Tuesday, November 28, 2006

You Do That in a Saab?
Just as all automobiles are vastly better than they once were, most automobiles are far more versatile than they once were. Folding seats, integrated roof racks and the like are now common. Saabs, though, have been versatile forever! Who needs a pickup truck or a Jeep when you have a Saab, right? OK, so you can't plow snow with a Saab, but there really isn't anything else that's stumped me in all my years of Saab ownership. Appliances and furniture--load 'em up in a Saab hatchback. Time to tow the boat? Throw the tow-ball on the Saab. This weekend, my wife, my sons and I visited the Heliotrope tree farm and cut down two trees--15 and 17 fee tall. Two trees, two Saabs, Thule roof racks and a total of 5 Thule straps, and these beauties were homeward bound. Sure, you could do that with a pickup truck, but you sure wouldn't get the stares we enjoyed!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

A Swedish Car Day to Remember
I did not create Swedish Car Day, but I have organized and run all seven, so I feel a bit possessive of the event, and am very proud of its iteration in 2006. This show did not quite match the attendance we had in 2002, but it was close, and it offered such a nice balance. The weather was great (the lawn, though, was pretty cold and dark at 6am), we had a good showing by the Volvo owners, there were some interesting vendors, lots of terrific private cars, a nice little display from VNA, and of course, the spectacular showing from GM Heritage. I even got Royal Ford of the Boston Globe to make an appearance to write a story (I won't say how) in which he deftly left out the sponsorship of Boston Volvo and Charles River Saab; maybe we don't advertise enough in his paper? There was also a festiveness in the air, and the attendees seemed to be having a really good time.
The highlight of my day came when the lawn was reduced to my 900T and Peter Maitland's Sonett II. We headed up the hill and asked Dick Balsey of GM Heritage if help was needed to get the 15 wonderfully restored Saabs in his care to the three car carriers. He was delighted to have us help, and I couldn't believe it when he told us to fetch certain keys....start the cars....drive them to the car carriers...and then....Well, then I thought our job would be done and we'd turn the cars over to the haulers. At least, I thought so until I felt the elevated platform start to rise and...well, the picture tells the rest of the story. Funny how ten feet off the ground, you start to question things like, "First gear is over and down in a 3-speed...I hope."

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

In Praise of "Swedishness"
The most ridiculous chief executive ever to preside over Saab in the US was Debra Kelly-Ennis. She did, at some point, make a speach where asserted that she was going to see to it that Saab retained its Swedishness. Boy, did we have fun with that remark.

In any event, the term came to mind as I was having an experience that was just ripe with Swedishness this past weekend. With my oldest son off to college, there was a bedroom shift and my 10 year old wanted to redecorate his room to his liking and remove much of his oldest brother's grungy style. With that, we piled into the Saab 9000 and headed off to IKEA.
At the end of our shopping day, we were replete with bedding, a mattress, pillows, lamps, a chair, Swedish cookies, and loads of all that neat IKEA miscellaneous stuff you just can't find elsewhere--in all we had two shopping carts and one flat cart loaded. To the unititiated, it would have seemed impossible to get all this home. But there in the Swedish IKEA parking garage, standing in my Swedish clogs before my Swedish Aero and its huge trunk, plus a Swedish Thule roof carrier, the goods were all swallowed with room to spare and the four of us rode home in Swedish comfort.

