By on February 26, 2012

saab900

Published in Speed:Sport:Life 26 months ago, but still true today, I believe — JB

This past Friday, I was seated in a long-lead briefing for another auto manufacturer when the whispered word was passed down the line of seated journalists: “There’s an emergency conference call regarding Saab in ten minutes.” Not too long after that: “Saab is dead. There’s no deal.” All around me, I saw men with their heads cradled in their hands, though I could not tell whether it was from sympathy, misery, or simple world-weariness. From the seat next to me, a sorrowful, poignant comment: “I don’t want to live in a world where the ES350 is a best-seller and Saab is dead.”

What a perceptive statement! For there were more than fifteen long years where people willingly deluded themselves into believing that this world was one where the Camry-by-Lexus could rule the sales roost and, yet, Saab could live. With evidence to the contrary literally surrounding them, Saab’s incompetent, careless stewards at General Motors continued to push the lie: Saab is premium, Saab is luxury, Saab can compete with the Japanese and Germans on equal ground. By the time Saab’s lifeless body finally thumped against the ground, the story had assumed the mantle of tragedy. And like most tragedies, it began with a misunderstanding.

dsc00759

As noted earlier in this series, the primary reason for the prestige accorded European cars in this country in the post-Vietnam era was simply their outrageous cost and relative rarity. This bizarre situation — that of cars selling well simply because they were priced above their true value — led European manufacturers to focus obsessively on the United States on general and the coastal markets in particular. It also created the myth that virtually all European cars priced above a VW Rabbit were inherently “upscale”. (Eventually, that myth would drag even the humble Rabbit up the marketing ladder, but that is a bunny tale for another time.)

Perhaps the upscale-ness (upscality?) of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class was not open to question, but what about cars which served more or less as the Fords or Chevrolets of their home countries, such as Renault, Peugeot, or… Saab? The Saab 99, which carried the Swedish company’s fortunes at home and abroad during the Seventies, was hardly a luxury car by any objective measure. A low-power, front-wheel-drive hatchback with better-than-average seats and an impressive cargo capacity, it should have occupied approximately the same space in the market as the Honda Accord or yet-to-arrive Chevrolet Citation. True, Saab ownership may have been considered a mild luxury back home, but the ownership of any car has traditionally been a privilege in cramped, tax-trampled Europe.

In the prosperous United States, the 99′s all-weather capability combined with its obvious non-American-ness to make it a favorite among university professors, architects, and all those people who are universally represented in mid-Seventies advertising by a pipe-fondling fellow wearing a turtleneck and tweed jacket. The arrival of the “Turbo” model added some measure of performance cachet to the mix, and suddenly Saab was a rather hip car to own. With the introduction of long-nosed, better-equipped 99 variant, known as the “900″, Saab’s position as a niche product for comparative-literature professors and the occasional Cannonball Run wannabe was more or less assured.

Sure, as a company Saab had a product-development timetable that might best be described as “leisurely”, but what did that matter when the best carmaker in the world, Mercedes-Benz, only replaced their mainline sedans every nine or ten years? And if comparable Japanese or American cars offered far more in the way of comfort, features, and performance for less money… what Saab customer would ever want to be seen behind the wheel of a Caprice or a Cressida? The truth of the matter was that people bought Saabs — and Volvos, and Audis, and other European cars — less for what they were that for what they were not. As the American dollar fell through the floor in the Eighties, Saab pricing soared and the market responded by demanding better-equipped, even more expensive Saabs. This luxury-car game was an unbeatable scam. It let a small Swedish company sell rather prosaic cars to important people for outrageous prices, and it showed absolutely no signs of ever coming to an end.

Of course, the end came rather suddenly with the arrival of the second-generation Lexus ES. Based on the 1992 Toyota Camry, arguably the best family sedan in history, the ES300 was flawlessly assembled, impressively equipped, priced in absolutely predatory fashion, and backed by a monstrous armada of pretentious yet effective marketing aimed directly at the heart of America’s nouveau riche. The tweed-jacket crowd didn’t cotton to the snub-nosed Lexus immediately — darling, it looks cheap and common — but as tales of the super-Toyota’s relentless reliability circulated through the dusty, crowded Saab service-department waiting rooms, surely more than one assistant dean seriously considered the idea of switching loyalties.

Most importantly, the 1992 ES was modern, based as it was on a new-for-1992 car. The 1992 Saab 900 was based on the 1968 Saab 99, and it didn’t take too perceptive of an eye to see it. Of course, by then, Saab had already fallen into the orbit of cash-rich General Motors, and GM had new product coming. Kind of. The 1993 Saab 900 was based on a 1988 Opel, said Opel not being a very good car. In Sweden, where nobody expected Saabs to be world-beating luxury superstars, it wasn’t such a big deal. In America, the press and the public measured it against competition ranging from the aforementioned ES300 to the spectacular new E36 BMW and found it to be well below par.

The new-generation Saab lineup of 900 and 9-5 (also, sadly, based on an old Opel) didn’t make the cut from the beginning. A more active corporate custodian would have noticed this and taken swift action. GM, however, apparently felt itself to be in the position of a new boyfriend demanding to be serviced in identical fashion to the old. The 99/900 had lasted twenty-four years and sold well from start to end, therefore the new-gen cars would also have an extended model run regardless of the consequences. The 900 was facelifted into the 9-3 and rotted in the dealerships for a decade before being replaced by another Opel-platform mediocrity. Just for the sake of perspective, it should be noted that the 900/9-3 was sold against three generations of Lexus ES, any and all of which were more reliable, comfortable, and practical than the aging Swede. Even staid old Mercedes-Benz managed to field two new C-Class models during the 900/9-3′s extended run. The addition of a rebadged Oldsmobile Bravada as a third model line did nothing to help matters.

Give Saab’s tweed-clad customer base some credit: many of them remained loyal through years of underwhelming product and unmet promises. By last year, however, Saab buyers were nearly as extinct as the passenger pigeon. Just 21,368 Saabs found American homes in 2008. Lexus sales for 2008 were 23,362. By “2008″, I mean December of 2008. And that’s how the story ends: with a whimper. It’s worth noting that the success of Lexus and Infiniti did not really come at the expense of BMW and Mercedes-Benz, both of which have set US sales records in recent years. It came at the expense of American luxury makers and it came at the expense of the second-tier players like Saab.

dsc00783

It would be deeply satisfying at this point to rant about how American consumer-sheep are morons who would buy a rebadged Camry over a sleek, Euro-speedy Saab, but let’s keep it real. American consumer-sheep aren’t so stupid that they don’t prefer a rebadged modern Camry over a rebadged old Opel. The current 9-3 is a relative to the Chevrolet Malibu and — whisper it — probably isn’t as good of a car, overall, as the Malibu. The outgoing 9-5 was a relative to the dismal old Saturn L-Series; the new one is a second-rate oddity priced to compete with twin-turbocharged BMW 5ers. In order to continue as a rational human being on this planet, I simply must believe that at some point, the veneer of psuedo-prestige wears thin enough to expose the rotting structure beneath, and Saab reached that point a long time ago.

The Saab story includes airplanes, rally drivers, turbochargers, iconoclastic personalities, and more than half a century of fabulous designs. The Lexus story is this: it’s a Toyota for people too snobbish or fearful to be seen in a Toyota. Saabs have been wonderful, frisky, characterful companions for a very long time. People cry when their Saabs are towed away for the last time. Nobody’s ever cried over a Lexus, except possibly when they received a repair bill for their out-of-warranty second-gen LS400. Saab was real. Lexus is fake. Simple as that.

Or is it that simple? Saab has been a fraud and a fake for nearly twenty years, selling second-rate cars on dimly remembered glories. Meanwhile, Lexus has been continually building the cars their customers want, always fresh, nearly always reliable, always sold and serviced with a smile. Saab’s better future was perpetually around the corner; meanwhile, the next Lexus was completed on time and plopped, Harvest-Gold-colored, on a calmly rotating showroom turntable. Ask any Saab enthusiast about the brand and they will tell you about the 900 SPG, but ask a Lexus owner about his car and he will tell you he likes it. What is real, and what is no longer relevant?

