Tuesday Night Snippets – Antourage edition

Greetings all. We’re still in sightseeing mode at the moment, with Mrs Swade enjoying Sweden as much as I told her she would.

Last night we had a very pleasant dinner with Mr and Mrs Par Brandt. Par is one of the nicest blokes in automotive journalism and he was my first contact with the mainstream motoring press, around 4 years ago. I love Par so much that I even went vegetarian for a night at his invitation (and enjoyed it!).

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This morning we saw the changing of the guard at the Royal Palace (OK, but missable if you had something urgent to do).

We then walked down to the Grand Hotel and waited for these guys to arrive….

That’s Jörgen from the Saabs United Historic Rally Team in the front and the Spyker LM85 in the rear was being driven by none other than Mr Vladimir Antonov himself.

They were meeting there for lunch and I was supposed to join them, but unfortunately we were running late for a long drive south.

I did get to meet Vladimir briefly, however, and he’s a very nice guy. I hope we get to chat some more in Trollhattan on Thursday.

After those two cars arrived, the rest of the Antonov entourage arrived (henceforth known as the Antourage 🙂 ). There were three more cars, IIRC, with guys connected with the motorsports interests that VA indulges in and other assorted gents.

One of our own, North Toronto Punter, was scheduled to be there as well because his company, Mellowood Medical, is a premium sponsor of the rally team. Unfortunately I didn’t get to meet NTP as we were really in a rush and I couldn’t hang around. But I look forward to seeing him at the Festival.

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I think some media people turned up at the Grand Hotel later on. Bengt J has passed on the following, from TV4:

In an interview with Swedish TV4 Economy News, Vladimir Antonov says he plans to start a sub brand to SAAB in Russia. It will be a new brand that will use older SAAB parts.

It will be a budget alternative and will probably be built in Kaliningrad. They are targeting a production start in about a year and look to make 10,000 cars/year.

Antonov is also in talks with GM to be able to step in as an owner in SAAB.

This is a big story, and one that just won’t go away. Antonov has been talking about Russian production in one form or another for some time now.

He’s also very determined to iron out the whispering campaign that saw him removed from (from public identification in) the Saab deal in the first place.

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From our brief “hello” to Mr Antonov, we picked up our rental car and headed south. I’m writing to you tonight from Malmo.

The only thing worse than renting a VW Passat for a two day drive is turning up to collect it and finding out that it’s morphed into a Toyota Avensis. I think they use the Passat as an illustration of the vehicle category just to get people comfortable with the class of car, then they hit them with the cheap stuff.

When I asked if I could have the VW I saw in the picture, the AVIS guy told me they’ve actually only got 2 or 3 of them in the entire Swedish fleet. Tricky.

On paper, the Avensis was actually pretty good. 6-speed 2-litre and seats five, carried our luggage OK. Auto windows, Cruise, dual-zone aircon, rain-sensing wipers, light-sensing interior lights, heated seats, etc etc.

On the road, it was smooth enough, but dead boring and after driving it for 6 or so hours today, I felt like I’d been a demonstration event at an origami school.

I loathe Toyotas.

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I got to use our newly-purchased TomTom for the first time today and it pointed out an interesting thing with the Avensis.

I know most speedometers are a little less than accurate, but I wasn’t expecting a disparity of this size. Check the needle on the dash:

As you can see, it’s showing around 118 or 119 km/h.

Here’s a blow-up of the speed reading from the TomTom. Lower left corner.

Whilst the car was indicating 118 or 119, it was actually only doing 109 (and yes, officer, apparently someone was speeding whilst driving and taking this photo, but you can’t prove it was me).

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I love brown Porsches. This was taken yesterday on the boat cruise around Stockholm.

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I’m yet to see a 9-5 in the wild here, but I did see an AMG Mercedes SLS today.

My goodness.

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Whilst I love Stockholm, it’s fair to say I’m not quite so fond of the E4 highway, which dominates most of the drive to Malmo.

This is what you see for 80% of the 600+ kms between the two cities:

Blacktop and treetops – non-stop.

I think there’s definitely scope to dress this highway up with some public artworks or something similar. One could almost say it’s a safety issue, with the road becoming so mind-numbingly boring so as to induce fatigue at various stages.

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Tomorrow I have a special, special surprise to write about.

Very, very exciting for me personally, and I hope you’ll like it too.

Friday Snippets – ‘Nobody told me there’d be days like these’ Edition

British Saab dealers had their launches yesterday, I believe.