I am always so impressed that a country of less than nine million inhabitants (about the same as North Carolina) can give us so much neat stuff. Not just Saab, Thule and IKEA. But also Volvo, Scania, Ericsson, Electrolux, Hasselblad, Husquavarna, Sandvik and many more. They don't just produce stuff--they produce the stuff you want because it's infused with that je ne sais quoi. Must be that....Swedishness.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Insider's view of the 9-7x
Charles River Saab was in need of replacing its venerable 2001 9-5 Aero Wagon customer shuttle. In looking at the incentives offered from GM, there was no question but to go with the 9-7x. The deal was amazing, it made a nice vehicle to ferry customers, and will give us the opportunity to showcase the vehicle. I just came back from a drive in our new shuttle. I also took a college visit trip to Philadelphia earlier this summer in a 9-7x, so now that I have logged some serious miles on the 9-7x, I can present my view.
Disclaimer--I generally abhor the notion of an SUV or SAV (sorry, my Bavarian friends--they are all SUVs to me). Whether Porsche Cayenne or Ford Explorer, I never understood the point. Most have less room inside than a good sized wagon or van (vans I understand), most have serious safety issues which have started to be mitigated with better mechanical and electronic stability systems, all are inefficient with respect to consumption vs. interior space, and most really can't be taken off-road (except of course Land Rovers). The only SUV I ever fancied was the MB G-Wagen in its early iteration--diesel engine, manual transmission, no carpeting. I also understand Jeeps. There is one in my driveway that plows the drive (can't do that with my Saabs) and tows my in-laws boat. I tow my boats with my 900, thank you. The all-wheel drive argument for SUVs never washed with me; when there is a blizzard and I have to get from Ipswich to Watertown to plow the lot in the wee hours, I never take the Jeep. My snow-tire clad Saab never fails to get me through.
So here I am reviewing the 9-7x, which is part of a genre I have little use for. Add to that its somewhat dubious DNA as a Saab, and you're likely to think that a Saab nut like me will hate this thing, right? Wrong! I really do like this truck. I will never ever own one. But I like it. Much of the motoring press has, too. So here are the particulars.
What Pierre Likes:
I like, no, I love the suspension set-up. The balance between firmness and comfort is perfect. In fact, it is batter balanced in that regard than any Saab, ever. It reminds me very much of the ride quality and quiet of a Mercedes, which is not a bad thing.
I like the handling, but not completely. In most situations, the handling and steering seem terrific. In my long journey, though, I discovered, as I am sure Saab's engineers realized, that in some handling situations the suspension, no matter how well tuned and modified, can't cope. this is very uncharacteristic of a Saab. Every other Saab I have driven is very predictable no matter the road surface. The 9-7x can go from feeling brilliant to having moments where it handles like, well, a truck. This, to me, is the problem with a derivative design. If there are limits in the fundamental design, you are stuck with those limits.
I like the look of the 9-7x from the front view.
I like the equipment--the gadgets. This car is so well equipped, and the radio/XM is terrific in sound and ease of use.
I love the quiet of this vehicle. It motors with aplomb, without the roar and bang I am used to from other Saabs.
I like the front seats. Not quite as good as real Saab seats, but still good.
Brakes seem fine, and appropriately brawny for the weight of the vehicle.
I like the I6 engine. It doesn't belong in any Saab, but it is a terrific modern engine.
The air compressor in the trunk to inflate tires, balls etc...Cool!

Here's What Pierre Dislikes about the 9-7x:
Side and rear exterior styling, or lack thereof. You can't peel off some mouldings, add some others and fool people. From 3 of 4 angles this looks like an Envoy/Trailblazer. Not acceptable. Booooooo.
Side directional indicators are in the mirrors, not the fenders. While not uniquely Saab, this would add a good euro-detail to the too-American flanks.
The V8 engine. I don't care if it's made of aluminum and has displacement on demand. It doesn't belong anywhere near a Saab. Why couldn't GM have taken, say, the 5-cylinder engine from the H3 Hummer (based on the 6 cylinder engine in the 9-7x linear) and turbo-charged it. The consumption improvement, turbocharger and uniqueness of that arrangement would be much more "Saab."
The transmission. It sucks.
The dashboard. Most of the interior is OK, and some high quality materials were used in the dash, but everywhere you look you see Trailblazer stuff and it looks like junk: cheap plastic, cheap (if complete) gauges, probably look extra bad next to the Saab bits and swathes of better materials. The interior should have been built from scratch, not modified.
The steering wheel is awful. You can't take a cheap steering wheel and glue a Saab badge on it and think it's ok. It's not. It is the one part of a vehicle we touch most. The 9-7x deserves a proper steering wheel.
THERE WERE NO SAFETY UPGRADES MADE when this truck was derived. If it's not extra safe, it's not a Saab. It doesn't even have active head restraint! Not forgivable! Boooooooo.
Rear seat is very uncomfortable and not adjustable.
Stops for the rear hatch encroach on hatch opening and are at least inconvenient, if not dangerous. This seems like a patch for some sloppy initial engineering.
Cheesy Chevrolet styled Munroney sticker. Why?
Fuel mileage. I got 18.5 on my 800 mile trip. Maybe that's ok next to other SUVs, but it doesn't do much for me.
My overall impression is positive. If someone liked driving an SUV or had something over 2000 pounds to tow, I'd highly recommend the vehicle. It is handsome, agile, strong and exceedingly comfortable. Could it have been better--yes, much better. Still, I give it thumbs-up.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

