By on February 20, 2009

It was my last meeting with Saab. The new marketing director had decided that we were just too difficult to work with, and wanted a new team. When his predecessor introduced us to the new guy, he had no idea that we’d be working together again soon, for Lexus Europe. Meanwhile, he’d be moving on inside GM to work on the launch of the new Cadillac platform, and the later Lexus work would bring us into contact with the man who is presently heading Bentley’s sales and marketing. The car world is a small world. Back to the meeting. New guy is drawing a very sketchy car on the whiteboard.

My Saab journey had been part thrill, part misery. The thrills: First worked on the international launch of the 900 cab, where I met the designer Einar Hareide, which led to my sitting on the board of his design company some years later. Was then brought in to work on the 9-5 launch by a brilliant Finnish creative director and designer whose car credentials cover Audi-Porsche-Saab-Lexus. Jari Ullakko and I enjoyed frequent trips to Trollhättan, long discussions with the engineers, and the general joy of being in a company with spirit and soul – still not beat to pulp by GM.

My encounters with ENGINEer Per Gillebrand were thrilling (if GM then had used a quarter of the engine improvement ideas he and his team cooked up …) I spoke with the geniuses who designed the crash protection in the 9-5, they laughed with pride when describing they could open the doors of the first prototype crashed in a test – the survival space intact.

The first 9-x concept, not the BioHybrid PR rehash, but the first one. I rode shotgun with a Saab stuntdriver along a donkey-trail in Almeria, at 200 km/h, two meters from the edge, heading for a steep cliff, where he did a 90 degree sliding turn and straightened out the car just before we went over. Thrills.

The misery: Realizing that GM didn’t get the car, and didn’t want to. New guy is at the whiteboard. Yes, definitely sketching a car – looks like a Volvo. Figures, he was brought in from Volvo to head up international marketing. “My goal is to move the metal!”

How about moving minds and souls? How would that work out for you? See, to move metal, you must first move minds and souls. GM managers would rotate in for two years, just enough to begin getting the car, before scooting off to the next brand.

GM wanted Cross-Platform Synergies, and didn’t pay much attention to the individual brands. Just look at www.gm.com – I hate that place – they still think there is such a thing as a GM-car, at the expense of the individual brands, and they’re never going to abandon that mindset.

“I have looked at your advertising. The cars are too small in the spreads. I want to fill the pages with the cars.” New guy has a strategy, he thinks.

GM killed the “Saab versus …” campaign after a year – they had tested it in the new markets they wanted to enter (Texas), oblivious to the fact that it was a huge success with established customers and with Saab enthusiasts. “It’s too intellectual. Fucking high-brow stuff doesn’t sell cars.” Saabish people still remember that campaign.

New guy is clueless that no one will remember any of the ads he will be signing off on, since they’ll look like all bland car ads out there. In desperation, at the end of the run and when it’s too late, they’ll grasp for Born from Jets, after GM having nixed Saab’s aircraft heritage for fifteen years. GM: “That’s not appropriate for the luxury segment.”

New guy is drawing a rectangle tightly around the Volvo he has sketched on the whiteboard in the Saab conference room. Ah, it’s a two-page ad. He tries to draw the “chicken with a party hat” logo in the bottom right-hand corner. Looks like a pineapple.

“This is how much I want the car to fill the pages. To move the metal, we must show the metal.”

We presented our last attempt to move Saabish minds. A commercial with a 900 cab flying on ice, powder rising like a contrail, and stopping next to some ice fishermen. The top opens. Grey haired father with son, the father with his leg in a cast. He is greeted by the other fishermen, and then drills a hole in the ice next to the car. Spot ends with father and son fishing, seated in the car.

“There is no luxury in this,” says new guy.

That was my last day working for Saab.

[Stein X Leikanger is a brand conceptualizer, brought in by brands to create their communication platforms. His advice is often ignored, yet handsomely rewarded.]

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63 Comments on “My Saab Story...”


  • avatar
    ootpek

    Bok bok! Chicken Party time!!! Put the hat on!

    I had an 86 Saab 900 turbo and a 96 Saab 900 turbo. Both 3 doors!

    Once Saab abandoned the hatchback they lost me. No way I was going to spend 40K on a 4 door sedan that was unremarkable.

    Hope they survive to produce something that is actually Saabish again.

  • avatar
    Sabastian

    My daily driver is a 94 Saab 900. It kills me to see what GM has done to that company.

  • avatar
    Point Given

    Excellent writing/story telling.

    I always liked Saab and it’s sad that it got the full GM treatment.

  • avatar
    John R

    In desperation, at the end of the run and when it’s too late, they’ll grasp for Born from Jets, after GM having nixed Saab’s aircraft heritage for fifteen years.

    How many times must it be demonstrated that the whole “Born from Jets” business just doesn’t hunt? A Saab would have a hard time running away from a Altima with a 3.5 in its name…if it could.