I have a bit of a fantasy, as a former Saab owner and unrepentant fan of the old cars. I dream that Saab comes roaring back under some daring little ownership umbrella, freed to somehow create world-class product on a shoestring and humiliate the Japanese juggernauts on the open road. I close my eyes and hope for a stunning new car that has the spirit of that old 99 Turbo and brings the old virtues to a generation not even alive when the only two turbo cars on the market were the Saab and the Porsche 930. I think of the Saab workers, earning a decent wage and building cars they love, a bulwark against the vomitous tide of look-alike crap from the Pacific Rim, the Asian Tigers, and eventually the open maw of China. I can think about this, and I can smile.

And then I open my eyes to see a Hyundai Genesis gliding by, more Lexus than Lexus, more fake than the original fakers, yet honest and real in the same way the Lexus ES is honest and real. That’s the future. Luxury was always an illusion. Now it is deliberately so. To imagine that future, if I may paraphrase Orwell, imagine a Chinese-made faux-Ferragamo boot stomping on a human face. Plastic chrome, meaningless names, flowery symbols. This is the future, and in that future, Saab is, inexorably and completely, dead.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

93 Comments on “Avoidable Contact: Lexus killed Saab, but GM let Saab die....”


  • avatar
    Caboose

    Mmm, MM, that’s good prose!

    • 0 avatar
      nysaabtech

      It’s so sad to see why Saab has trouble. It’s because of articles like this. Anyone that could compare a saab to a chevy malibu has no idea whats going on under the hood and has no business writing about cars. The latest saab vehicles are so dependable, advanced and superior in every way to almost any car on the market especially at the price. You can barely get a cheap tin can jap car for less than 25 grand. People are always writing about what they don’t know about. Just like a consumer that only sees the bells and whisles and finds themselves in the service dept. every week because they rely on internet BS.

  • avatar
    number9ine

    Great article, Jack. GM may have killed Saab dead by trying to make it a euro-luxe marque when it clearly wasn’t, but left alone they would have died just as soon, or sooner, in the modern economy.

    It seems the ‘proletarian-car-as-hero’ concept is just about dead, at least here in the states. My mkVI GTI might fit the bill, except it comes from a global juggernaut bent on world domination. There are no small marques left to produce a great car at an accessible price, using the time-honored production technique of man, shed, and machine.

    In re the Genesis: I’ve seen no less than five of these cars with the ‘fake-Bentley’ Genesis logo where the ‘flying H’ used to be. Perhaps I’ll pack a few Hyundai badges and dental floss so I can put things back to rights. The Genesis might be a mighty nice car for a Lexus shopper’s coin, but there’s no cachet in a winged marketing exercise.

    • 0 avatar
      Marko

      The fake Bentley badge is technically correct – it’s used in Korea.

      • 0 avatar
        number9ine

        You’re right that the winged badge is used in their home market, but it’s not used here and that’s for a reason. Hyundai hasn’t marketed their luxury cars as a separate marque in the states (yet), and there’s absolutely nothing about the car that tells me it’s more than a Hyundai. When Lexus came about, the Toyota System created a car that broke new ground for reliability and build quality and established Lexus as a full luxury marque, and turned their badge from a marketing exercise into a household name among the upper middle class. Hyundai shouted “me too,” built a competitive car at a low price point, with nothing special other than a few grand in savings.

        What looks like great value as a Hyundai would look like an also-ran when sold under its own marque. Hyundai recognizes this and has wisely kept their new “premium” badge off the hood in our market. Silly owners who feel otherwise are free to embellish their Genesis. When they’re asked “what kind of car is that?” they can either fess up that it’s a Hyundai, or spin a tale of their storied Genesis brand. Feh.

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      It’s not a fake “Bentley” badge anymore than the winged emblems for Aston Martin, Austin Healey, Chrysler, Mini, Invicta, etc.

      Asian automakers in Korea and Japan utilize model-specific badges for their luxury models.

      That’s why Toyota luxury models like the Century (which, btw, is way more expensive than the Lexus LS) and Crown Series have their own badges, as well as the Nissan President and Cima (aka Q45).

      It would help to know how the auto branding/marketing works in other markets.

      Also, I’d say that most Genesis owners who put on the Genesis badge do it mostly for aesthetic reasons; let’s face it, the swooshy Hyundai logo isn’t exactly the most appealing thing and not exactly something befitting a luxury model.

      Would be the same thing as sticking on the equally tacky Toyota logo on an LS.

      • 0 avatar
        number9ine

        I’m aware of the badging used in foreign markets for specific makes. The point I’m making here is that a Toyota logo doesn’t belong on an LS, since the LS is accepted in the US marketplace as a high-end luxury car. A Hyundai badge is perfectly at home on a Genesis, which is about as luxurious as a Hyundai might get but is nowhere near the level of an LS by most subjective measurements. Hyundai can get away with a discrete badge in Korea because Koreans will be more tolerant of a “luxury marque” from their domestic automakers, just like Americans have with Buick and Chrysler for decades.

      • 0 avatar
        bd2

        “The point I’m making here is that a Toyota logo doesn’t belong on an LS, since the LS is accepted in the US marketplace as a high-end luxury car. A Hyundai badge is perfectly at home on a Genesis, which is about as luxurious as a Hyundai might get but is nowhere near the level of an LS by most subjective measurements.”

        – Except that the Genesis isn’t supposed to be as luxurious as the LS since it competes against the GS, not the LS.

        And the LS doesn’t even come close to the interior quality of the TOYOTA Century, esp. the Century Royal (marble running boards); after all, the Japanese royal family rides in a Toyota and not a Lexus.

      • 0 avatar
        Robert Gordon

        Invicta, now were talking. There’s a wonderful S type Low chassis that lives near me. It’s still driven regularly and has been a local car since new. Oh and by the way Donald Healey was a famed invicta driver so, the badge is probably no coincidence.

  • avatar
    Marko

    Fun fact: the 1999-2009 Saab 9-5 competed against every generation of Acura TL made so far (it was introduced in spring 1998). Also, I believe the wagon was made into 2010 and if so, competed against every generation of Subaru Outback.

    Which generations of the TL and Outback was it actually competitive against?

    Edit: it also competed against every Audi A4 generation made.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Well said.

  • avatar
    Lokki

    “Or is it that simple? Saab has been a fraud and a fake for nearly twenty years, selling second-rate cars on dimly remembered glories. ”

    Stop talking badly about my Alfa Romeo! My 71 Spider (it’s in the shop right now or I’d post a pic) is a great, great car with a legendary history. I’m going to buy a new one in two years, when they finally return to the American market.

  • avatar
    Littlecarrot

    Superbly written. So well written I had to read it again. I’m always intrigued by automotive marketing and the perceptions that we have of certain makes and models. I’ve always perceived Saab as being a player in the BMW-Mercedes realm, albeit a niche player. To have revealed that Saab is no more than a gussied up Opel is eye opening. That’s what I love about TTAC: there’s still a lot of car knowledge left to learn.

    • 0 avatar
      denisk

      My guess is that it must be something personal with TTAC that makes them keep beating on a dog that is dead, for so long.
      Nevertheless, I can not think of a better convertible for a 4 than a 9-3, both, prior to 2003 and post. It has more space and is more comfortable than a Jag vert, whose rear bench is only good for gnomes, and obvious competitors by way of 3 series, Audi, Infinity, Volvo are all follow the Jaguar’s suit, and/or have issues with incredibly small trunk space.
      Forget verts, the entire hatchback ethos of pre 2003 9-3, finally killed by GM, was such a tremendous success that just about every marque on the block sank their teeth into it: from Prius to X6 and the Touring Bangle thing…, now Panamera, and who else did not introduce a 5 door hatch recently?
      Saab’s inventions, that idiots from the “car expert” press like to bash so often, are still ruthlessly being copied by others: extra lights that switch on on the corners when turning (Saabs had this for ages), clever way to disable unneeded extra lights on dash for night driving, vented seats, center-mounted window switches, ski window in the rear seat, extra heat for the wipers on the windshield, I can continue as it is a very long list of things that SAAB moved into the mainstream for everyone else to copy … many years, if not dozens of years after. Shame on TTAC for not even coming close to acknowledging a credit where a ton is due. Audi owners’ complex at work.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        By the time Saab introduced their first 5-door car, the design was already common in Europe and had been available in the US for a few years from others. Cornering lights were standard on Imperials starting in 1967, and I don’t know if they were the first. They were certainly common on traditional American luxury cars of the ’70s and ’80s. Has anyone duplicated the dimmed dash? Seems more of a pointless gimmick than an important innovation. Ventilated seats were invented by Charles J. Patterson, in 1936. Center-mounted window switches only appeal to accountants, who don’t need to duplicate the passenger’s window switch on the driver’s door. I’ve no idea if Saab invented the ski pass through, but my ’85 Audi 5000S had one. Defroster vents strategically aimed at parked wipers are nice, but I haven’t driven many cars that didn’t have them and even Saabsunited didn’t list this as one of their innovations on a compendium full of phrases like, “Saab was one of the first car manufacturers to use a…”

      • 0 avatar
        GS650G

        And what of the ideas no one copied like mounting an engine backwards? SAAB had it’s own engineers and like any company had a few things first but they weren’t the source for every innovation on the planet in cars these days.

