Friday, January 30, 2004

In thinking about the new 9-3 Sport Sedan, I recently did a comparison with my very first SAAB--a 1984 4-door, 5-speed 900 turbo (924M). Both are 4-door (with trunk) turbocharged sport sedans. When I was through with my comparison, I was amazed at the similarities, and impressed with the value of the 2004 car vs. its 1984 progenitor. For this comparison, I chose the 9-3 Linear with two options: sunroof and cold weather package. My 1984 900T had one option: cruise control. Here's how they compare (the 1984 spec will always appear first):
8-valve turbocharged 2 liter 135 hp engine / 16-valve turbocharged 2 liter 175 hp engine. 5-speed manual transmission (both). Solid front brake discs / ventilated front brake discs. Non-ABS / ABS. No TCS or stability program /standard TCS and stability program. No anti-sway bars / front and rear anti-sway bars. Solid rear axle / independent rear suspension. Manual steel sunroof / electric glass sunroof. Dealer-installed cruise control / standard cruise control. Cloth seats, automatic heaters / leather seats, adjustable seat heaters. AM/FM cassette / AM/FM CD. 15" alloy wheels with h-rated Pirelli tires: both. Fold down rear seat / split fold down rear seat. Power windows and locks: both. No alarm or remote door locks / integrated theft protection and door remote. No trip computer or information display /programmable information display and trip computer. Intermittent wipers / variable speed intermittent wipers. Electric antenna /integrated antenna. Halogen sealed beams, no washers / integrated headlamps, replaceable halogen bulbs and washers. No air bags / lots of airbags. No active head restraint / Active head restraint. Key in the floor: both. No cup holders / cupholders! No center console / center console. Three spoke steering wheel / three spoke steering wheel with an air bag and radio controls. No floor mats / standard floor mats. 12 month warranty / 48 month 50K mile warranty. Service intervals every 5000 miles / service intervals at roughly 15,000 miles. Free 1000 mile service / free 3 year 36 moth scheduled maintenance.
After 20 years, you'd expect many of the improvements I listed. What really surprised me, though, is the pricing on these cars. The 1984 sold for $18,000. And in those days, there was no discounting (I know, I was selling them back then). Today's car has a sticker price of $28,000, and you know that you can get that discounted. That makes the 2004 a remarkable value in my eyes, when you consider the additional content and inflation, as modest as it has been, over 20 years. I drove my 1984 for 225,000 miles. Last I saw it it had 245,000 miles. I have no doubt the 2004 will hold up as well or better.
I wonder what the comparisons will be like when I next write a comparison like this....in 2024

Thursday, January 22, 2004

There is a new Saab which will arrive in showrooms in the spring--the 9-2X. This car has fueled much controversy because it largely a very nice Subaru Impreza/WRX with a Saab snout and a few detail modifications. Subaru engine, drive train, controls......it's even built in Japan by Fuji, just like a Subaru. GM is a stakeholder in Fuji, and it appears to me that the pressure to have both a lower market car and an all-wheel drive car IMMEDIATELY fueled the decision to bring the Saab-aru to market. No one argues that this will be a really great car. The WRX is one of the best performance values on the road, but quirky in its appearance. The 9-2X, by contrast, is very good looking. That, coupled with a modest price tag and great performance, will position the 9-2X to do well in the marketplace. The only question is...who will want this car?
The good news, I think, is that it will attract new customers to the Saab brand. Hard-core Saab enthusiasts will hate this car. But then, the hard core loyalists have hated virtually every new car Saab has put on the road....for a time. I acknowledge that this is different, though. This is not Saab working on a shared platform, or buying its engines from Ford (Saab has a history of dependence on other manufacturers). This is starting with complete vehicle and injecting it with very little Saab DNA. I see the reason for loyalists'concern. If there is a bright spot, it is, as I have learned from "inside sources," that the 9-2X will receive more and more Saab systems every model year. At the end of the model run, a decision will be made to replace the car with either another built-by-Fuji 9-2 which at that point may be significantly genuine Saab (including the engine), or the project may be lifted from Fuji and rekindled in Europe using an Opel platform.
No matter the outcome, this will all be interesting to watch. I also have no doubt that the 9-2X, no matter what you think of its heritage, will be lots of fun.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Welcome to our SAAB blog. If there was ever an automobile that inspired enough passion and intense loyalty that it merited a blog, it is SAAB. Unlike so many automobile manufacturers, SAAB has retained its identity, its core values that make it distinct, throughout its history. Changes of ownership and of vehicle platforms have led many to view the SAAB identity as being doomed. Nothing could be further from the truth.

What is a SAAB? It is not the availability of a hatchback. It is not the location of the ignition switch. It is not even a turbocharger. No, what makes a SAAB—any SAAB—a SAAB is the core values that define the philosophy of its execution as an automobile. Twenty years ago, those essential SAAB pillars were revealed to me by Ralph Skinder, whose relationship with the SAAB brand goes back to the earliest days of SAAB in the United States. Simply put, he told me that there were five key elements in every SAAB: safety (both active and passive), performance, comfort, utility and efficiency. There are a couple of other attributes that come to mind: important ones, like durability and uniqueness. But those five create the backdrop to every SAAB to have ever graced our roads. It is that unique blend of seemingly contradictory elements that defines the essence of SAAB.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004