I haven’t heard anything from attendees yet, but I’m sure all went well.

Photo by Robin M.

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It’s a mad day.

Can you believe the cult of celebrity, even in basketball where a man’s image is starting to overshadow the importance of his jump shot or his ability to actually win games, has grown to the stage where a national sports channel will devote an hour to one guy announcing where he’ll play for the next few seasons?

People with an interest in b-b-b-basketball should read Bill Simmons’ column on The LeBrachelor before the announcement comes through.

And can you believe I’m even writing about this here?

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Can you believe that a guy in the motoring industry – one whose company has just floated on the stock exchange – would feel the pressure of public scrutiny so much that he’d decide to address rumours about his personal relationships in the public arena? And then instead of doing it in a big national newspaper, he’d choose Jalopnik?

No smear on Jalopnik there, but I’d just assume that if you want it to be read by the people who are supposedly dogging you, then you’d pick the NYT or something.

Tesla’s Elon Musk: About my divorce.

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Can you believe how much time and money Toyota are spending to tell people how good they really think they are right now?

Autoblog was their servant during the unintended acceleration debacle and it seems they are Toyota’s servants once again.

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For those of you, who like me, still think of the potential Koenigsegg era with some fondness. The Koenigsegg Agera.

Not that I’m unhappy with how things turned out, of course.

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For those of you, who like me, have never lived in the midst of a snowy winter…….

This is what cars look like at that time of year. I found it quite curious. Maybe you will too.

That’s JJ’s Pepper Green SportCombi. Thanks JJ.

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And speaking of how things turned out, here’s a Spyker being featured in a FedEx ad in this month’s Hemmings.

Word to the doubters who might think this ad is a little fanciful: We know that FedEx deliver Spykers because we saw one being delivered to Just Saab in the back of a FedEx truck 🙂

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Less than 24 hours to go……..

Saturday Morning Snippets

It’s strange, what makes it on to these internets.

Websites can run all sorts of stuff and it’ll catch like wildfire simply because someone ‘important’ wrote it, even if it’s wrong. And you can correct the wrong story, back it up with referenced facts, and nothing will come out about the correction.

And then you get a seemingly innocuous entry written by a small site and it’ll get picked up – a few weeks later – and make it on to a big site.

Such is the case with Autoblog covering the SU story about Saab in Denmark publicising a Hirsch tune of the Saab 9-5.

It’s good they covered it, but the only problem is that the Hirsch tune isn’t confirmed yet. Denmark were jumping the gun.

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If someone asked whether Saab were amongst the Top 10 Least Expensive vehicles to repair, or the Top 10 Most Expensive vehicles to repair – what would you tell them?

Click here to find out. The survey was done in the UK.

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OK, that little rant at the top was about 9-4x stories that are doing the rounds – again – saying that the 9-4x will come out this year.

Again…… it won’t. We dealt with this a few weeks ago. April next year.

It may show in LA later this year if my prognostications are correct.

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Motor Trend state that the next Saab 9-3 will come out in only two of the following three body styles – sedan, hatch or wagon.

If that’s true, then my bet is on sedan and hatch.

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Toyota’s annus horribilus continues.

Sympathy factor 0.

Saturday Snippets – Saab 9-5 pricing for Switzerland

Swiss Saab 9-5 pricing is available here.

Swiss9-5Pricing.jpg

Again, not all these models are available immediately. It seems many variations will be held over until MY2011.

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As mentioned yesterday, it’s my understanding that full production of new vehicles at the Saab plant in Trollhattan is scheduled to begin on March 22. That’s from speaking with people at Saab.

There’s a lot to do to prepare the factory for that, however, and it seems work is well underway.

From Swedish Radio

The work in the body shop at Saab in Trollhättan is in full swing and later in the spring it may be necessary to recruit more people, says the prospective club chairman Håkan Skött on IF Metall’s homepage.

– It is good that we are finally running again, says Håkan Skött on the website. The break has been long and there will be a special restart, with everything starting from scratch. We need to get started and fill all the feeds again.

There is a slight concern that all the material will not arrive in time, but the company does everything it can solve all such problems.

According to Håkan Skött, Saab is going to produce about 100 cars per day. But it is still going to be 28-speed which means 28 cars produced per hour, so the production stops during the day for not producing too many cars.

– In week 16 we will start with 28-speed, which is what we are manned to cope with. [translator’s note: probably this means full 28-speed since it was 28-speed before too.]