      • 0 avatar
        denisk

        well, to the comments here, I did not even bother to check any lists on the saabsunited or whatever. But lets address the splitting hairs below point by point: 5-door hatches. Sure, it was common in Europe, by way of say Citroen. How many of those have you seen in the US though? I saw none, correction, one, driven by the character of the Mentalist soap. Other than that, how many medium to full size cars were sporting the 5th door and were shaped as semi sedans with sloping rear? I can’t think of any, except for the 9-3. As stated, as soon as GM moved to kill the concept, others started copying it. Cornering lights: well, i did not live in 1967, so I don’t know. It sounds like a Caddilac thing to do, but of the relatively modern cars (say, post 1979), how many did have cornering lights as standard even on base trims? Mercedes, Audi, Bimmer??? Nah. Saab. Vented seats ARE attributed to the SAAB, even Wikipedia has it out in the open, Patterson or no Patterson. And centrally stacked window switches are only likeable by accountants? Hello?? Tell this to any Land Rover owner, who till recently, had all windows controllable from the middle, not from the doors. The entire door thing came with American made cars, stupidly copied by Japs. Having 4 switches in the middle actually makes a lot more sense, if you think it through, which is something that Saabs were so generous with: they were always laden with originality, not even advertised, but still present, by way of small and big innovations and tricks, which clearly showed that someone had actually thought things through very carefully. My old 99′ 9-3 had reverse lights mounted upfront and pointed back and to the sides, that helped it for maneuvering out of tight spaces in the dark. Not that this feature was ever even mentioned anywhere. I will dearly miss a company that kept creating things with originality and hippness factor not even remotely achievable by anyone else. Without a doubt, very cool brand, sorry to see it go.

  • avatar
    bd2

    “And then I open my eyes to see a Hyundai Genesis gliding by, more Lexus than Lexus, more fake than the original fakers, yet honest and real in the same way the Lexus ES is honest and real.”

    – I would argue that the Genesis is more real and honest than Camry (or Corolla or Prius) based Lexus models like the ES, RX, HS, etc.

    The Genesis is based on a dedicated RWD platform and has a V8 option where the mechanics of the ES is really no different from the eponymous Camry.

    And early on, there wasn’t even that much to differentiate between the ES and JDM market Toyota Camry Prominent/Vista.

    Toyota even admitted that basically saw Lexus as a sales distribution channel with the original Lexus GS being less powerful and not as well equipped as its Toyota counterpart.

  • avatar
    tonyola

    Sorry, Jack, but Saab was essentially dead even before Lexus was a presence on the automotive scene. BMW and Audi killed Saab in the 1980s. Saab tried to move up into the German-car market territory with the 900 and (especially) 9000, but at least in the US, the tactic turned into a failure. The Swedes simply couldn’t compete with the premium Germans on refinement, build quality, presence, and perceived luxury. The company was already drowning in red ink by 1989, even though not a single Lexus had been sold yet. Worse yet, Saab didn’t have the money to develop new cars so GM had to start from nothing to replace the old models. Is it any wonder that they used Opels as a base?

    • 0 avatar
      arbnpx

      Unfortunately, GM probably considered the Opel-based 900 such a success, they went on to use Opel designs in almost all of their future front-engine FWD car designs, until the current generation, where they’re using Daewoo designs in combination with Opel designs for the Cruze. It seems that, for GM car designs, if it doesn’t have a pushrod V8, it’s coming from Opel and/or Daewoo.

      GM doesn’t seem to understand that they pushed an entire generation of American drivers away with their lack of small affordable fun cars in the 80’s and 90’s, and kept them away with boring Opel designs in the 2000’s. I myself am in this generation; I grew up watching plasti-chrome shiny chintzy late-70’s and early-80’s GM cars and trucks do strange mechanical things and run up frequent repair bills, and on the other side, the family car was a Toyota TE72 SR5 manual transmission Corolla, and my neighbor had a beautiful AE86 Corolla SR5. Gee, guess which side I chose.

      • 0 avatar
        chris724

        In 1989, I drove an ’84 Corolla that my dad had inherited. It had little “opera lights” on the C pillars. I was so humiliated that I removed the light bulbs. This car did well for delivering pizza in the summer, and not burning a ton of gas. I think it was one of the last carbureted models. I thought it was pathetically slow, and I gave it to my brother when I got a ’79 Indy Pace Car Mustang. My brother drove the Corolla for a few years until he ran it low on oil and actually threw a rod. I don’t remember it being all that great of a car, and the stereo was abysmal. But it was the best car for playing Dukes of Hazard at the elevated grade crossing on Oak st. Hit that thing at 55 or 60, and you’d get all 4 wheels off the ground. The light weight and squishy suspension gave the smoothest landings on the downslope side. I remember the one time I tried it in my ’79 ‘stang, I was afraid I’d broken something.

  • avatar
    racer-esq.

    I don’t see Lexus making a lot of Saab conquests. Lexus is getting the kind of straight arrow people that would have bought Buicks, Oldsmobiles or Volvos.

    Saab buyers have gone to Subarus and Audis.

    Saab killed Saab by abondoning its longitudinal engine, double wishbone FWD layout for a transverse engine strut FWD layout with the first generation, Fiat platform sharing 9000. In the short term that layout gave the 9000 the larger interior that the transverse layout allows, but in the long term it made Saabs less unique in a highly competitive marketplace.

    GM, in typical GM fashion, accidentally sold the best Saab since the original 900, in the form of the 9-2x.

    Speaking of the 9-2x, the only thing GM could have done to save Saab would have been, while both brands were under its umbrella, to turn Saab into a premium Subaru brand. Made in Sweden, only turbo engines, some different body panels, and all the options. That might have worked.

    • 0 avatar
      28-cars-later

      A Subaru brand in Saab clothing sounds like a genuine Audi competitor. Pity the GM board didn’t invite you to their planning meetings.

    • 0 avatar
      nysaabtech

      boy are you dilluted. the 9000 was one of the best cars ever built. safe fast and a huge hatchback unlike any other and good looking too. The subaru is real junk and was a big mistake putting a saab badge on such junk.

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    The real fakes are the Germans, or rather, the buyers of German cars. One has to pretend that the car was bought for it’s “ultimate driving” characteristics, or it’s “engineered like no other” qualities. In reality they are (mostly) bought for the propeller or the 3 pointed star. Their purpose is to show the world you have $.

    Lexus is the only honest luxury car. No pretense that an ES is a better car than a Camry, just an honest doubling of price, the better to make the neighbors envious. And the snob appeal comes with Toyota reliability.

    • 0 avatar
      arbnpx

      BMW’s slogan in Europe is far more humble: “Freude am Fahren”, or “The Joy of Driving”. The English-language slogan is “Sheer Driving Pleasure”. BMW also has some legitimate engineering prowess; they’re one of the last custodians of the inline-six, and with the F10 M5 and F20 328i, have been demonstrating some interesting usage of turbocharging. They’re also one of the few German luxury car makers to prioritize manual transmission (though sometimes it’s still not available, with the excuse of “we would need a very strong manual transmission”; someone should send them a video of the Lingenfelter Camaro 5 doing a quarter-mile with a stick shift).

