…..
So what do I recommend? Station Wagons! A Subaru Forester or Outback will do, but if you want to be even the least bit creative, head elsewhere. Audi and BMW make gorgeous, sporty wagons in two sizes (A4 and A6, and 3 and 5 Series, respectively) and Certified Pre-Owned ones are surprisingly affordable. Cadillac is getting ready to release one (CTS) and it’s hot as hell. Volvo is famous for its full-sized wagons like the V70, but the smaller V50 is adorable. VW makes wagons in Jetta and Passat variants. The Toyota Venza is butt-ugly, but is essentially a Camry wagon. The Chevy HHR is wagon-ish in a ’40s delivery van kind of way. The Saab SportCombi is a fantastic wagon.

And the Saab SportCombi just got more versatile.
The competition:
The budget-conscious buyer will head for Subaru because they’re rugged and reliable, but like any market, there’s someone looking at one of those who’ll want something a bit better. A bit more comfortable. A bit more zippy. A bit more capable.
Many of the news services are using the Audi Allroad as a prompt in their Saab 9-3x stories. This is great for Saab as the Allroad only comes as an A6, which means it’s way, way above the Subarus in terms of price. The Saab can sit quite nicely in that space if Saab manage to spec and price it just right (a big if, I know).
The Volvo equivalents are going to be the benchmark and the competition, and I hope Saab can price and equip the 9-3x accordingly. US$37K is the entry point for the XC60 and XC70 and Saab are going to have to bring the 9-3x under that amount.
The key, of course, is as simple (and as hard) as getting the word out. Saab barely have a presence any more in the minds of many. This ‘x’ edition of the 9-3 SportCombi has given it more of a raison detre and I just hope Saab milk it for all its worth.
The market is out there. The product is coming.
Make some noise.

The curious case of the Saab 9-3x

I’ve been looking at it and thinking about it and I’m not sure there’s been a more curious vehicle in Saabs range in a long time. The 9-3x is a bit like a mystery wrapped inside a riddle.
Who is it trying to reach?
Is it those looking for an SUV alternative? It certainly fits the bill there with better dynamics, better seats, better handling and a very capable cargo capacity. It looks a bucketload better than your average SUV, too.
Maybe they’re quietly trying to woo the LGBT community? If you think I’m going nuts here, consider this: Saab have traditionally been very popular with the LGBT community, finishing top three in their vehicle research surveys for most of the last few years. Recently, that prominence has faded. The new darling in this highly cashed-up market? Subaru, particularly with the girls. Anyone want to posit that the 9-3x isn’t a Subaru competitor with a fancier suit?
Maybe it’s just your regular Saab customer looking for something more versatile? I’ve never been there but I can just imagine a number of New Englanders seeing one of these heading down the street and re-discovering Saab for the first time in 10 years or so.
And how does it really look?
Just a few days ago I thought it had been designed by Donald Duck:
Saab 9-3x
And today I’m ready to grab one and go buy a kayak or something similarly insane:
Saab9-3x2.jpg
Saab9-3x3.jpg
For those with an open mind – is there a Saab owner out there without one? – this has to be a tempting proposition on one level or another.
I’m in no way an ‘outdoors guy’ but I still find myself curious about the possibility of some seat time in one of these just to see what it can do. A 2.0T and XWD with some extra clearance and Saab’s driving characteristics?
Give me one in red and let me loose!

Bob Lutz retires….hasta la vista, Bobby!

I suppose you’ve already come across the news that GM’s guy-in-charge-of-product-development-and-quoteable-quotes has announced his pending retirement.

Bob Lutz will hand over his duties as Vice Chairman for global product development on April 1st (insert witty fool’s day joke here) but will stay on as a senior consultant until the end of 2009.

He’s getting out while the getting’s still reasonaby good but to give him credit, he’s staying on to help steer the ship, unlike some other retirement candidates who have simply pulled the pin and left.
BobLutzAnthonyLoSaab.jpg Bob Lutz should – quite rightly – be remembered as a guy who bought quality, design and a ‘car guy’ mentality back to General Motors as a corporation. Many of us complain about beancounters getting too much input into car design and Bob’s a guy who tried to swing the emphasis by incorporating good design in a way that didn’t blow the budget. GM have reorganised their design centers and now boast a flexibility that should serve them well as a mainstream manufacturer for years to come, should they survive.

Unfortunately, Bob’s going to be remembered in Saab circles as a guy who killed off a number of model developments at a time when Saab could have really used them. Various sources in Sweden have mentioned to me in the last few years that the vehicle to be based off the original Saab 9-3x concept, as well as other variants that would have come into the Saab 9-3 range around five years ago, were cancelled on Lutz’s say-so.

Similarly, a replacement for the Saab 9-5 was cancelled around mid-decade, resulting in the Dame Edna revision we got in 2006.

If Saabs are seen as long in the tooth and in danger of extinction, then some of the responsibilty for that sits at Bob Lutz’s door.

Still, Saab may also benefit from his work, too, and in ways that we’ll never know. His input on the Saab Aero-X is unknown, but I’m sure he saw the drawings prior to it going ahead. That vehicle signalled a continuing existence for Saab and will influence production Saabs for some time to come.

Bob, I’d like to be able to put my hand on my heart and say thanks for services rendered to Saab, but I can’t. That you helped GM improve overall and thereby lended a hand to Saab surviving is a good thing, so I guess I’ll take the middle ground and settle for saying thanks for the entertainment, and have a happy retirement.

Is there any chance we can just forget February 17th?