The company’s plans is based on that it will increase the production speed at more than one occasion during the year. Today Håkan Skött does not want to say when it might happen, only that it will be “later on”.

– But I can say that at first we probably will have the greatest recruitment needs in the body shop, so it is likely that the first recruitments will be there, when the time comes.

Thanks to Johan for the translation!

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There’s a good story about Subaru and customer loyalty at USA Today.

Comparisons between Saab and Subaru are not new and it seems Suuby definitely have a similar clientele, with similar loyalty levels.

Of course, Subaru also have actual sales, which is what Saab are going to have to regain.

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Volvos are not the safest cars in the world.

That’s the conclusion of a Swedish court in a case bought against Volvo by …… wait for it…..

…….Toyota!

Volvo ran some ads in 2009 claiming that their XC60 was the safest car in the world but in Sweden, you’ve got to be able to verify any claims you make in advertising and the judge concluded that Volvo couldn’t adequately back that up.

Toyota couldn’t back it up, either, but they could drive it forward relentlessly……..

Crunch day snippets – feat the SSC Saab Ad.

Big day here in the real world, today.
Things will be quiet.
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I’ve received a PDF copy of the new Saab ad that features photos from the Saab Support Convoys. Many thinks to Lowe Brindfors for supplying it.
Many thanks also to Elkparts, who are hosting it on their servers for you to download.
Click here to get your copy.
Saab SSC Ad - Believing
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Auto Prophet recalls some details from a radio interview with Victor Muller.
My own interview with VM has been postponed until the evening (here) or the morning (there). Here’s hoping we can get it together this time.
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VM on Inside Line, stressing a few things.
Interesting that they will looks to choose a partner for the much desired small Saab. I nominate Lotus, as long as that’s not too expensive.
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Toyota’s worst nightmare could be on the cusp of becoming a reality.
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Man lists all twelve of his Jaguar E-Types on Ebay.
The catch?
You have to buy all of them at once.
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If you’re wondering why there’s so much Alfa Romeo concept work going on at Geneva this year, it’s because 2010 marks Alfa Romeo’s 100th birthday.
The 2uettottanta concept by Pininfarina
500alfa-pinin.jpg
And the Pandion concept, with ‘doors’ open, by Bertone:
500x_bertone_pandion.jpg
Cuore Sportivo!
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OK, on to the big day……

Wednesday Snippets – Toyota edition

I’m posting this as a follow-up to a piece I wrote about the Toyota situation here in Australia last week.
In that post, I wrote about the unsatisfactory responses I’d received from Toyota PR about the situation with accelerator pedals here in Australia. They said the recall didn’t matter because pedals used in Australian cars were manufactured at a different plant. I countered saying if it’s a global design, then the point of manufacture didn’t matter as it is the design that’s the problem.
They didn’t answer for a full 4 or 5 days, until today, when they pointed me to a website they’ve setup here in Australia with some FAQs, including the following:

Why are Toyota vehicles sold in Australia not affected by the recall announced overseas?
Accelerator pedals for Toyota vehicles sold in Australia, and those manufactured in Australia for export, are provided by a different supplier to another design.

Interesting.
I’m not planning on following that up any further, but I’d love to see the results if someone did.
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Speaking of Toyota, they’re still all over the news services and despite efforts like this editorial in the Washington Post from Akio Toyoda himself (he’s the prez), it’s just not looking good. I’m not a fan of Toyota at all, but this is a massive motoring story with plenty of lessons to be learned.
First there were floor mat recalls, then the accelerator pedal recalls. Now they’re recalling the 2010 Prius and Lexus HS250H for faulty brakes, there are reports coming through that it may also apply to earlier Prius model years, too, and your mobile phone may be in danger of interfering with steering your late model Corolla. There are criticisms of the US Govt committee that’s been set up to look into all this as many of them have rather deep Toyota connections and as if that wasn’t enough, Toyota are now thinking of having to change their way their push-button-start systems operate in order for them to respond adequately to a panic situation.
Imagine having to respond every day to an overwhelmingly critical press?
I take no joy or satisfaction from Toyota now having to face media criticism like Saab have had from the Swedish press for 12 months. It’s just an interesting set of circumstances to watch unfold.
It’s a delicate time for Toyota to say the least and whilst some US writers are quietly dancing a little jig, I think they should be mindful of the fact that if and when Toyota come out of this, their transparent approach could lead them to being stronger than ever in terms of customer appreciation.
They’ve got a long road to hoe, but if they do it right…..
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The Saab-9-1-of-the-future benchmark from that other German company has just been unveiled online ahead of its physical unveiling at Geneva next month – it’s the Audi A1.
01-2011-audi-a1-630op.jpg
This does not excite me one little bit, I have to say.
And speaking of the potential for the Saab 9-1……. there was a link to an Auto Motor and Sport video of the 9-X BioHybrid and Saab 9-4x in comments yesterday.
Anyone notice how long that 9-X BioHybrid is? It was huge.
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$5000 and you can hit 200mph.
Ezra Dyer just did it.