      • 0 avatar
        jeffzekas

        As my brother, Dave (a mechanical engineer), once said about BMW, “They put a new head on a 3-series, call it an M3, and charge an extra $10,000! What a bunch of BS!”

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      Doubling of price? A Camry V-6 XLE is only a few k less than an ES. It’s easily justified by the upgraded interior, features, improved NVH and better warranty, sales and service.

  • avatar

    Good piece.

    I would add that to some extent, VW’s semi-abortive ~upscaling efforts and also Subaru kicked in to help off Saab, too.

    Iirc, all the demure, sophisticate, pound-wise, sodbusting, Unitarian, wide-pine-clapboarded NewEnglanders I know made that switch.

    btw, last month’s crossword in “Yankee” magazine was an uncommon hoot! -new word-games editor must be rocking it. ;P

    • 0 avatar

      +also: (in add. to the aforementioned 4Motion Passat crowd)
      If you were going to sketch up the “drawn-and-quartered”-diagram,

      (Agreed w/ @Pch101) another one of the horses tied to an extremity as Saab was being divided and torn asunder would be Audi.
      AWD, good-in-snow, design, snob-factor, etc.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    There were only 2 Saabs that are ever cared for:

    The 900 Turbo pictured above, and the Ford-powered Saab 96.

    Otherwise, I won’t be sobbing for Saab.

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      Precisely why Saab failed. How are you going to please this type of customer today, or last decade?

    • 0 avatar
      JKC

      I drove two Saabs in my youth: as a high school senior, we had a 96 that my mother refused to drive, meaning that I had lots of access to the car. It was great fun, although I could frankly never figure out whether it was a Daliesque VW or a BMW 2002 on acid. There were elements of both in that car. The next (and last) Saab was a 3-door 99 that had a Tardis-like ability to swallow cargo. By the time I needed to replace that car, Saabs were too expensive, and I ended up with a VW Golf.

      Neither one of those Saabs were particularly sporting in any traditional sense of the word, and God knows neither one was a paragon of reliability, but they were reasonably comfortable, and practical daily drivers. As much as I would have loved a 900 Turbo, that car marked the real beginning Saab’s attempt to become an eccentric Swedish BMW. That change in direction is what killed Saab.

  • avatar
    jeffzekas

    Well written. This pretty much sums it up: “This luxury-car game was an unbeatable scam. It let a small Swedish company sell rather prosaic cars to important people for outrageous prices, and it showed absolutely no signs of ever coming to an end. Of course, the end came rather suddenly with the arrival of the second-generation Lexus…” Of course, the same could be said of BMW… eventually, Americans will figure out that BMW is running the same scam that Saab ran for decades…

  • avatar
    Pch101

    The Germans helped to kill Saab with their introduction of their core three-tier product model (S/E/C, 7/5/3, A8/A6/A4). The good-better-best trinity helps to position the entry-level car as being desirable and aspirational, while simultaneously giving the upper- and mid-term buyers with the satisfaction of having climbed a product ladder.

    On the other side, Lexus put the squeeze on everyone by speeding up the product cycle, which could combined with lean production to increase production volumes without sacrificing quality.

    If Saab had built a core three-product ladder of its own and combined it with faster product cycles and better quality, it could have had the potential to compete. But that sort of R&D requires money, and that money only comes from some combination of margin and volume, of which Saab had neither.

    GM could have potentially saved it and turned it into its own version of BMW, but the old GM lacked the management competency for that to happen. Then again, if GM knew how to manage luxury brands, then it wouldn’t have allowed Cadillac to fall as it did, in which case there would have been no reason to have bought Saab in the first place.

    • 0 avatar
      tresmonos

      There you go using ‘lean,’ again.

      SAAB was more of a consolation prize than a bid to replace Cadillac when GM couldn’t buy Jaguar. GM of the 80’s wasn’t in any sort of pain (yet). They were still locked into their culture where they believed they couldn’t fail. Their vast manufacturing infrastructure was 100% in tact (parts business and all) and they saw SAAB as expansion. It made sense to their business model of platform sharing (badge engineering). That and they though SAAB was something that it wasn’t then they sat on their investment when they realized SAAB made inferior cars to their target audience: BMW customers.

  • avatar
    fendertweed

    My grandfather was a Chevrolet dealer in the 30s, 40s & 50s.

    Thanks to GMs desecration of SAAB (my wife and I have owned a half dozen 99s and “Classic” 900s), I will never buy another GM product again.

  • avatar
    stuntmonkey

    Great eulogy. Somehow, when I was reading through it I was half expecting it to end like this..

    “And as I sat there, brooding on the old unknown world, I thought of Saab’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of the dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.

    Saab believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…. And one fine morning — So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

  • avatar
    Brock_Landers

    Great read. The level/type of automotive journalism you will almost never get from established paper publications!
    Engineering wise Saab was on top of its game in 1985, when they introduced the B202 – 16 valve intercooled and turbocharged engine. In 1985 4V heads were a rare sight, Toyota and Honda introduced them in series production only few years earlier, but only in naturally aspirated form. German engineering powerhouse BMW got to a series production 4V head only in 1989!!! So when you want to charge premium, you got to have something special to offer. Saab had it in the 80’s. Saab’s biggest problem throughout the decades was lack of flagship model like S/7/A8/LS. Lexus launched successfully in the US because of LS400 – a true halo car that shook the establishment, not only because the ES was a nice and modern rebadged Camry. Without LS400 powering the Lexus brand, ES would have been a marginal player in the market by itself in the beginning of 90’s.
    Jack your lack of love for Lexus has always been evident, but let’s be honest, Lexus brand doesn’t equal the ES model.

  • avatar
    NormSV650

    At least SAAB didn’t gt tangled up in the recall mess Toyota/Lexus and Honda are in and have been in.

    Saab shot itself in the foot refusing to get help and evolve. Saab decontented my 9-5 in that it doesn’t have floor lighting under the dash, not GM as most all GM cars have floor lighting.

    Lexus can’t do anything sporty or with a manual transmission. Even the IS was a joke.

    Acura TL was a joke back then to be in a sport sedan.

    http://www.roadandtrack.com/tests/comparison/the-best-of-all-worlds-bunch/the_best-of-all-worlds_bunch_-_saab_9-5_aero_page_9

    • 0 avatar
      dejal1

      http://www.automobilemag.com/auto_recalls/01/saab/index.html

      1986 Saab 900
      Recall ID# 25669 – STEERING:WHEEL AND HANDLE BAR
      Recall Date: April 28, 1986
      Units Affected: 59

      1988 Saab 900 1988 Saab 900
      Recall ID# 25778 – SUSPENSION:FRONT:CONTROL ARM:LOWER ARM
      Recall Date: September 07, 1988
      Units Affected: 3000

      2001 Saab 9-3 2001 Saab 9-3
      Recall ID# 5036 – AIR BAGS
      Recall Date: May 18, 2001
      Units Affected: 43073

      1983 Saab 900 1983 Saab 900
      Recall ID# 30157 – ELECTRICAL SYSTEM:WIRING
      Recall Date: February 06, 1984
      Units Affected: 8154

      2003 Saab 9-3 2003 Saab 9-3
      Recall ID# 51185 – ENGINE AND ENGINE COOLING
      Recall Date: October 20, 2004
      Units Affected: 12249

      1980 Saab 900 1980 Saab 900
      Recall ID# 31812 – POWER TRAIN:AUTOMATIC TRANSMISSION
      Recall Date: July 14, 1983
      Units Affected: 12096

      2005 Saab 9-3 2005 Saab 9-3
      Recall ID# 54782 – SERVICE BRAKES, HYDRAULIC:POWER ASSIST:V
      Recall Date: May 19, 2005
      Units Affected: 68654

      1998 Saab 900 1998 Saab 900
      Recall ID# 4330 – AIR BAGS:FRONTAL
      Recall Date: July 02, 2001
      Units Affected: 12036

      1988 Saab 9000 1988 Saab 9000
      Recall ID# 24420 – ELECTRICAL SYSTEM:IGNITION:SWITCH
      Recall Date: November 02, 1990
      Units Affected: 24379