    You’d think they would figure something else out. Oh well, a moot point now.

  • avatar
    bill h.

    Thanks for the story, Stein.

    I can clearly recall the effects of GM management on the company, looking from the outside as a customer. For example during the 70s-80s, there was one visionary guy in the US helping to keep the brand focused (Bob Sinclair). He stayed there for years, and I think was one of the guys who also was to get the 900 Cabriolet rolling.

    Once he left, there came to be progression of forgettable names and faces running the US ops, who’d stay for a couple of years and then head on upwards through the GM management ladder. I’ve studied in my own job the consequences of having rotating, short-cycle, non-stable management and lack of vision in US government programs, and this sounds very familiar.

    Also, during the 70s and 80s, the then very small Saab Club in North America had its newsletter/magazine (“Nines”) published by a guy named Dick Grossman, who had a column in it that he described as his “Five Minutes of Hate” for GM. IIRC other than a some limited usage of GM parts, there was no relationship between the two companies. The late Mr. Grossman’s rants were about the GM attitude and general incompetence, and how it could kill a car’s soul. Even back then! I still have some of those back issues and should look them over again…

    I often thought of Mr. Grossman and how he would have seen events over the past decade or so, as GMfunk gradually took over the marque. Not likely to have been pretty, if he had been still alive. Perhaps he might have even preferred the brand to commit seppuku in the early 90s rather than be “saved” by the General.

    Even the tech manager at my Saab dealer (one of the few standalones left in the US) recently told me that they wouldn’t mind getting cut loose; ever since GM took over completely it was one nickel and dime headache after another coming from Detroit, whether it be warranty service or whatnot.

    To paraphrase something posted on the NYTimes blog yesterday: “Born from Jets–Killed by Morons”.

    BTW, great pic! Would have preferred Bibi Andersson from the same film, but that would have been for a sunnier story (sigh)…..

  • avatar

    @ John R – agreed, Born from Jets came too late. If Saab had respected its aircraft heritage, and gone on creating cars in the 90s that derived from that – then it would make sense to use the aircraft heritage.

    Ah, well. Water under the bridge. Saab cars should be “the lowest you can fly.”

  • avatar

    As a kid inn the late 80′s, early 90′s, Saabs were always kind of like a white tiger to me. Exotic, rare and powerful. We didn’t have many in our middle-class neighborhood, but my dad had a friend who was a computer programmer and owned a late 80′s turbo Saab and Pop would talk about it like it was a Porsche. I came to think of them as cars for other people, odd Swedish cars that would cause people to look at me funny if they know I drove one.

    I came of age during the GM ownership and graduated college in 2005, the same year that the horrid 9-7 made it’s appearance. Saabs had officially turned from a fascinating, rare species into GM rebadges with the ignition switch in the center console. It was like the white tiger had shed all it’s stripes and turned into, idunno, a lion or something. It was still similar to what it had been, the cars still had saabish lines and turbos and stuff, but the brand was something altogether different and wrong.

    Idunno. It’s sad what has happened to Saab, which is a victim of American corporatocracy – where smart people with odd ideas are ignored and kiss-asses and sycophants eventually end up with all the decisionmaking abilities. The emptyheaded simple-minded thinking shown by the new brand manager or whatever in your story is just the result of a broken system that promotes bullshit thinkers for yes-manning their way up the ladder. Anyone who just wants to “Move the metal” has no concept of what it takes to build a brand; brand management is one thing, salesmanship is another.

    Move the metal my ass. It’s about defining a brand, identifying values and virtues, differentiating from all the other competitors in a crowded market. Saab had that differentiation and virtue in spades before GM came along and porked ‘em. It’s a shame.

    That said, I would probably squeal with glee if I could find a well-priced 9-2 Aero to buy this year when I replace the Jeep. But that’s because I like Subarus, not because it’s a Saab. Yet another reason that GM has been the WORST BRAND-MANAGING COMPANY EVER. Even with good advice coming in from the outside, it seems, they’ve just muddled themselves into near-bankruptcy.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    “We presented our last attempt to move Saabish minds. A commercial with a 900 cab flying on ice, powder rising like a contrail, and stopping next to some ice fishermen. The top opens. Grey haired father with son, the father with his leg in a cast. He is greeted by the other fishermen, and then drills a hole in the ice next to the car. Spot ends with father and son fishing, seated in the car.”

    Effing brilliant! That is Saab. Thank you for sharing the story, to bad we never got to see the ad.

    The nonsense many big companies do of rotating generic managers through assignments every two years as if an Harvard MBA is ipso facto brilliant at everything is a big, big part of what has gone wrong. The most important thing managers (and executives) do is to make decisions. In fact, all management does is to make decisions and communicate them. If you don’t have the right people making the right decisions, all is lost.