Sorry Toyota Australia, not good enough

I’m sorry for the diversionary post here, but the current story with Toyota is a fairly big one and I’m not sure that Toyota owners in Australia are being treated fairly with respect to the situation and it’s importance for Australian consumers.
This effects me because we have a Toyota work vehicle, my stepdaughter owns a Corolla, one of my colleagues, below, owns a current-generation Camry and I’ve got numerous other friends and relatives (Mother and Sister) who drive Toyotas.
Toyota are the biggest fish in a small pond here in Australia. But that small pond doesn’t mean that they should be able to answer legitimate questions with soggy answers.
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One of my colleagues has a 2006 Toyota Camry and whilst that puts his car one year prior to Camrys being recalled over in the United States, he was still anxious enough to contact his local dealer about it.
Here’s the response he received:

Please see that attached bulletin from Toyota Australia relating to the accelerator issue in the USA – this has no impact on vehicles in Australia.

Sure enough, there was a PDF attached to the email and that PDF contained the following in a Q&A section:

Q1: Are Australian sold vehicles affected?
A1: No, the supplier of accelerator pedals that are fitted to vehicles for the Australian market is a different supplier to that used for North American production vehicles.

Different supplier?
That’s all fine and dandy, but the problem isn’t necessarily a supplier problem, as those following the issue in the United States will know. It appears to be a design issue.
In fact, Toyota’s own response in the United States has not been to use new supplier and get a few million pedal assemblies manufactured at a new plant for installation into effected vehicles.
Their response is to provide a cut steel plate that dealer service staff will install into the pedal assembly that will “reduce the surface tension between the friction shoe and the adjoining surface. With this reinforcement in place, the excess friction that can cause the pedal to stick is eliminated.”
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I wasn’t happy with the initial response that my colleague received as it danced around the design problem and blamed the issue on a supplier.
So I sent off an email to the dealer myself, which he bounced up to Toyota Australia staff. My colleague also forwarded the same email to his dealer, separate from me.

With respect to the release you’ve received, it’s understood that the supplier is different from the supplier used in US vehicles.
But is the design of the pedal the same, or is it different as well?
Information that I’ve seen from the US indicates that the problem may be with a pivot pin and bushing in the pedal mechanism, where grit is able to get into the bushing, causing the sticking problem and premature wearing of the bushing. That would indicate a design flaw rather than a manufacturing problem, making the place of manufacture less relevant.
Can you please comment on this, or pass this question on to someone who can?

The response we both received from Toyota Australia – an exact replica to the word – was as follows:

Thank you for contacting Toyota Motor Corporation Australia.
We understand the expectation that our customers have of their Toyota as well as the National Dealer Network and we apologise for the disappointment you have expressed.
We wish to reassure you that Toyota is committed to delivering a high quality product to our customers at all times.
Toyota Australia advises that Toyota vehicles it sells in Australia are not affected by the accelerator pedal recalls announced overseas. Accelerator pedals for Toyota vehicles sold in Australia, and those manufactured in Australia for export, are provided by a different supplier.
Thank you for contacting Toyota and giving us the opportunity to respond.
Kind Regards
Jessica Bosden
Customer Experience Consultant
Customer Experience Centre
Toyota Motor Corporation Australia

As you can see, this response does nothing but quote the same supplier-related stance as received in the first instance from the dealership.
Toyota are concerned enough about US vehicles (and now selected models in Europe and China, too) to issue a recall and physically alter the pedal assembly itself.
If the same action is required in Australia, then why not do it?
If this is not necessary in Australia, then why not state the full reason?
Pinning this on a different supplier doesn’t explain the inherent design fault that’s being addressed in other markets. It’s reasonable to assume that the same pedal design is used globally, so why don’t we need to have ours checked?
Do we need an unintended acceleration incident on the Sydney Harbour Bridge to get Toyota’s attention?

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