      2005 Saab 9-5 2005 Saab 9-5
      Recall ID# 64270 – FUEL SYSTEM, GASOLINE:DELIVERY:HOSES, LI
      Recall Date: March 07, 2007
      Units Affected: 94377

      2000 Saab 9-5
      Recall ID# 5037 – AIR BAGS
      Recall Date: May 18, 2001
      Units Affected: 43073

      1997 Saab 9000 1997 Saab 9000
      Recall ID# 11640 – EQUIPMENT:OTHER:LABELS
      Recall Date: June 23, 1998
      Units Affected: 39313

      1994 Saab 9000 1994 Saab 9000
      Recall ID# 10407 – AIR BAGS:FRONTAL:SENSOR/CONTROL MODULE
      Recall Date: May 06, 1999
      Units Affected: 26116

      1992 Saab 9000 1992 Saab 9000
      Recall ID# 10408 – AIR BAGS:FRONTAL:SENSOR/CONTROL MODULE
      Recall Date: May 06, 1999
      Units Affected: 26116

      1987 Saab 9000 1987 Saab 9000
      Recall ID# 24421 – ELECTRICAL SYSTEM:IGNITION:SWITCH
      Recall Date: November 02, 1990
      Units Affected: 24379

      1984 Saab 900 1984 Saab 900
      Recall ID# 28056 – ELECTRICAL SYSTEM:WIRING:FRONT UNDERHOOD
      Recall Date: April 02, 1985
      Units Affected: 11659

      1987 Saab 900 1987 Saab 900
      Recall ID# 26067 – FUEL SYSTEM, GASOLINE:DELIVERY:HOSES, LI
      Recall Date: February 10, 1987
      Units Affected: 15446

      2004 Saab 9-3 2004 Saab 9-3
      Recall ID# 50313 – SEATS:FRONT ASSEMBLY:RECLINER
      Recall Date: December 10, 2003
      Units Affected: 1658

      1986 Saab 900 1986 Saab 900
      Recall ID# 25669 – STEERING:WHEEL AND HANDLE BAR
      Recall Date: April 28, 1986
      Units Affected: 59

      1997 Saab 900 1997 Saab 900
      Recall ID# 11641 – EQUIPMENT:OTHER:LABELS
      Recall Date: June 23, 1998
      Units Affected: 39313

      1999 Saab 9-5
      Recall ID# 11636 – EQUIPMENT:OTHER:LABELS
      Recall Date: June 23, 1998
      Units Affected: 39313

      1997 Saab 9000 1997 Saab 9000
      Recall ID# 11640 – EQUIPMENT:OTHER:LABELS
      Recall Date: June 23, 1998
      Units Affected: 39313

      1993 Saab 9000 1993 Saab 9000
      Recall ID# 10409 – AIR BAGS:FRONTAL:SENSOR/CONTROL MODULE
      Recall Date: May 06, 1999
      Units Affected: 26116

      2002 Saab 9-5 2002 Saab 9-5
      Recall ID# 4311 – STEERING:LINKAGES:KNUCKLE:SPINDLE:ARM
      Recall Date: January 04, 2002
      Units Affected: 2601

      2008 Saab 9-3 2008 Saab 9-3
      Recall ID# 86794 – FUEL SYSTEM, GASOLINE:DELIVERY:FUEL PUMP
      Recall Date: February 28, 2011
      Units Affected: 4887

      1995 Saab 900 1995 Saab 900
      Recall ID# 12828 – EXTERIOR LIGHTING:HEADLIGHTS
      Recall Date: February 24, 1998
      Units Affected: 92505

      1998 Saab 900 1998 Saab 900
      Recall ID# 4330 – AIR BAGS:FRONTAL
      Recall Date: July 02, 2001
      Units Affected: 12036

      2004 Saab 9-3 2004 Saab 9-3
      Recall ID# 50313 – SEATS:FRONT ASSEMBLY:RECLINER
      Recall Date: December 10, 2003
      Units Affected: 1658

      2010 Saab 9-3 2010 Saab 9-3
      Recall ID# 86791 – FUEL SYSTEM, GASOLINE:DELIVERY:FUEL PUMP
      Recall Date: February 28, 2011
      Units Affected: 4887

      1989 Saab 9000 1989 Saab 9000
      Recall ID# 24419 – ELECTRICAL SYSTEM:IGNITION:SWITCH
      Recall Date: November 02, 1990
      Units Affected: 24379

      1989 Saab 900
      Recall ID# 23273 – VISIBILITY:DEFROSTER/DEFOGGER SYSTEM
      Recall Date: June 27, 1989
      Units Affected: 6000

      1986 Saab 900 1986 Saab 900
      Recall ID# 25669 – STEERING:WHEEL AND HANDLE BAR
      Recall Date: April 28, 1986
      Units Affected: 59

      2001 Saab 9-3 2001 Saab 9-3
      Recall ID# 5036 – AIR BAGS
      Recall Date: May 18, 2001
      Units Affected: 43073

      2006 Saab 9-3 2006 Saab 9-3
      Recall ID# 86800 – FUEL SYSTEM, GASOLINE:DELIVERY:FUEL PUMP
      Recall Date: February 28, 2011
      Units Affected: 4887

      2002 Saab 9-5 2002 Saab 9-5
      Recall ID# 4311 – STEERING:LINKAGES:KNUCKLE:SPINDLE:ARM
      Recall Date: January 04, 2002
      Units Affected: 2601

      1987 Saab 900 1987 Saab 900
      Recall ID# 26067 – FUEL SYSTEM, GASOLINE:DELIVERY:HOSES, LI
      Recall Date: February 10, 1987
      Units Affected: 15446

      1999 Saab 9-5 1999 Saab 9-5
      Recall ID# 11636 – EQUIPMENT:OTHER:LABELS
      Recall Date: June 23, 1998
      Units Affected: 39313

      1989 Saab 9000 1989 Saab 9000
      Recall ID# 24419 – ELECTRICAL SYSTEM:IGNITION:SWITCH
      Recall Date: November 02, 1990
      Units Affected: 24379

      1999 Saab 9-3 1999 Saab 9-3
      Recall ID# 7193 – EQUIPMENT:OTHER:LABELS
      Recall Date: December 29, 1999
      Units Affected: 424

      1981 Saab 900 1981 Saab 900
      Recall ID# 31200 – FUEL SYSTEM, GASOLINE:DELIVERY:FUEL PUMP
      Recall Date: February 29, 1984
      Units Affected: 24705

      1994 Saab 900
      Recall ID# 12829 – EXTERIOR LIGHTING:HEADLIGHTS
      Recall Date: February 24, 1998
      Units Affected: 92505

      1985 Saab 900 1985 Saab 900
      Recall ID# 27984 – FUEL SYSTEM, GASOLINE:DELIVERY:HOSES, LI
      Recall Date: May 08, 1985
      Units Affected: 11122

      2010 Saab 9-3 2010 Saab 9-3
      Recall ID# 86791 – FUEL SYSTEM, GASOLINE:DELIVERY:FUEL PUMP
      Recall Date: February 28, 2011
      Units Affected: 4887

      2002 Saab 9-5 2002 Saab 9-5
      Recall ID# 4311 – STEERING:LINKAGES:KNUCKLE:SPINDLE:ARM
      Recall Date: January 04, 2002
      Units Affected: 2601

      2001 Saab 9-5 2001 Saab 9-5
      Recall ID# 5035 – AIR BAGS
      Recall Date: May 18, 2001
      Units Affected: 43073

      1991 Saab 9000 1991 Saab 9000
      Recall ID# 25301 – POWER TRAIN:AUTOMATIC TRANSMISSION
      Recall Date: October 02, 1991
      Units Affected: 250

      1982 Saab 900 1982 Saab 900
      Recall ID# 31199 – FUEL SYSTEM, GASOLINE:DELIVERY:FUEL PUMP
      Recall Date: February 29, 1984
      Units Affected: 24705

      2001 Saab 9-3 2001 Saab 9-3
      Recall ID# 5036 – AIR BAGS
      Recall Date: May 18, 2001
      Units Affected: 43073

      1983 Saab 900 1983 Saab 900
      Recall ID# 30157 – ELECTRICAL SYSTEM:WIRING
      Recall Date: February 06, 1984
      Units Affected: 8154

      1994 Saab 9000 1994 Saab 9000
      Recall ID# 10407 – AIR BAGS:FRONTAL:SENSOR/CONTROL MODULE
      Recall Date: May 06, 1999
      Units Affected: 26116

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      I bet the floor mat/throttle pedal recall would smash Saab lifetime sales. Besides Lexus wasn’t around for early Saab models.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      It seems as though elements of, and perhaps the entire list, repeat like 3 times.

