Tuesday, June 29, 2010

End of an Era

I have worked with Saab for almost all of my adult life. That’s a rare thing these days, to stay with one company. So is living in one place for a long time, which I also did, until last week when we sold our home on High Street in Ipswich, Massachusetts. We moved to Ipswich just after our first son was born in 1988, and for my wife it was a coming home, for she had grown up there. In 2007 we abandoned the remote and quiet Labor in Vain Road and settled into a town-house built out of a Victorian home in the heart of the “historic district.” Built in 1900, ours was the new house on the street, with most of the other homes dating from the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.

Long before we moved there I had always noted a number of Saabs in the driveways up and down High Street. The density was quite astonishing. Then we moved in, and it went off the charts. Not only were there my 900’s and my wife’s 9000 aero (later her 9-5), but each of the older sons had a car. Then all three sons went in on a 1985 SPG racecar project, but that had to move off-site to Ipswich Outboard, where son Pascal works during the summer. Still, with the townhouse affording only two parking places, lots of Saabs ended up parked on the street in front of our house.

Lots became lots more. As friends and co-workers of ours, and our boys (especially) came to appreciate Saabs from knowing us, they started to own them. AndrĂ© started dating Muriel, who drives a Sport Sedan, her dad drives a 2005 convertible and brother a 2002 9-3. Have to work on her Volvo-driving mom! Then there was Kevin, Zach, Alex, Kevin’s dad, Ed, Henry, other Ed, Paul, Yvonne, Dan and probably others I’m forgetting who would come by our place and park their Saabs. High Street is a well travelled thoroughfare, and on one day where there were a few friends over, our driveway and the street were packed with Saabs. We were in the backyard doing something not at all Saab related. A gentleman came down the driveway on his bicycle and stopped, asking if there was a Saab club meeting going on!

It used to be easy telling people where we lived. “Oh, the house with all the Saabs.” Then there were the Saab spectacles. One year the boys wanted to decorate the front door of the house but the scrooges in the condo association said no. Not to be denied, Pascal and Andre mounted a 1970s Thule roof load carrier on his 1992 900S rally-x car, which was already festooned with rally stuff, and proceeded to decorate the roof rack. All manner of bauble and bangle was secured to the rack, it was finished off with a bedding of fake snow, and then adorned with blinking battery powered Christmas lights. It was so wonderfully tacky! He then parked the car right in front of the front door. Who knew that a Saab could be that palette for an act of civil disobedience?

The Saab density on High Street in Ipswich, while still strong, took a hit last week. We’ll see how things go when we get into our new digs next month. What will the folks think of their new neighbors with all the Saabs?!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Shuttle Shuffle Part Two

Back from its gift-wrapping, our 2010 9-3X courtesy shuttle awaits only a registration transfer to be pressed into service. Going from our 9-7X to this car is emblematic of where Saab has moved in the past few years. The 9-7X was all GM and looked back…the 9-3X looks ahead and is the current embodiment of the new Saab. Adieu 9-7X….

With a dearth of Saab advertising, we are really hoping, in the least subtle way possible, to get some exposure for this car. It has been suggested that with a few sponsorship decals and some more aggressive wheels and tires it might be a candidate for participation in a rally. I should be careful….I’m giving myself ideas here. Until then, the 9-3X will be our trusty steed, ferrying our clients in comfort and safety.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Italian Connection

Last week Saab announced the appointment of Jason Castriota as Design Director at Saab, and apparently his first duty will be the design of the 2012 9-3. I'm not sure about this. Part of me is so eager to see new thinking coming out of Trollhattan that a young designer who learned his craft in Turin penning Ferrari/Maserati supercars would seem to be a fantastic choice. I guess, though, that I really wanted to see that new thinking literally coming out of Trollhattan. Can a guy who grew up in Greenwich, went to Emerson College in Boston, moved to Turin and studied there, be a great designer? Sure! But can that background give us a modern Saab? Not so sure....