  • avatar
    dgduris

    Kill GM!

  • avatar
    Pch101

    GM wanted to own its own BMW, a status-based European luxury car maker that could capture customers who Cadillac couldn’t get.

    But since that sort of company wasn’t for sale, GM instead bought a quirky niche operator that was losing money long before GM ever showed up, whose only similarity to BMW was that it was owned by furriners in Yurp who speak a language that sounds vaguely German.

    Clearly, GM didn’t do well with it. But had GM or someone else not acquired it, Saab would have failed a long time ago.

    There just isn’t much place in a global economy for a low-volume car maker that doesn’t have the status to command luxury pricing. A company like that can’t compete with companies that can sell its cars for more money (Daimler, BMW) or has better economies of scale (Toyota, etc.), which means financial losses and failure are inevitable without substantial repositioning.

    GM was right that a profitable Saab would need to be on the same plane as BMW, but no one knew how to take it there. It’s quite possible that no one could have succeeded with it. To generate higher sales, the cars would have needed to stop being Saabs, defeating the purpose of buying the company in the first place.

    The only logical owner is someone who cares more about Swedish jobs than making money. That leaves the Swedish government or an operator supported by the state. Without government intervention, Saab is going to die or be so close to death that it may as well be dead. This is a one-option universe.

  • avatar
    peteinsonj

    I’ve had 2 Saabs (an ’08 now), wanted something fun to drive, that also works with a family, without the high price of a BMW/Mercedes.

    Enjoy my car, hope Saab will succeed.

    That said — by and large, nearly all car advertising is LOUSY! Very little genuine brand driven advertising — that tells the story of the brand and the car, that creates for the viewer/reader what that car is about.

    I’d say maybe 75% (6 months ago) and 95% now, of car ads are “deal” ads of some kind. Even the latest BMW, Lexus, ads tout the deal ahead of the brand.

    After being exposed to an ad — the question every creative and marketing person shouls ask themselves — what did this say to both my target and non-target audience about the car? the brand? and what’s in it for them?

    Hardpressed these days to say anything other than “its on sale.”

  • avatar

    @Pch101 –

    Since you mention BMW.

    Saab sales have remained static since the early 90s, nudging up and down. BWM took off in the same period, from a starting position not that far ahead of Saab …

    One of those brands was allowed to be the best it could be.

    http://www.autointell.com/european_companies/BMW/business-figures/bmwsales.htm

  • avatar
    Pch101

    Saab sales have remained static since the early 90s, nudging up and down.

    That’s a big part of the problem of a global market for the car industry. For a product like this, if you aren’t growing or able to raise your prices to make up for the lack of volume, then you’re dying.

    Saab could survive when markets were compartmentalized and it could survive on low sales volumes. Globalization helps to quash the small pond effect and puts smaller operators at a disadvantage.

    BMW had a better branding platform than Saab. I’m of the opinion that Saab would have not been able to hit those sorts of sales without becoming something that it wasn’t. Saab was always quirky, and there’s no room for an independent quirky player anymore.

  • avatar
    montgomery burns

    “It’s too intellectual. Fucking high-brow stuff doesn’t sell cars.”

    I’ve heard that sentiment many times from marketing/sales VPs. In my neck of the woods it’s usually “they’ll never understand it in Iowa”. Very arrogant.

    Everybody’s darn scared to do anything different until the competition does it. And then it’s “why didn’t we do that?” Of course they’ve forgotten all the stuff that was rejected outright as “too out there” or beaten down into mediocrity.

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    Excellent, no memorable article. As well-written and interesting as always.

    Today is a black day in automotive history. I’ve always admired Saab and agree they had great potential – maybe not as much as BMW, or as Subaru, but who knows.

    In my circles, the 9000 was the car to have in its day. And the TV ads that showed them performing quasi-ballet stunts were pure art. In contrast, and without wanting to get all negative, I really don’t understand why anybody will mourn the likes of Pontiac — you might as well miss Wolseley.

  • avatar
    tom

    “It’s too intellectual. Fucking high-brow stuff doesn’t sell cars.”

    Obviously, GM didn’t get Saab at all…or if they did, they thought they could make it into something else.

    Who buys Saabs? It’s alternative teachers who knit their own sweaters, the idiosyncratic university professor who’s always wearing two different socks, and generally people who want to express that they’re different, yet drive a car that’s practical as well as fun to drive.

    So a Saab has to have character above everything else. It has to be smart, it has to be intellectual, because that’s the target audience.

    You can’t sell a vanilla car to someone like that, to someone who wants to be different. That’s the point GM doesn’t get.

    Of course this means that you can’t transform a company like Saab into a major player over night. If they grow, it has to be slow, it has to be natural. And it also means that you can’t just sell an Opel with the ignition in the center console.