  • avatar

    Had two of the beasts. The ur 900T, a 1985 which had good power, great suspension, and a very solid body. The transmissions weren’t quite up to it but the rest of the car would get you across the country in fast comfort and good mileage. My second, a 9-3, had the same spirit but in a smaller body…the four inches extra in the old car were missed. Kept it until a sporadic “non start” issue at 180k left mama in the parking lot stranded one too many times. Sister out west has the first non turbo 900 Opel body…2.3 liter still running well.

    Last time I looked was at the current body. Stripped it was 23k and reasonable, but loaded was fully BMW 3 money, the benchmark of “how much can we get away with ?” but the Opel sourced SAAB couldn’t compete with the e46 or e90. Shame, the AWD X versions had promise.

  • avatar
    willbodine

    I’m guessing that the college professor types have drifted away to Subarus and the lesser Audis.

    • 0 avatar
      MrIncognito

      When my wife and I test drove a Subaru, the salesman asked if we were in healthcare or education. Apparently, 85% of Subaru buyers are in healthcare, engineering, or education. I guess we didn’t strike him as engineers.

  • avatar
    getacargetacheck

    Good read. Truthfully, though, Saab Auto was dead when GM started buying into it. If Saab Auto was such a great business with a rosy, fat-margin future Saab AB would never have gotten rid of it. But the writing was on the wall about the time the first 900 convertibles started to appear, well before Lexus. GM’s only “sin” was not knowing how to resurrect Lazarus.

  • avatar
    ihatetrees

    Great piece on the last 20+ years of Saab, lux-car marketing, and GM’s brand incoherence.
    My only Saab experience was a brief drive in the mid 90’s. I thought: My sister’s Integra completely outclasses this thing…

  • avatar
    bill mcgee

    To me the only badge-engineering job to rival the Saabarus and the Chevy-turned Saab SUV was the first Lincoln Versailles , where Ford shoved a fake “continental” tire bulge on the trunk and grafted a Mark5 grill on the front of a Monarch to create a Seville competitor. At least the Versailles got a nicer interior.That being said I hated to see Saab go. A GF from a well-to-do family got a new Saab hatchback in 1978. Very nice for those days with the cargo space of a wagon. And an oddball cousin had a couple of sixties Saabs, one with the V-4 and one with the 2-stroke engine, which he restored . Unfortunately they both burned up when his garage caught fire.

  • avatar
    AMC_CJ

    What amazes me is VW pulls off the same “premium/luxury scam” as Saab does, although, better, but is becoming a success at it. I can’t believe People well pay over $40k for a VW Golf….. it’s down right stupid.

    But nobody is calling them out on it. Not surprising, as most journalist only judge a car from the exterior, or how it feels to drive. Heaven forbid if you put a wrench in their hands and told them to take a few things apart.

    • 0 avatar
      Marko

      You’re thinking of the Audi TT, right? Those are bought primarily for the styling, unless of course they are the high-performance versions.

      Ironically, the one TT owner I know used to drive a Saab. The TT isn’t very practical, so her husband drives a Toyota Sienna! They don’t have any kids, but they haul around bicycles and backyard chicken supplies.

  • avatar

    It may be rhetoric question but I am still tempted to ask it – why American elite hates everything American so much? What is so bad about America that people aspire owning any kind of crap only on the ground of its unamericanness? And I do not mean food. On the other hand the same people who refuse to buy UAW made cars insist in tax payers footing the bill to support unions and their outrageous pensions.

    • 0 avatar
      ...m...

      …a lot of us came of age in an era when american cars were disposable junk, purposely designed to exploit a captive market which had no access to anyhing better…from that background, being able to afford a superior alternative was a measure of success, a badge of buying one’s way out of the big-three ghetto, and the market still bears some of that legacy to this day…

    • 0 avatar
      Dynamic88

      The elites don’t hate America. They hate the common man. When Caddy/Lincoln/Imperial came downward in the market, and started (noticeably) to share parts with Chevy/Ford/Plymouth, there wasn’t as much cache in owning American Prestige cars. Also, when Joe Sixpac could get power this and power that, just like the luxury buyers, then luxury was no longer a combo of exclusivity (due to price) and creature comfort. (See JB’s recent article on faux luxury) Prestige then became a combo of exclusivity (due to price) and some other “something”. For MB, the “something” was the pretense of superior engineering. For BMW the “something” was the pretense of “the ultimate driving experience”. As Jack pointed out in his article, the German cars were -generally- underpowered and less comfortable than Caddies/Lincolns (or hell, even Chevys) but elites needed something to grasp to explain why they’d favored the harder seats and smaller engines. (This does not mean that BMW doesn’t actually make some cars that are fun to drive – just that most buyers were never going to explore the car’s potential. It cost too much for Joe Sixpac to put one in his driveway, and that was 98% of the game)

      For Saab and Volvo their “something” was their peculiar Swedishness. Jack is right, they weren’t really luxury cars, but they had high price tags so the sellers had to come up with “something” to justify it. It didn’t have to be much, and it didn’t have to be tangible. What was being sought was a way to elevate one’s self above the Joe Sixpac. Joe could say he had power this and power that, maybe even things Saab didn’t have. But the college prof had that certain intangible “something” along with a price that shut out Joe from owning one (at least a new one) and that “something” justified the higher price for a cruder car.

      In a nutshell, it’s all about one-upsmanship, not basic transport.

      I would agree that there is a certain anti-Americanism (or was) but it had more to do with setting one self apart than any inherent hatred of America. American products were not providing the necessary cache.

      With certain products, like beer, there was also a genuine desire for real quality. Quality that just was not available from American brewers 30+ years ago. Imported beer, 30 years ago, was in small part for snob appeal (I paid more for my beer than you did) but for a lot of us it was also the only way to get a decent beer. People like me who like English/Irish Ales were out of luck unless we could find some that was imported. (I can recall when, in my small Midwestern city it was actually very hard to find Guinness) Now the best Ales in the world (IMO) are brewed in Michigan – by people who may well be driving Impalas. They are enjoyed by people who may well be driving Ford Rangers. There used to be an anti-Americanism among beer connoisseurs, but it was more than justified. There is no longer any anti-Americanism in the beer world.

      • 0 avatar

        There is more than that. Take e.g. Android vs iPhone thing. Boards are full of hatred directed against Apple and admiration of Samsung (but not Motorola who also makes Android phones). Is it only because Apple and its employees are successful Americans what other less successful Americans simply cannot tolerate? When Koreans are successful and rich it does not matter because them live far away. But Americans – they had same opportunities but succeeded despite are being loser. You to keep up with Joneses and cannot and start hating them and wish them go bankrupt. What Kims are doing meanwhile you do not care but you want them to destroy Joneses.

      • 0 avatar
        Toad

        Inside, just stop reading internet message boards. They are made up of a very small percentage of the population, are absurdly vocal, and their comments on products or trends often have no relationship to the commenters ability to own said product (how many people discussing Ferrari autos online actually own one?).

        Most people enjoy status markers, whether they are branded clothes, handbags, eyeglasses, consumer electronics, or cars. That (foolishness) is what keeps the economy humming in the developed world. If branding did not matter you could/would buy everything you need at WalMart.

  • avatar
    douglas751

    Please, do not blame this on GM….

    I love Saab and Volvo cars. I have owned many, old and recent. I can afford to pay extra for the good seats, most others are wiser than me.. I also do business Sweden, with the Auo Industry. Here is Swedish Industry in a nutshell… 3 months of vacation a year, 6 months paternity leave for men, nobody makes any decisions by themselves ever, nobody take personal responsibility for anything. A hotdog costs $6.00 at a gas station, wiper blades are $100 a pair. A hotel room is $250 a night, all foreigners from places that hate Swedish and Western culture are welcomed with open arms. Oil is evil, ice is melting, end of the world mentality….yet, they still manage to drink way too much and they hate the USA even though we are their largest market and forgave them for theiir lack of spine in WW II.