A Tale of Four Aeros
There are those moments of inadvertent genius in one's life. Such was the case at our most recent day of Skid School at Stevens Advanced Driver Training. When selecting cars to use at the event, I try to arrange a good assortment of cars that would represent the vehicles driven by the cohort attending the class, as well as picking Saabs that are most likely to be entertaining. When the fleet was finalized, a couple of days before the school, I realized that I had three versions of Aero going--a 2006 9-3 V6 Aero, 2002 9-5 Aero and a 2005 92x Aero. Hmmm.....
On the day of the event, I had my sons (who were attending the school) drive up in my wife's 1993 9000 Aero. So there we were at Concord NH Municipal Airport with the newest version of Aero, the original (at least in the US) Aero, and Aero versions of the 9-5 and 92x--we had the Aero heritage fleshed out nicely. As the day moved along, I asked Sandy Stevens if his drivers might be interested, when the class was done, to do some drag racing in the Aero's. He chuckled--since all his instructors race cars, they don't need to be asked twice to go out and drive hard and fast and compete with one another. So, when the day of Skid School was done, the cones were cleared from the runway, and it was time for the Aero Challenge.
I'd put the length of the runway at about a quarter mile, so the race would be just short of that (allowing enough time to stop so as not to traverse an active runway!). All the cars were automatic (6-speed for the 9-3, 5-speed for the 9-5 and 4-speed for the 92x), except the 9000 Aero, which was fair since the other cars all had more horsepower (250 for the 9-5 and 9-3, 227 for the 92x and 225 for the 9000), and the 9000 was hampered by Traction Control which is not switchable, and makes launching somewhat tricky. They raced four times. The winner every time was the 9-3. Second was always the 9-5. It was always very close. The lesser weight and extra gear ratio probably made the difference for the 9-3. Third and fourth was a duel between the 92x and 9000. They traded places at every race. Clearly, the driver had a lot to do with the outcome in the 9000; to shift at right time and to push the car hard but without inducing wheel spin and engaging the traction control was a challenge. But even between first and fourth, there was not much difference, maybe a couple of car lengths. In the end, all of the cars acquitted themselves nicely. Just makes you wonder, though....if we had a 1994 Aero without Traction control, and manual transmission versions of the other cars....
Not only did the 9-3 Aero win in the drag race, but I think it won everyone's heart during the Skid School. Not only is the engine a gem, but the tuning of the rest of the car, including a switch in tire brand and size for 2006, make this a really easy car to drive very hard and fast. I was concerned about the extra weight of the V6, but the handling remains precise, the passive rear steering works brilliantly, and the feedback through the steering seems slightly better. Overall, it is a very impressive performer!

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

First, it was front-wheel drive Volvos....
Now BMW, in an article in Automotive News, is reporting that it is leaving the dark side of engine performance:
"The German maker of high-performance vehicles will stop making engines bigger to boost performance. Instead, BMW will use turbochargers, more efficient valvetrains and advanced electronics to boost performance while increasing fuel economy.
'The time to increase horsepower by increasing displacement is over,' said Klaus Borgmann, senior vice-president of powertrain development for BMW...."
What's next, a Mercedes with the ignition switch on the console?
I hope Saab is paying attention, though. Just because you're right all along about things, doesn't mean you can rest on your laurels!

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Recent Automotive/Saab News on the Future Fuels debate:

Some articles on where Saab is moving on this issue:
The 9-3 Hybrid Concept.
The 9-5 BioPower Concept.

E85 Editorial
I Can't Drive E85.

Hybrid Energy Study
Let the debate begin!

Friday, March 31, 2006

Future Fuels
In the wake of Katrina we experienced some over $3 per gallon gasoline and boy did that jolt revive the energy debate. Seems we can't convince ourselves of the necessity of reducing our oil consumption and stemming the creation of CO2 to diminish the advance of global warming. I hear customers cry for more hybrid cars. Frankly, I am not convinced that this is a long term solution but it certainly has some merits and these cars are a good proving ground for future solutions. Saab and GM have a great next-generation hybrid, which will, I understand, use a methanol engine or E85 engine in conjunction with electric motors and regenerative technology. However, none of this will have enough impact until people turn their backs on every aspect of our inefficient and wasteful lifestyles.
Surprisingly little is known in the States about French culture outside of its food and politics. One overlooked aspect of the French is that they are about the stingiest people on the planet. They even have a TV series (Gaspillage!) about waste that is uncovered in everyday life. So, take a Frenchman and dress him as a Yankee and what do you get? Me, the stingiest, most frugal guy there is. When it comes to energy, all my environmental friends would be impressed (if I had any friends) by the way I conserve energy. I drive cars with small, efficient engines--because I hate paying for gasoline. I live in a modest sized dwelling, which is heavily insulated, and every window has an insulated shade, covering an extra layer of plastic that I put on my windows every year. Why? I hate paying for heating oil at any price. I purchased fancy appliances (German and American) for their reduced water consumption and electrical efficiency, and all the bulbs in my house are compact fluorescent. Why, because I think of the hole in the ozone? No, it's because I hate sending money to the utilities.
The point is, I will conserve because it is in my nature to be cheap, not because I am morally motivated. Want to see a push towards energy revolution and a reduction in greenhouse gases? Then make it so financially unpalatable to continue the status quo that normal people (people not as cheap as me) will chose efficiency. This can only be accomplished by a heavy tax on all fossil fuels. I think we'd be amazed at the results. We would reinvent our infrastructure based on demand and the market would respond. We could tell OPEC where to stuff their useless crude. We could do our part as the primary energy consumers of the planet to curtail the emission of greenhouse gases.
For the sake of our children, I hope that we soon see leaders in Washington with the testicular fortitude (no matter their gender) to provide acute energy vision and leadership. When a libertarian miser like me starts calling for new taxes, you know the situation must be dire!