    You can charge more for a Saab than an Opel, but not because it’s more luxurious, but because it has smart solutions. It needs witty storing compartments, a quirky design, practical seats, etc.
    And Saabs should only have turbocharged engines.

    Oh well, I’m afraid it’s too late now. Saab sells less than 100,000 cars at the moment, and why should it get any better anytime soon? It is dependent on GM patents and its part-bin and it hasn’t made a profit in two decades.

    Saab cannot survive on its own, and who should buy a stake in a company like that? From a business perspective, Saab doesn’t have much to offer. In the best case, it might make some small profit after heavy investments, in the worst case, it’s a constant drain on the mother company. In this kind of an environment, this is just too big a gamble.

    Even for Indian or Chinese car manufacturers who want a foot on the western markets, Saab isn’t very attractive as they don’t have a big dealer network.

  • avatar
    Domestic Hearse

    Mr Leikanger,

    You bring back fond memories of when Saab used to be the brand of intellectuals…we used to call it the “leather elbow patch/pipe smoker” car.

    The professor’s car. The classical pianist’s car. The sculpter’s car. The chemist’s car.

    It stood for something back then.

    Would a Saab buyer conform to herd mentality? Never.

    Overreach with brand snobbery in an attempt to impress or make others jealous? Please.

    Or drive something common and uninteresting? Life’s too short.

    Saab was once a brand. A brand! Not a platform. Not an attempt to be GM’s BMW.

    It was Scandanavian, not German, and that’s not the same thing at all. It was safe and reliable and durable. It was economical yet comfortable with understated cache.

    It was not elitist, but neither was it pedestrian. It was interesting. Unique. Thoughtful.

    Now it is nothing.

    Or, as nose-diving depreciation on my present Saab has revealed, almost less than nothing.

    Oh, wait. It’s an electrical experiment on wheels. There is that. And a maker of mysterious garage puddles. Hmm, wonder if that dribble of bodily fluids was important?

    To the good people of Sweden…sorry. Really. Oh, and for that Volvo deal too.

  • avatar
    PartsUnknown

    I am a shameless, floor-mounted ignition hugging, pinko Saab loyalist. I will admit that. I pray to the chicken with the party hat that Saab survives and thrives.

    But every morning I settle into the supremely comfortable driver’s seat of my 13 year old 9000CS 2.3 turbo 5 speed with 120K on the odo. It strikes me: I get 30 average mpg, the satisfying rush of the turbo under full boost, cabin space classified as a large car by the EPA but a footprint dwarfed by a Camry’s, 24 cubic feet of cargo space that can expand to rival some CUVs, all in a car that was held as the safest on the road back when it was still in production. No squeaks, not one rattle. And the most magnificent, mechanical thunk when I close the driver’s door. And I think, if Saab was just allowed to keep building cars with these exceptional characteristics, the story arc might be a lot different.

    Stein, great story. Love the ice fishing ad. You’re right that is Saab.

  • avatar
    mpvue

    the SAAB mystique will only grow, now. there will always be SAAB-heads (I knew alot of deadheads loved SAABs)even without new examples.
    I always thought the funky hatchback profile, complicated cantilevered hood, key-in-the-floor Swedish stuff was cool. even the new(er) 9-3 is interesting (although I thought it a hoot that my friends ’03 has the same engine and shifter and brakes as my ’02 Saturn L200 had!).

  • avatar
    waterfrolic

    I hope Saab can go it alone, with investors that are willing to have a vision. There is a void in the marketplace for a brand that eschews luxurious frivolity. Even the less expensive brands waste resources tarting up their models with useless gizmos and silly shiny bits of plastic meant to simulate what it isn’t. Saab now has the opportunity to go back to producing what it once produced: a simple, solid vehicle — luxurious because of the materials and workmanship, not because it is shiny. There is a market opportunity to build cars that are what you see, and what you see is what you get. Volvo once offered cars like that, but has now gone corporate. Subaru used to have a soul quirky enough to be that brand, but more recently sold it to GM and Toyota (the day Subaru gave me a useful cup holder was the day I knew its soul had been sold).

    I wish I had enough money to invest in Saab. I don’t. Give me a real Saab vehicle, however, and I will buy it. GMs and Toyotas are dime a dozen. BMWs, Audis and Mercedes do their own thing. If Saab is allowed to be Saab again, it will find that its old niche is currently unoccupied, and that there is money to be made.

  • avatar
    albert

    great article.
    We call this management “seagull management”
    Screaming – shitting everything under – disappear

    Great deal of the lesser sales volume in 2008 is caused by the negative talks about saab
    Would you buy a car from a company that may not be there next year?

  • avatar
    chuckR

    there will always be Saab-heads…..

    Saab, the new Alfa, but with better reliability.

  • avatar
    chaparral

    They had the best USP in the world and never advertised it. Jeremy Clarkson even pointed it out for them.