However, I very much liked the work of Michael Mauer, and he was no more a Scandinavian than I am. Perhaps this will work, perhaps not. Time will tell. I would have almost preferred a Scandinavian from outside the automotive realm. All that said, I don't get to chose and we must wish Jason well and hope for the very best to come out of his studio, because the 2012 9-3 really will be the bell-weather for the future of the new Saab.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Diesel, Anyone?
I was reading some comments made by a reader of SaabsUnited this morning and he disparaged "stinking euro-diesels" and said we didn't need them here, and I assume that "here" means the US since Saab diesels seem to be available everywhere but the US. I had to respond.

I've been a diesel fan for a long time. It must be a Yankee thing. I love the idea of getting something for nothing. Who wouldn't want a 44% increase in fuel economy? More significantly, you could drive a real, safe, substantial car like the Saab 9-5 and get better mileage than a Mini Cooper, and on the highway you could likely best most hybrids. I've met a number of people who have rented Saab diesels in Europe and to a person they were all enamored with them. If you haven't tried a modern diesel, the next time you are in Europe, request one for your rental car. Not only will you be treated to a much cheaper trip at the filling station, but you will find the diesel experience seamless and virtually invisible, save the first minute of running after a cold start when there is a touch of diesel clatter.

If efficiency and frugality aren't reasons enough, consider what is happening with diesels and motor sport. Who vies to win the 24 Heures Du Mans? Audi and Peugeot! Diesel race cars! I give credit to Audi, too, for introducing diesel engines into their performance street cars because they can deliver what Saab turbo drivers have always craved. Torque. Lots and lots of torque.

I had hoped that Saab could leap-frog the competition, rather than trying to catch it, by developing a turbo-diesel regenerative hybrid. Too late, Honda apparently has this on the drawing board. I don't know if we will ever see a Saab diesel in the US given that the cost to certify the engine is so high, and to amortize that cost over a relatively few cars may be prohibitive. Then again, if gasoline heads north of $4 per gallon, it might just be the ticket.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

News Flash
Charles River Saab is thrilled to announce our very special guest for Swedish Car Day 2010. While we've been graced with terrific guests from Saab in the past, including past Saab presidents Jay Spenchian and Steve Shannon, technical gurus John Moss and Peter Maitland. This year, we have the extreme privilege of welcoming, all the way from Tasmania, Steven Wade of SaabsUnited.com . If you've never visited SaabsUnited, take the time to check it out. Steven was way out in front last year as we tracked the repeated deaths and resurrections of Saab. His "deep-throats" were so reliable, that even employees of Saab kept track on his site. for more information on Swedish car Day XI see our facebook page.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

New 9-5, take one

On June 8, 2010 I attended the first training session on the forthcoming 2010 9-5. I had seen the car in person at the NE Autoshow last fall, but this was the first time I was able to crawl around the car and play with it. Alas, these were European models and not available for test drives. Still, we gleaned a fair amount about the car.

As has been thoroughly reported elsewhere, the 2010 9-5 will be available in one iteration: Aero, 2.8l V-6, 6-speed AT, XWD....The price tag, for a Saab guy, seems steep at $50,000-$57,000. However, the front wheel drive, 2.0l variant will arrive with a base price below $40,000, so the overall price structure of the car seems appropriate vis-a-vis the competition. The car does have a lot of presence, though in a subdued, understated manner. The optional 19" wheels, which look very much like those from the AeroX concept, are stunning. The nose of the car is a bit bland, but with the advent of European pedestrian crash safety requirements, many cars will have similar bulbous noses in the future. The rear fascia is striking. The lighting is cool without being gratuitous. The flank of the car is rather dull; the shape, overall, is too--dare I say it--Camry. The hockey-stick trim on the rear windows are a poor attempt, in my opinion, to recreate a theme. If you want to emulate the shape of the c-pillar in the 99/900, then do it. Otherwise, and including the "Nesbit Notch" (a name as yet to be explained to me) in the front lower fender, the side view leaves me wanting.