There are a number of reasons why February 17th has a circle around it on the calendars owning to some particular Saab nuts.
First of all, it’s the day that General Motors have to hand in their homework assignment to the US government. Failure to do so means more than just a poor grade. It means the US administration will have to make a decision to either show some tough love to Detroit (i.e. call in their loans) or cave in and give them an extension.
Second of all, it’s the day we all expect to hear what’s in that plan. More to the point, what’s in that plan relating to the future of Saab. GM’s last plan had exactly one reference to Saab in it, and that reference included the words “under review”. Will they have an outcome from that review by then? If so, I don’t think it’ll be any different to what we already know: that Saab will still be owned by GM but spun off to either sink or swim with funding backed by the Swedish government.
And finally, a GM dealer dropped a remark in at Trollhattan Saab some time ago to the effect that we’d see images of the 2010 Saab 9-5 around this date. There are a number of people really hanging out to see those.
Can I just warn against getting too strung out on this……?
I haven’t heard anything from anywhere else about the possibility of seeing imagery of the new Saab 9-5 around that time. On the contrary, whilst Saab know that people aren’t holding out on the current 9-5 (they just ain’t buying it, period), Saab also know that there’s no advantage to showing it now, so far in advance of production. The only potential effect is a negative, where people see an image that may not show the car anywhere near as well as a real live model, and make up their mind without taking the chance to see the car in the metal.
——
For what it’s worth, February 17th is going to be just another day for me (I hope). If we hear anything about GM’s plans then all well and good, but I don’t expect to hear anything of consequence until late March or early April.
And 9-5 photos? I think we’ll continue to see plenty of spyshots, but the finished product will remain a mystery for as long as Saab wants it to.
Just my 2 cents.
I’ve got 2 great Saabs in my driveway right now and it’s probably time I thought about those a little more.

Is a Saab for you?

If you’re after the epitome of refined driving, whatever that is, then maybe a Saab isn’t for you. Maybe you should try a Lexus.
If you’re after supreme roadholding in high speed corners, then maybe a Saab isn’t for you. I hear BMW do that stuff quite well.
If you’re not sure whether you want a performance car or a luxury car, then every Audi ever made is just like you.
If you’re looking for an engine that screams at high revs, ‘cuase you like that sort of thing, a Saab probably isn’t for you. You should probably check out a performance Honda.
If you want gadgets that tell you what all your other gadgets are doing, Saab probably isn’t for you either.
If you want rock solid reliability and the soul of a car doesn’t matter to you, forget Saab. Maybe you should shop for a Toyota.
If you want butterflies to kiss you and fish to jump on your hook in thanks for you apparent environmental goodness, then maybe a Prius is what you’re after. Maybe.
If you want people to openly admire how well you’ve done for yourself then a Saab definitely isn’t for you. I can point you towards a couple of Mercedes dealers.
If you’re having a mid-life crisis then a red MX-5 is just around the corner.
If the only real engine in your mind is a V8, mate, then your local Ford or Holden dealership is the place to go.
But if you love driving and have a history of forming links and attachments with the cars you own and the people that make them, then maybe a Saab might suit you.
But if you’re after a car made by a company with a history of innovation, perhaps a Saab’s worth considering.
If you like the rush of a turbocharger and find torque steer to be somewhat interesting, then it’s quite likely that a Saab’s for you.
If you want the best seats in the business….
….and fantastic cabin ergonomics….
….if you love the idea of V6 performance from a four cylinder engine…
….and the possibility to uprate it even higher….
….then maybe you should be looking at a Saab.
If you want innovations that make sense, like headlamps wired into the ignition, a dash that can be de-luminated at night except for the information you need and heated seats, for example, then perhaps a Saab is what you’re looking for.
If you enjoy owning a brand of car that has a big and enthusiastic ownership base that you can connect with, then a Saab should definitely be on your list.
If you can look at this picture and know exactly what it means, then maybe a Saab is for you.
If you like the smell of two-stroke, perhaps a Saab might suit you.
If you want to be able to carry recliner chairs, washing machines, motorcycles, large amounts of musical equipment, or whatever else in your own car and not have them delivered, an older Saab hatch would be perfect for you.
If you like the idea of owning a sleeper, then a Saab could be what you’re looking for.
If you like the fact that you don’t see your own car on the road every 10 2 minutes, well….
And if you like the idea of driving what’s proven to be one of the safest cars in the world in both crash test and real world environments, maybe a Saab is what you’re after.
Most of all, if you want all these attributes – safety, comfort, performance, fun, responsibility, utility, innovation, history, anonymity and exclusivity – all in the one car…..
…..then maybe a Saab is for you.

Saab are Swedish

I figured I’d better write that headline just in case anybody who’s important at Saab forgot. Or maybe it’s for those at GM who aren’t directly playing in the Saab sandbox, but make decisions that effect Saab.
It sounds pretty rudimentary, but sometimes it’s the simple things that get overlooked.
After writing the recent editorial piece at The Truth About Cars and after thinking about Bell Springsteen’s follow up piece a little, there was something he wrote that resonated with me:

I read Trollhattansaab.net in order to explore the main question that Mr. Wade often contemplates on his site. How does a brand that currently sells under 160k vehicles a year attract enough passionate owners that Trollhattansaab.net receives well over 5k unique visitors per day? Why is it that Saab drivers are so passionate about being Saab drivers?

Firstly, being the pedant that I am, I need to clarify those numbers. Saab sell around 130,000 vehicles per year. last year was their best ever at around 134,000. Also, sadly, this site attracts more like 4,000 individuals per day on average. It serves around 6,000 pages to those individuals, but there’s not as many as mentioned.

——
Onwards then, to the crux of the matter.
What gives this brand it’s mojo? Why do we Saab drivers love being Saab drivers? And is that in danger?

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