    Midrange power. Useful acceleration. Any turbo Saab has it. The top-line Aeros and Viggens have more than anything else out there. One ad video of a 9-5 Aero doing a 45 MPH rollon against a 540i and they’d have sold twice as many.

  • avatar
    Flake

    If Saab had been allowed to evolve into what it should be today instead of being devolved into another badge-engineered mess, I think it would be doing quite well for itself. Consumer trends have gone/are going exactly where Saab should be today, as more affluent buyers (especially younger ones) are yearning for something different that still has status but is still practical and gets exceptional fuel economy. If today’s Saabs still had the practical packaging, unique styling, high quality feel, quirkiness, fun handling, and Swedish flavor, Saab could be as En Vogue as Ikea. Unfortunately, we all know what happened…

  • avatar
    highrpm

    I remember the 80s and early 90s Saabs. They were indeed unique cars. Quirky. Like Domestic Hearse mentioned, they were the tweed jacket with patch and pipe type of car.

    Got me thinking about what kinds of cars these folks are driving now (excellent question of the day?). For starters:
    - older Volvo wagons
    - Older Benz diesel (including the 190E diesel)
    - 80s RX-7
    - 80s Saabs of course
    - 90s VW Vanagon
    - late 80s/early 90s VW Golf
    - early 90s Benz wagon
    - early 80s BMW 320i
    - late 80s Toyota Cressida (flagship before Lexus came out)

    Sadly, I can’t think of any new car that exemplifies this type of person. Someone that wants a unique and understated vehicle that’s special. Definitely not a Saab. The Subarus are too popular for this guy. Maybe a new diesel Jetta wagon? A Mini? I was going to add the Smart car but with that car you are trying too hard to look like the quirky guy.

  • avatar
    Brian E

    Great picture. It sure feels like Saab is playing chess with Death now, to forestall its demise.

    Saab is GM’s failure to understand branding in microcosm. Could Saab have competed with BMW while still being quirky? Yes, absolutely! Where was it ever written that Saabs have to feel cheap or be second-class in terms of performance (the 9-3 is definitely not, but the 9-5 is)? As long as the Germans continue to search for new definitions of “stern and dour” there is an opportunity for a quirky, affable, fun brand to provide great performance.

    But competing with is most definitely not the same thing as being the same as. You don’t compete with BMW by trying to be BMW. You compete with BMW by creating a product that people would rather buy than a BMW. That means different.

    GM for decades has also tried to declare itself worthy of prestige, while not actually acting in a corresponding fashion. They don’t seem to get that prestige and reputation flow from a record of performance.

    Mr. Leikanger, I hope that an independent Saab takes your advice.

  • avatar
    Arminius

    I have very fond memories of driving with my buddy back in HS in his Mom’s SAAB 900. Intellectuals we were not, but hooligans we were. That car took an amazing amount of abuse and kept coming back for more. He would keep a towel in the trunk so he could wipe off the wheel wells after doing donuts in the mud in reverse. Good times.

    Because of those days I will always have a soft spot for SAAB. When I recently went out looking for a car a really wanted to buy a SAAB, but the cost/value proposition just wasn’t there.

    Unless the Swedish government provides significant assistance I just don’t see SAAB making it.

  • avatar
    stuki

    Saab was also a car with FWD, larger rolling diameter tires, long travel suspension and, at least sans skirts, dams and spoilers, decent ground clearance. As such it was a good ‘winter’ car prior to 4wd ubiquity. Still is for those with the sense to back up when it gets too steep and slippery, as fixed roof Saabs had great all around visibility.

    They were also good for tertiary, often dirt, roads even without snow, due to aformentioned suspension, and an L4 layout that allowed a bit more driveline cush between tire patches and engine/tranny accellerating on washboard, compared to trasverse 4′s.

    The 90′s and 00′s cheap gas and credit ushered in an era with so much torque and size becoming standard that RWD based cars had a distinct advantage in the higher price ranges. And 4wd for ‘winter’ use.

    That trend will likely reverse now, and it’s a shame if Saab won’t be around when the fundamentals are less stacked against them.

  • avatar
    no_slushbox

    Domestic Hearse:

    No need to apologize to Sweden; GM and Ford paid good money for those brands.

    Makings cars is a cut throat, money losing business.

    On the other hand, as the Swedes know, making aerospace equipment and heavy trucks can be quite profitable.

    These are the entries for the companies:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saab

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volvo

    SAAB AB is trying very hard to distance itself from the automaker right now:

    http://www.saabgroup.com/en/MediaRelations/News/2009/saab_one_name_+two_different_companies.htm

    Volvo (the company, not the brand) owns Mack, UD and Prevost, among others.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Sadly, I can’t think of any new car that exemplifies this type of person

    I can, because I’ve seen what other Saab people are buying if they’re not sticking it out with their 900s.

    Priuses.

    Not all Saab buyers went Prius, but a lot of them did. Saab demographics were perfectly suited to being a green performance brand: they’re left-leaning, quirky, probably well-educated and intellectual, reasonably affluent and almost assuredly environmentally conscious.

    GM had a giftwrapped group of buyers, ready to buy a hybrid near-lux, and what do they do? Offer an overpriced, mild-hybrid Malibu and Vue that aren’t actually that fuel efficient, or Escalades and Tahoes that no green buyer would touch.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    If you want to know everything about how GM feels about Saab, find one of each of the following cars:
    * A 2003 900
    * A 2009 9-5

    Sit in both of them, and note that the same shifter, seats, dash, as well as much of the secondary controls, switches and trim is shared between them despite their being more than sixteen years different in age.

    Understand?

  • avatar
    no_slushbox

    psarhjinian:

    Wierd, I just watched a crappy movie called Lakeview Terrace last night, and that’s what the married couple in the movie owned, an old Saab 900 convertible and new Prius.

    It’s somewhat understandable that GM didn’t make a hybrid Saab since GM doesn’t have any competitive hybrid systems. The real F-you to Saab owners is that GM put the top rung 2 liter direct injection Ecotec turbo (260HP / 260FT.LB) in the Cobalt but did not put any turbo engines that advanced in any Saabs.

  • avatar

    The Saab owner in my neighborhood as a kid (’60s) was a physicist. He and his wife have Hondas now. A female friend who is a marine biologist wanted a Saab for a long time. And one friend who is a serial entreprneur had Saabs in the ’80s and ’90s. He and his wife have a Honda and a Volvo now.

    I remember Stirling Moss driving Saabs in rallies.

    Very sad story for those of us who love interesting cars.

  • avatar
    PartsUnknown

    no_slushy – actually the current 9-5 iteration, starting with the ’06 refresh, has the classic Saab-sourced 2.3T making 260hp/258lbft. 9-5 Aeros from about 2002 to 2005 had the 2.3T making about 250hp.

  • avatar
    Stingray

    I like Saabs… even after having seen only 1 in my life: a second gen 900.

    Don’t like to see this company leaving.

    And I like the current 9-3 Turbo-X or whatever is named. Sadly, it’s not a hatchback.

  • avatar
    Pig_Iron

    If they bring back the Viggen hatch, I’m sold. It’s the best all weather machine there is.

  • avatar
    no_slushbox

    PartsUnknown:

    Ok, so the 9-5′s engine is making close to the same power and torque, but in a 2.3 liter engine instead of a 2 liter direct injection engine.

    The point remains, the most technologically advanced GM turbo engine went into a Chevy Cobalt, not a Saab.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    Great story, Stein! Truly showed how the idiots blew it bigtime.

    I would love for Volvo and Saab to hook up. Volvo could take the luxury end, Saab the performance. With hatchbacks.

    Maybe even add Subaru into the mix for the cold weather trifecta.

    Sigh. I love my 9-3. Today is a sort of sad day, but perhaps a blessing. Emancipation, if you will.

  • avatar
    fahrkultur

    As noted in the article, SAAB has been very innovative in engine design. The current trend of downsized turbo petrol engines has been preempted a long time ago. Driving such an engine is different. The 4-cylinder engine sometimes sounds like that, i.e. “cheap”. However it delivers plenty of torque and is excellent for high speed cruising. Fuel consumption on the Autobahn at speeds between 100 and 130 mph is 23 mpg US (2004 9-3 convertible). GM should at least have leveraged that know-how, however it is not clear they really did so (except a few Opel models).

  • avatar
    PartsUnknown

    no_slushbox…I understand your point, and to be frank I’ve only driven 9-3 loaners with the 2.0 Ecotec low pressure turbo mill. And I otherwise don’t know much about the Ecotec except that it seemed to move the 9-3 forward well enough. That said, I don’t regard the 2.3L B205/235 engines as a step down. They are strong, proven engines that have propelled my 9-5 and 9000 (in B234 form)for 200,000 virtually trouble free miles. Hopefully the Ecotec can achieve that level of long term durability.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Ok, so the 9-5’s engine is making close to the same power and torque, but in a 2.3 liter engine instead of a 2 liter direct injection engine.

    Telling is that said engine (the B235) has been making near that level of power since the Viggen debuted, and in an engine that traces it’s lineage back some years–heck, the B234 was pushing 230hp in the early 90s.

    I’ve always wondered why GM didn’t adopt and improve the Saab H engine, but instead chose to push the Ecotec. No, wait, I haven’t wondered: unlike Ford, which took the best of Volvo (and Mazda) and used it to improve it’s own stuff, GM shoved the worst of it’s nature into Saab.