    Saab, Volvo, good ridence to you both.

    • 0 avatar
      Adub

      Having lived in Denmark, I would have to say your observation applies equally to that country. The day we stop tax-subsidizing windmills, they are finished.

    • 0 avatar
      supersleuth

      And yet, when we leave wingnut-ideology-land and return to the real world, we find that Sweden has one of the strongest-performing economies in the world right now.

      • 0 avatar
        Morea

        Sweden’s economy historically has kept pace with, but neither greatly exceeded nor substantially fallen behind, the rest of the western nations:

        http://eh.net/encyclopedia/article/schon.sweden

      • 0 avatar
        supersleuth

        In recent years it’s been outperforming most of them. And its long-term parity with other Western economies is itself sufficient refutation of wingnut rants about the evils of “socialism”.

        Ironically, Sweden’s growth (4.5 % last year) will slow dramatically this year because of collapsing demand in its European markets, engineered by dim-witted right-wing politicians and central bankers who understand as little about economics as many of the commenters around here.

  • avatar
    Alfisti

    It’s a shame because the current shape is one of the nicest looking cars on the road in AERO spec (yes I own one), and they even make a wagon which we all know is the only sensible car to buy if you want some utility.

    So many mistakes were made, I feel there was a market for a somewhat luxurious but sporty brand to compliment Cadillac and Buick but sitting below the three Germans, between VW and the luxo euro marques. They simply asked too much money for the base that really is a bit dowdy to look at with small wheels, huge sidewalls and an unfinished look. The AERO on the other hand looks mean, like it belongs in that company and both the 2T and 2.8T pull hard.

    I own a base 2008 wagon (replaced the wheels so it looks a little meaner) and really all they needed to do was sort the handling and the cheaper parts of the interior to compete where I suggested above. Instead she’s rock hard stiff but with too much body roll (how do they manage that???) and too many little things are missing (bluetooth, hatch remote opener etc etc). But it looks great, eats miles, is comfortable and can sit on the freeway at 120kmh sipping away at a tad under 7L per 100KM.

    THere should never ever have been a base trim, the base should have looked and handled like the AERO but with the 2T and the AERO pushed a little harder to budge 300P from the 2.8 and throw in some other trick bits to make the upgrade worthwhile.

    As for reliability, the 9-3 sits somewhere in the top half of the 2011 JDP ratings for the 2008 year so it cannot be that bad. The 9-5??? ow that’s been a disaster, looks like something from 1985 for 10 years then when they do release it they announce a bloated thing that looks like a Buick ffs.

  • avatar
    Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

    Ironically enough, I’d think Saab would have been a lot more interesting if they actually put jets in their cars.. Or, rather, turbine generators for a serial hybrid system. Also, CF body panels on an Al spaceframe on a mid-size 5-door hatchback. Maybe that will all be affordable in 30 years and Lexus will do a sedan version of it..

  • avatar
    Wheatridger

    Twenty years ago, SAAB was selling roomy, safe cars of great practicality and impressive economy. They would hold five adults and all their luggage, and drive anywhere at any two-digit speed for around 30 mpg. Their engines were small, turbocharged and 4-valved. It was the car of today, yesterday. If I could buy another 9000 today, with closer-to-Lexus reliability, I’d buy another one tomorrow.

  • avatar
    skor

    “That’s the future. Luxury was always an illusion.”

    Really? Go have a look at pre-war Cadillacs and Lincolns.

    • 0 avatar
      TonyJZX

      Jack had his detractors with the Maximum Street Speed series and other derring-doo’s but occasionally he hits it out of the park…

      i think a good way to preface this article is to watch the current Jeremy Clarkson/James May love story to Saab.

      Watch it twice, read this twice.

      Where I am there’s a town that had the old Mitsubishi factory and true to form, the locals bought Mitsubishis out of some kind of loyalty… cars good or bad, it didn’t matter.

      Strange then that even the folks at Trollhattan NEVER BOUGHT SAABs. If you can’t convince the home side to buy your product… I don’t think Saab even broke into the Swedish Top 10!

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    “Ask any Saab enthusiast about the brand and they will tell you about the 900 SPG, but ask a Lexus owner about his car and he will tell you he likes it. What is real, and what is no longer relevant?”.

    Except Saabs, even the pseudo-Opels, have consistently been a better driving car than any Lexus. Ask me about my Aero, and I’d go on for 5 minutes ad nauseum about its good and bad, but mostly about it’s driving character.

    Ideally, Saab driving dynamics (and superior seats) with Lexus electronics and reliability would be awesome.

    Saab should have been priced in near-Acura territory, not BMW. And ditching the hatchback took them away from practical near-luxury, which to me killed their purpose.

  • avatar
    jimbobjoe

    “selling second-rate cars”–which I can’t, as a Saab enthusiast disagree with (but second rate doesn’t mean a far second, it’s a close second.) Though even to the end, they were demonstrably different–in small but palpable ways. The 9-3 and 9-5’s cup holders, which delighted every single person that ever got in my car (a 9-5.) I had people who were regular passengers who still played with it. As ridiculous as that may be, the cupholder represented what Saab did best–brilliant Swedish design. It’s just that GM didn’t let it go much further than that.

    These little things were enough to keep alive the brand’s mystique. That even in the less than stellar Opel derivations there was enough of the legacy of the original Saabs to reinforce the uniqueness.

    Pricing was always a bit off because the cars never sold anywhere near MSRP. And that was fine because they were selling at their right price points. However the extra high pricing just made people think the cars were too expensive. At the prices the cars actually sold for, I believe they were good value.

  • avatar
    Jacob

    In my view, GM is the primary reason Saab died. The product cycle was ridiculously slow. Instead of doing things to speed up the development of the outdated bread and butter 9-5 and 9-3, money and effort were being spent on producing brazen re-badges in the form of 9-2 and 9-7. I don’t understand how GM was planning to do well in luxury car arena with 9-5 being based on more than a decade old platform. GM misunderstood what Saab was about and completely mismanaged it.

  • avatar
    NateR

    My step brother picked up a gently used Saab convertible back in 1999 and kept it around for a few years. I always liked that car, but it wouldn’t have been my 1st pick if I had been in the market at that time on his budget.

    Completely unrelated, but I saw a lime green Porsche Carrera R parked at the airport today and immediately thought of you. I would have snapped a pic but I didn’t have time to stop.

  • avatar
    bill h.

    “The current 9-3 is a relative to the Chevrolet Malibu and — whisper it — probably isn’t as good of a car, overall, as the Malibu. The outgoing 9-5 was a relative to the dismal old Saturn L-Series”….

    I disagree. The 9-3 that has been produced up to now is not, to my knowledge, related to the Malibu. The new generation 9-5, which was introduced in 2010, is based on the same platform as the Malibu.

    The new 9-5 was originally to have been introduced ca. 2005, but GM in their wisdom cancelled that plan and gave us the 2006 restyle of the old 9-5. Who knows what might have happened if the car had come out as originally planned, with the SportCombi wagon soon after, which presumably could be had with the turbo 4 and a manual shifter. But when GM finally came around to getting the new 9-5 out, it was too late.

    Not having driven the new 9-5 extensively, I cannot judge whether it is comparable. But I’ll assert that the 9-3 is imminently more engaging to drive than the Malibu.

    I don’t know about the Saturn connection, but suspect that assertion as well.

    • 0 avatar
      Porsche986

      Actually, you are not correct… the 9-3 that has been available since 2003 model year is in fact on the original shorter wheelbase version of the Opel Vectra a.k.a. 2003 Chevy Malibu. The current generation Malibu is a longer-wheelbase and stiffer version of that car.

      The 9-5 is also Opel based, but on the chassis of the 1996 Opel Vectra, with parts of the outgoing Saab 9000 (look at the turn signal switchgear and steering column of the 9-5 as examples).

      I am a previous 9-5 owner (2007 2.3T) and it was one of my favorite cars. It was supremely comfortable, and it was resolutely NOT German in it’s presentation.

      That car is still in the family, and still loved.

      I will miss Saab.