Friday, March 03, 2006

Saab Press Clippings
Just a few recent articles on our beloved brand. With all the negativity surrounding GM these days, it is nice to see some quality articles trumpeting the positives at Saab.

Recent Boston Globe article on the 9-7X.

Recent Boston Globe article on the 9-3 Sport Sedan.
Hint: after you read this, then read Pierre's posting (see below) on his review of the Review.

Great images of the new Saab Aero X Concept Car.

Review of the 9-7X versus the Volvo XC90.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Royal Ford: Give Credit, and Blame where it is due
In his review, "So close to being a fine car" By Royal Ford on February 11, 2006 in the Boston Globe, Ford gives a fairly reasoned appraisal of the 9-3 Sport Sedan. I like this car a lot, but have gripes about it, too, as did Mr. Ford. Mr. Ford stated: "But GM, you need to go the next step. Build this car with the interior quality of, say, a Volvo (or Kia or Hyundai) -- the entire interior. If you don't want to do that, then let somebody else buy Saab so it can be returned to the cutting edge." Thus he insinuates that some of the crummy interior materials are there because of GM. Is it his contention that nobody in Trollhattan had anything to do with interior? That interior was designed by Michael Mauer's team, not some good ol' boys from Detroit. The interior is sub-par for the car, but that is not a GM problem. How about the Saabs of old and their interiors? Mr. Ford views Saab's past through rose colored glasses. The interior of a classic 900 is filled with bits and pieces that looked like they were spec'd from an army surplus manual. There is nothing cohesive about the mix of parts and materials in those old cars. It is pure funk.

Mr. Ford also failed to point out the really good stuff GM has given Saab as exemplified in the 9-3. How about the terrific engines? Both are heavily modified for Saab use but are derived from GM global products. So is the fine chassis. We also can't forget gadgets. Saabs have always had them, and boy were they a pain! Cruise control, climate control, security systems and more are so much more reliable now than in the good old days. Is there a Classic 900 that didn't have a failed heater valve, broken cruise control (perpetually), window switches that failed, ignition switches that bound or froze, and ball joints that didn't disintegrate in 30,000 miles? Still, we loved those cars. And despite its foibles, we can love the Sport Sedan, albeit for different reasons.

Basta Mr. Ford! The past wasn't so perfect. The present isn't far from it.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

SAAB's Future
Just got back from an industry convention - NADA, or the National Automobile Dealers Association - and I wanted to pass along some news on Saab and its future. You all have probably heard the rumblings about GM's commitment to Saab - especially new Board of Directors' member Jerry York's opinion that GM should get rid of the Saab brand - and whether Saab will be jettisoned or closed down. Well I am glad to report that Saab and GM management confronted this issue head-on this past weekend.
Jay Spenchian - Saab's General Manager - as well as the CEO, Director of Sales and Director of Marketing of GM, all made firm and unequivocal statements that Saab is an important part of GM and its future. But beyond the words, if you sat in at the official Saab Franchise Meeting, there was an energy and a positive vibe that was quite encouraging.
With new models like the 9-3 SportCombi, the 9-7X SUV and the redesigned 9-5, some great concepts in the works, a successful new ad campaign and message, and increasing support from GM, the message was upbeat. We also were happy to see and hear from Bob Sinclair - the legendary former president of Saab - who had some kind words to say about Jay and the future promise of Saab. In total, it was great to see the energy and commitment behind the Saab brand.