    Ford may have cribbed from Volvo, but GM infected Saab and left it to fester.

    They are strong, proven engines that have propelled my 9-5 and 9000 (in B234 form)for 200,000 virtually trouble free miles. Hopefully the Ecotec can achieve that level of long term durability.

    Well, as the owner of a B205 Saab with a nice streak of varnish on the inside, the “reliable, trouble-free” part stopped about 1998. Before GM took, oh, four or five years to fess up to it, these engines were sludge magnets. If you’re buying a Saab of this vintage (1998-2003, 9-3 or 9-5), get a mechanic to inspect it for sludging, and be aggressive about oil changes. And use synthetic.

  • avatar
    honfatboy

    For ballsy ad campaign, New Saab should hire whoever did Hulu’s Super Bowl ad:

  • avatar
    PartsUnknown

    psarhjinian – my ’03 9-5 w/ the B235 has 74K and no sludge. Synthetic changes every 5K and have had the PCV update done already. Under this scenario, I would expect to attain 200K before having to open the engine. The poor PCV system and piston design were questionable, but I suspect poor maintenance habits were a contributing factor. I still regard this engine and its predecessors as fundamentally durable, although the B234 iteration was the apogee. But, yes, buyer beware…checking for sludge is easy enough on these cars.

    As a side note, my indy wrench, 25 years fixing Saabs, regards the 9000 as the best they ever built. He currently maintains a half dozen customer cars with 250K+…my 9000 with 120K is the runt of the litter.

  • avatar
    stuki

    I thought all those who tired of their Saabs being in the shop all time, or of the brand moving upmarket (positioning if not actual price), traded them for Subarus. Or maybe I got it backwards, and a Saab was what the associate profs traded their Subie for once they got tenure :) But I’m sure the Prius would have some takers in this demographic as well, despite being, perhaps, a bit to TokyoTech’y for the Bergman revival house parking lot.

    On the innovative engine front, weren’t Saab working on a variable compression turbo for awhile? Talk about Holy Grail, but darned if I would know how to go about building one with any kind of reliability, for less than a fortune. I can just imagine some frostbitten, pipe smoking, sweater clad Sven trying to get that one past a roomful of GM bean counters.

    Man, if they do manage to stay in business, and build something neat like they used to, I’ll probably buy one for my next daily driver. Just make it a hatch or wagon, keep the beltline low, seats comfy, a-pillars upright, tires tall and reasonably narrow, and give it some decent suspension travel. And if driveline development is just too expensive sans GM, look into licensing some turbo tech and dual clutch technology from BMW. 4/6ths of a 335/535 engine driving the front wheels, sounds just about right for a Saab; and would allow the Bavarians to make a few bucks from a not particularly price sensitive demographic who wouldn’t otherwise be caught dead in one of their cars, no matter how good they make them.

  • avatar
    wsn

    If you like FWD cars and same-brand jets, you can buy a Honda.

  • avatar
    romanjetfighter

    Car advertising is usually crappy when it focuses too much on the car itself.

    My favorite car commercial is by Lexus. You can search it on Youtube with keywords: lexus moments.

    Car is like at the very end, but I think it makes a really strong impression on me.

    Great article, sir. :)

  • avatar
    saabista63

    Thank you, Mr. Leikanger,

    this is the story that tells it all.
    It is the story about about people not knowing their customers.
    It is the story about thinking in metalheaded stereotypes.
    It is the story about driving a brand against the wall.

    It’s safe to drive like that – in a Volvo. Maybe. The Volvo story is still pretty open towards the ending.

    For Saab marketing, there are other priorities now – at least I hope there are.
    Let me name just three of them:
    Understand your brand!
    Know your customers!
    Move your mind — and move it fast!

  • avatar
    Andy D

    One of my carpoolers had a 9000. I used to look forward to riding in it.

  • avatar
    Usta Bee

    When I think of Saab I think of…….Satch Carlson !. I guess them declaring bankruptcy means no more cruising the local highschool for chicks.

  • avatar
    oldowl

    My 99L was lime green, my 900 maroon. Now all is black. And the Seventh Seal is opened for GM as well.

  • avatar

    I so get that.

  • avatar
    davekatz

    That SAAB was the official car of Vermont in the pre-Subaru era should have told any marketer worth hiring all they need to know.

    Still scads of pre-New Generation 900s scuttling around up here. That late 60s safety-car look is damn elegant. Even after thirty years.

    Poll question– Masculine or feminine or moot point?

    I’ve had a raft of saabies, all costing less than a week’s pay and running for years. Satch Carlson showed us the way, up thar in the Yukon.

    Loves me some 9000, today. It really is the bestest looking and driving. When 9-5 wagons start showing up for $500, well, I may allow my head to turn.