  • avatar
    oldowl

    99 L, 2-door, lime green, stripper interior, free-revving engine. Bought very used. Sold very, very used. Still miss it.

  • avatar
    Davekaybsc

    I recommend everyone watch Sunday’s Top Gear UK. They did an excellent, and surprisingly long piece on Saab that mirrors a lot of what this article stated.

    • 0 avatar
      jaje

      Ditto. They in fact went into the reason why Saab never made any money and that was because they didn’t follow GM’s advice of doing a pathetic rebadge of the various vehicles given to it and spent a lot of money and time reengineering most of the car. Shows the quality aspect of a Saab and a GM at the time. Though IMO in the very final stages the 9-7x and 9-2x were the rebadges that GM wanted but too little too late.

    • 0 avatar
      saab_lurker

      The full episode is available here: http://www.saabsunited.com/2012/02/top-gear-saab-video-now-online.html

      The Saab portion starts at 41 minutes.

  • avatar
    stryker1

    29 years old, never understood why on earth anyone would pay retail for a Saab of any kind.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      What makes you think anyone ever did? Saab’s MSRPs were fantasy-land since the early 90s at least. Through the mid-80s they were not too bad, my Mom bought a succession of new Saabs in the mid-late 80s and a 900S was about the price of a loaded Buick Century. Not cheap, but hardly ridiculous.

      As I put it, as the former owner of an ’08 9-3 Sportcombi bought new for $13K off list – for $35K MSRP that car was a sad joke, but for the price I paid it was the deal of the century. 75% of the goodness of a 3-series, for 50% of the price. BUT, as the owner of an ’11 3-series wagon, that last 25% if worth every penny if you can afford it.

      My 9-3 was a great car despite all the nay-saying. Good to drive, swift, comfortable, reliable, and efficient. The only reason I sold it for the BMW was the twin pending demises of Saab itself and BMW wagons. I was not going to be stuck with a modern car with no factory support, and I have always wanted a 3-series wagon, so the time was right.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Well, there’s one key fact that’s absolute wrong in this article. The dollar did not fall in the first half or more of the 1980s. To the contrary, high interest rates engineered by fed chairman Paul Volcker made the dollar strong and also broke the back of the OPEC folks.

    What it did was give European (and Japanese) cars a huge price advantage in the U.S. As you say (correctly) BMW and Mercedes had built their “luxury image” in the U.S. in part by premium pricing. The strong dollar made this very difficult for them. Of course BMW and Mercedes’ North American subsidiaries kept prices up, both to protect brand image and to protect current owners’ equity. However, the tremendous disparity between the Euro market and US market prices of the same car fueled, for a time, a substantial grey market in German luxury cars imported into the U.S. and “federalized” with U.S.-spec lighting and catalytic converters by these importers. BMW and Benz fought these efforts hard, refusing to service the cars, pressuring insurance companies not to insure them and pressuring the feds not to certify them. I drove a number of these cars, from both Mercedes and BMW and considered buying one of them. A good example that a friend of mine bought was the BMW 745, a car not even imported into the U.S. With a turbo-charged 3.2 liter engine, it would suck the doors off of any big luxury sedan.

    So, contra Jack’s article, the strong U.S. dollar in the 1980s probably helped marginal players like Saab and Volvo stay alive in the U.S. market. Of course, that party came to an end, with devastating consequences.

    A final note on the early buyers of Swedish cars. They were not, I believe, buying “luxury.” My dad bought a Volvo 144S in 1970 after having owned a succession of Chevrolets: 1957, 1963, 1966. Every one of these cars was the stripper — rubber floor covering, 6-cylinder engine, 3-on-the-column manual tranny, no radio, no a/c. The ’66 he bought with the 200 hp. 2-bbl. 283 V-8, mostly because the 63 with the 6 seemed so underpowered to him. What he got tired of was uncomfortable seats, excessive size of the car, poor quality control (the ’66 was delivered missing the rear main bearing seal) and questionable brakes. The 1970 Volvo was very comfortable, fast enough, had comparatively wonderful brakes and was quite durable. My father owned that car for more than 10 years. He subsequently bought a 1977, a 1992 and a 1995, so he was a pretty loyal owner. Reliability issues with his last Volvo (and a new wife after my mother died) led him to be an ES . . . but then he got an old XC90 to drive around Annapolis, where he lives. He’s 85, and the car is comfortable and easy for him and his friends to get in an out of. With the few miles that he drives, who cares how much fuel it uses!

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    1st sentence, paragraph 4…I believe the word you are searching for is upscaleishness….

    Lotsa truth in this piece, Jackie….here’s more for ya…

    One’s automobile choice is the last lifestyle choice within the reach of the middle-class by which they can aspire to more than they are…and the companies which sell that fantasy best….Lexus, Audi, M-B, even V-W…will be the new masters of the industry.

    SAAB: Dead
    Lincoln: Dead
    Jag: Life-support
    Acura: Life-support
    Volvo: Life-support
    Millenia: Dead

  • avatar
    KitaIkki

    “I am happy to live in a world where the reliable, long-lasting Camry is the best seller and the crappy, pretentious car company that never even designed its own engine is dead.”

  • avatar
    replica

    I’ve never understood the premium price on European cars. Superior engineering yet they have more maintenance issues. Perhaps I’m missing something.

  • avatar
    Chris L

    “The tweed-jacket crowd didn’t cotton to the snub-nosed Lexus immediately — darling, it looks cheap and common — but as tales of the super-Toyota’s relentless reliability circulated through the dusty, crowded Saab service-department waiting rooms, surely more than one assistant dean seriously considered the idea of switching loyalties.”

    It’s a cute theory, but is this any more than a pure guess? Is there any good empirical evidence that that former Saab owners bought Lexi? To determine the specific cause of Saab’s failure you’d need fewer anecdotes and more sales data. My anecdotes suggest that Subaru won out big time.

    Curious the article doesn’t mention the Saab 9000. This strange vehicle, with its remarkable combination of great virtues and serious defects, was the Saab flagship in 1992. But it could hardly be cross-shopped against a Lexus. The 9-5 was much closer to the ES. It didn’t come along until 1999, and it sold much better than the 9000. Perhaps Saab was taking market share from Lexus in 1999 and 2000 compared to the prior years.

  • avatar
    Paddan

    Great article and many excellent comments. I have owned virtually every model Saab over the past 32 years both new and used and some were fantastic and some were duds. Also a few post GM were the best cars I ever owned including a 9-3 V6 Aero wagon with XWD which was Haldex AWD.
    Wonder if Saab will be restarted. Not holding my breath.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    “My guess is that it must be something personal with TTAC that makes them keep beating on a dog that is dead, for so long.”

    No, I see it as TTAC reporting the news and analyzing. This is strictly a reported perspective – as a Saabista, I understood said perspective and respectfully disagree.

    The rise of Lexus et al does make sense for the perhaps mortal wounding of Saab; lack of continual development in our “oooo shiny!” world; again, the hatchback.

    Saab and their many contributions* will be missed in a McDonald’s world….we left them behind.

    *except the key in the console. Never understood the banshee scream over that one.

  • avatar
    probert

    Very thought provoking. I would go as far as to say – and this is debatable – that as soon as the modern (accord) honda hit the streets any claim to engineering or driving superiority by the european manufacturers was bogus.

    For 1/3 the money the japanese delivered – and continue to – technically sophisticated brilliantly manufactured cars. You may say they’re soulless but anyone who’s driven an rsx and most any Audi may well have different opinion.

    Or to put another way – if it’s 50 large it better be great – 24 large and great? that takes genius.

Read all comments

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • EBFlex: https://edition.cnn.com/2022/0 6/21/business/gas-tax-holiday- biden/index.html
  • EBFlex: You realize when you call me comrade you’re calling yourself comrade right? Sit down son.
  • Jeff S: Comrade EBFlex who can even politicize a simple discussion of what to have for dinner.
  • Jeff S: @DenverMike–Didn’t think EBFlex liked vehicles I just thought he was some political hack...
  • bullnuke: UPDATE: The incident referred to by Ol Shel occurred in in a Chicago, Illinois, suburb. The 2nd Amendment...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Corey Lewis
  • Jo Borras
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber