QOTD: Most Common Automotive Misconceptions and Myths?

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis
qotd most common automotive misconceptions and myths

In various places on the automobile Internets, one will often see the same misconceptions and myths repeated over and over, presented as strong opinion or perhaps even disguised as fact. There are an awful lot of car fans who are dead wrong about a lot of things on the Internet. Let’s talk about it.

Today’s question was inspired very directly by some comments on yesterday’s Junkyard Finds post on the Saab 900. So let’s have a little chat about Saab today.

Here’s the myth:

“Saab was in a perfectly fine financial position and made excellent cars before stupid GM got involved and ruined the whole thing. They killed the Saab brand because GM is bad and Saab was an innocent profitable angel.”

Now, I’ve omitted the typographical errors which usually accompany such text to make it easier for you to read. This persistent myth about Saab’s ruination by General Motors is simply not true.

The company was a niche player, and a struggling brand. Though it was true it had its die-hard fans (and still have some today, hello!), the company was in an untenable position. GM first bought into the Saab brand in 1989 when it invested $600 million for a 50 percent stake in the firm, the other half owned by giant Swedish holding company Investor AB. Saab split and became an independent car interest from Scania, the successful and profitable truck manufacturer. It’s the sort of thing businesses do when they need to raise capital, while simultaneously amputating a loser entity from the larger brand portfolio.

Speaking of portfolios, it’s worth noting that in 1989, as Lexus and other Japanese luxury brands approached, the near-lux Saab offered two products: the 900, which was from 1978, and the 9000, which hailed from 1984. While the 900 was all Saab, the 9000 was a money-saving collaboration with Italy that also spawned such unreliables as the Alfa Romeo 164, Fiat Croma, and Lancia Thema. The 900 and 9000 were quite a full product offering for a modern automaker, eh? They weren’t too luxurious, but they were very expensive. Especially the 9000, which asked a full $35,000 in 1991 ($66,600 adjusted).

Consider the consolidation and aggressive competition which occurred in the luxury and near-luxury space in the Nineties. Then think about the shift to SUVs. Saab had no money, no product, and could not afford to compete in any of these segments if left to its own devices. The only way it stayed alive as long as it did was with GM money, and eventually GM parts bin assets (and then Subaru). It’s simply a rose-tinted myth that quirky Saab would have endured as an independent — or found some capital savior willing to dump funds into the money pit with no return on investment. But it persists online that GM did a bad and killed off beloved Saab, when in reality the company extended the company’s life considerably.

One rant complete, one automotive myth busted. Have you any others on your mind?

[Image: Saab]

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  • Runfromcheney Runfromcheney on May 28, 2020

    Before this thread dies I want to add one more, in the same vein of the Saab example in the original post: “Chrysler was a thriving, prosperous company in the late 1990s that the predatory jerks at Daimler bought out just to raid for their cash and then ran into the ground. If Chrysler had stayed independent they would still be a major independent force in the auto business today!” You don’t have to spend much time on Allpar to see that many Mopar guys take this to heart and have a severe case of nostalgia filter for the 1990s. Note that this isn’t coming from a hater, I’m a millennial who grew up in Detroit in the 1990s, I owe much of my passion for cars to 1990s Chrysler and I am still very fond and nostalgic for those cars today. I used to own a 1998 Caravan that to this day is one of the two best vehicles I have ever owned. But the truth has to be said: 1990s Chrysler was more hype than substance and if they stayed independent they’d still be a niche manufacturer built around Jeep that needs to merge to survive. Chrysler’s success in the 1990s seemed too good to be true and in a way, it was. Despite all the hype they generated, Chrysler in the 1990s was still an also-ran except for trucks, minivans and SUVS (thanks to Jeep). The first-gen cab-forward cars were impressive when they first came out but the hype didn’t translate to sales or dollars: The Intrepid mainly existed in the same niche the Charger exists in today, the Stratus sold only to rental fleets and the Neon was cheaply made and undermined by quality problems. Many of Chrysler’s amazing 1990s models were really just skin jobs hiding old technology. The 1994 Ram was just a new body slapped on the same mechanicals of the previous generation, it still used a live front axle while GM and Ford had moved to an independent front suspension in their trucks and Dodge’s line of Magnum engines were dinosaurs compared to the brand new V8s Ford and GM were using. The ZJ and WJ Grand Cherokees were new bodies built on the bones of the XJ Cherokee, powered by old AMC engines. The 1996 Caravan was just a rebody of the previous generation. The Intrepid was a reengineered Eagle Premier and it’s 3.5L engine was an Iacocca-era pushrod mill that had been reengineered into an overhead cam engine. Many still used ancient three speed transmissions when the competition had all moved onto 4 speeds. Then there’s the matter of all the reliability problems. Neon head gaskets, rubber band transmissions, peeling paint and the infamous 2.7. Many of the new customers that had been wooed by these flashy new cars grew to hate them as they discovered how cheaply engineered they were. I think of how frequently these cars got stolen because even a retarded 5 year old could steal one. You could start a first-gen Neon by shoving a screwdriver into the ignition, no hotwiring necessary. As Y2K approached the magic had run out, snowballing warranty costs was dragging down Chrysler’s balance sheet and they found they didn’t have the money or resources to maintain their growth, thus why Eaton was so eager to merge and get out before the company crashed. Lutz and Gale drew up more creative concepts like the Dodge Copperhead, a hybrid Durango (Not the one that arrived in 2008) and a Ram-based Suburban fighter, but Chrysler didn’t have enough money to put them into production. The redesigned Neon, Stratus and Intrepid were widely considered inferior to the models they replaced and were no longer competitive in a changing market, sales dropped considerably. The Intrepid was marred by all of the 2.7L reliability problems and was reduced to a rental car. The Neon was buried by the Ford Focus. The Stratus was too small to compete as the Camry, Accord and eventually Malibu all grew significantly in size. All three would need to be completely redesigned on new platforms to still compete, something Chrysler didn’t have the money and resources to do. They only managed pull off replacing the Intrepid with the 300/Charger because the LH platform could be adapted to RWD, allowing them to raid Daimler’s parts bin to reengineer it yet again. The redesigned 2002 Ram only managed to equal what Ford and GM were already offering, it didn’t bring anything new to the table and it’s four-door cab was significantly smaller than the competition. The arrival of the Hemi in 2003 helped bolster sales but the Ram nonetheless found itself swamped by the redesigned 2004 F-150. Despite merging with Daimler in 1998 Chrysler was still running autonomously with all of its pre-merger management still in place and under THEIR watch Chrysler began losing money in 2000. That’s when the German executives arrived from Stuttgart, barged in and took over As for Daimler, I go back to the old saying “never attribute to malice what you can attribute to incompetence”. While they weren’t completely honest about their intentions going in, Daimler didn’t merge with Chrysler specifically to destroy it. That’s just what the Chrysler people say because they don’t want to admit that Chrysler collapsed under its own weight in 2000. Jurgen Schrempp was simply a bad CEO, period. Any Mercedes-Benz enthusiast will tell you that he mismanaged Mercedes just as bad as he mismanaged Chrysler. It was under his watch that Mercedes was reduced to building generic, low quality blobs that only sold because of their three-pointed star hood ornaments. By the mid-2000s the whole company was in bad shape top to bottom and management decided that rescuing Mercedes was more important than rescuing Chrysler. Schrempp was forced out, Dieter Zetsche was brought back in from Auburn Hills to clean up the mess and he ultimately decided that it would be the best for everyone if they and Chrysler went separate ways. Chrysler was sold to Cerberus and found themselves in the same position they were in before the merger: With a outdated and uncompetitive product line and not enough cash to develop adequate replacements. Only this time their products were even more uncompetitive than the aging cab-forwards and they had been bleeding money for years, so they had less of a chance than if they had tried to stay independent. Either way, there was no way for Chrysler to survive as an independent, entirely American-owned manufacturer. They would have needed to merge with another company at some point before now.

  • WallMeerkat WallMeerkat on May 28, 2020

    That the Rover 75 platform was based on the E34 5 Series. The reasons are thus: - The tooling was being dismantled in South Africa - The 75 had similar rear suspension - Large central tunnel for a FWD car It was an idea explored briefly, but not acted upon. It would've been pointless adapting it to a FWD car. The rear suspension did use off the shelf BMW parts bin componentry, and the central tunnel was used for body stiffness (as per the MINI) When they were converting the car to RWD for the Mustang engined V8 75/MG ZT models, the tunnel was useful but they had to re-engineer the chassis to fit the rear differential.

    • See 4 previous
    • Runfromcheney Runfromcheney on May 28, 2020

      @JimC2 Or in the case of Saab, they straight-up refused to share components and platforms with more pedestrian models. They could never turn a profit because everything had to be different or upgraded to meet their "standards", even in cases where wouldn't matter like window regulators or wiring. By the time they got done upgrading the 9000 to meet their standards it was different enough from its Fiat counterparts that all the potential cost savings were gone, they might as well have developed the car themselves from the ground up. Similarly, they bit GM's hand at every turn and constantly refused every attempt to integrate Saab into their parts bin. Bob Lutz recounted a time when the Saab managers scoffed at the suggestion that they use an Opel wiring harness in a new model, at which he responded, "I don't believe the average Saab customer is going to crawl under their dashboard with a lighter, inspect the wiring harness and say 'This is an Opel wiring harness! I want my money back!'"

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