  • avatar

    Its been a tough coupleadays(some would say decades) for us Saabisti. But really, thinking back to ’75(I was 18?), when I bought that(first of dozens of Saabs) ’67 two-stroke that just went unfazed thru that foot of snow, Saabs and their owners were/are misunderstood.

    Now, when the market seems to be moving toward the powerful, economical, safe, great-driving, everyday, utilitarian car…ie Saab, it looks like their days are numbered…OR their liferaft has been released.

    Just back from the Chicago auto show…god, there is ALOT of unsalable CRAP out there. (You know who you are)

    GMNA…you douchebags have sold me exactly ONE new car…an 03 Saab 93 with a TURBODIESEL that gets way over 40mpg on its 2&1/2 tank runs to SFLA at way over 55mph. Easily the best Saab Ive owned, sure you could have sold thousands. Thank you very much and GOOD FING RIDDANCE!

  • avatar
    Voice of Sweden

    Stein X Leikanger> Your website is down? Didn’t you use to have at least something there?

  • avatar
    happy-cynic

    Great article. I agree, the “born from jets” is so lame.
    SAAB’s keep entering and exiting, out of my life. I remember one of my father’s friends had one, (Along with my dad, he was a college professor) It was the one that looked like a bathtub powered by a two stroke engine. Then I saw the Sonnet. Spent some time drooling over it. Later I was working for an retired oil trader. His daughter needed a car, they went to the auto show and she picked out a Jetta, however since the “help” (that’s me) drove one, they got her a 900 3 door turbo, red with tan leather.
    then one of my old friends had a 9000 (he was an insurance salesman) It was 2nd Saab he owned. We rode into town, and some one in a Jetta tried to cut us off, I could not believe how much power that old Saab had, left the Jetta in the dust. He then replaced it with the 9-5, very smooth car.
    Just recently one of my co-workers, wanted to trade his truck (Tundra) for a used Saab. My wife loves them. (she has degree in fine arts) so some day I will buy one used and consider it a artwork.

  • avatar

    The Saab Vs campaign page is still one of the most viewed pages on my website. A fantastic and classy set of images.

    Thanks for the great tale.

  • avatar
    Johnster

    I had a favorite college prof who owned a Saab 99 back in the late 70s/early 80s and whenever I see one I get nostalgic.

    Dave M. : I would love for Volvo and Saab to hook up. Volvo could take the luxury end, Saab the performance. With hatchbacks.

    I too really think that a Saab/Volvo hook-up could work. It would be similar to the Citroen/Peugeot hook-up. They could build cars on the same platforms, but the Saabs would be more aerodynamic and avant-garde (sort of similar to Citroen), while Volvo could utilize more traditional styling cues (similar to Peugeot, boxy but good).

  • avatar
    vassilis

    The first 9-x concept photographed at night by a Greek car magazine, in Sweden, is a feature I still remember after all those years.
    Back then Saab really had a chance to survive, I think. But, “killing” the hatch and deforming the 9-x concept was what they did instead.
    Looking at the situation now, it looks like they enjoyed shooting themselves on the foot.

  • avatar

    Stein X Leikanger : Thanks for this great look into the corporate world, and what happens when you let a moron run a department.

    You should write a tell-all novel.

  • avatar
    tech98

    “Born from Jets” might have worked if it had launched years earlier when Saab was still independent, had solid product and was looking to dip a toe into mainstream recognition without compromising itself.

    Coming after a decade under General Mediocrity, it smelled like desperation and phoniness papering over a lame GM-ified product line.

    “Born from Jets – Killed by Morons”. That says it all.

    I have friends who work for GM-Holden. GM rotates a stream of mostly clueless high execs from the US, but fortunately the Holden operation is fairly strong and independent-minded enough that the Detroiters don’t reach their full potential for causing damage. It sounds like Saab wasn’t so lucky.

  • avatar
    the duke

    @Stein X Leikanger and Pch101:

    Funny you compare Saab and BMW. Another comparison made is that of Saab to Audi. This is a great article put in winding road some time ago that covers the topic. Not much of a winding road fan now they screwed it all up as “Next Autos” (WTF does that mean?), but this is a good read.

    http://www.nextautos.com/issue-24/a-tale-of-two-car-companies

  • avatar

    Had an old school 900 turbo. The point of that car was that it was very fast, fuel efficent, and full sized in that four adults could fit with stuff.

    Later a 9-3, pre GM. Still the same flavor, but it was clear that the GM frame used was a compromise.

    Saab is/was a niche, not Chevy.

  • avatar
    Jan Andersson

    Remember the competition in Sweden in the 50′s and 60′s: rear wheel drives from Volvo, VW, Ford and Opel. Those were NOT winter cars, but the SAAB was. And they still build the best front wheel drive winter cars. The 9-5 is also the safest sedan built, when is comes to real accidents. For someone living in the North, it’s quite a smart choice.


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