The interior is lovely. The Aero seats seem quite good. The dash has some personality and retains functionality. The overall interior effect is handsome. Some of the elements seem of decidedly better substance and quality than we found before in the 9-5. The shifter and console area come to mind. No more whiz-bang but too-delicate cup holder in the dash. A more sensible arrangement is tucked into the center console. Three-zone climate control is now available, as is a rear seat entertainment package with screens in the front seat-backs......you see, you start with cupholders, and one day you wake up and there are DVD players in a Saab. The rear seat itself is thankfully large again, close in size to what we had in the 9000 and much more generous than in the current 9-5. The trunk is large, still has a wood floor, and has an optional U-track organization gizmo. An expandable aluminum fence is affixed to sliding mounts in the track, and the fence can be moved around to achieve the desired segmenting of the trunk, presumably to keeps parcels or grocery bags from rolling around. There is no spare tire or jack, just a can of flat-fix and a phone number for road-side assistance. We were told that a spare tire package would be offered as an accessory.

The available electronics were overwhelming. Nothing is new to the industry, I think. First, keys are now gone for good, with a remote fob which can stay in your pocket, and an on-off switch on the console to ignite the engine. Even the parking brake has become an electric switch on the console. There is adaptable and programmable DriveSense feature, which will tune the engine, steering and suspension to either comfort, sport or adaptive modes, or, it will allow you to personalize the mix of settings and save this to the remote fob you keep in your pocket or gain entry into the car. This way, every driver of the car can have their own settings stored. Do customers really want to make these sorts of adjustments? I'm not sure. The Head-Up display seemed a bit gimmicky to me, but I'd need to try it on real roads to say for certain. The multi-mode headlamps seem like fabulous. A mix of xenon and halogen lamps, they cast different light patterns based on speed and weather: short throw with coverage across both lanes and shoulders at low speed, at mid-range the beam goes further out further (only in your own lane) and the lighting to the side drops, at high speeds the lamp focus is far and narrow, and when the wipers are on, there is a rain mode, which I can't recall at the moment. All that, and they turn, too as do the current xenon lamps.

We didn't sample the audio system, but were pleased to see that it includes 10 gigs of hard drive space for downloading music, with the rest of the hard-drive reserved for the navigation system: no more DVD required. There is an input for usb for downloads, plus a plug for an iPod.

While the V6 will essentially be a carry-over from the one in the 9-3, albeit with more power, the 2.0l four cylinder will feature direct injection and have 220 hp and 258 lb/ft torque. This engine should provide excellent mileage and enough oomph to be very satisfying to drive, and I've read that the manual transmission switch-gear is the best ever in a Saab. Unfortunately, we will not enjoy the availability of the twin-turbo diesel, which recent reports out of Europe rate at 42 mpg!

I'll post again when we have the car. In the mean time, do a search for road tests on this car as the press-corp is in Sweden this week for the first bonafide road tests of the car. Opinion can also be found at www.saabsunited.com .

Friday, June 04, 2010

Personally, I always liked the "State of Independence" campaign, which ran for about 40 seconds a few years ago, before some advertising guru decided that we needed the eminently forgettable and lame "Born from Jets" interlude. I thought it did a nice job of exhibiting the spirit and the uniqueness of Saab, compared against the ubiquity of automotive design these days. Take a look:

I made some T-shirts for the store this spring with the new Saab logo/slogan. I've heard there is some question as to whether Saab can continue to use the "Griffin" symbol on the logo we've come to know. Personally, I'd like to see that old logo go away and a new one enter to mark the new beginning at Saab. The Griffin, with Saab/Scania in its periphery, goes back to 1985, and in the early 2000's the Scania name and rings were deleted from the logo, finally reflecting that the two companies had nothing to do with one another, and hadn't for some time.

While the new logo with the "move your mind" slogan is new in the US, it has been used in Europe for a while. When we had "Born from Jets," Europeans had "move your mind." I was never a fan of "Born from Jets." I'm not sure it's even true. While Saab went on to make jets, when WWII ended and the Saab automobile was being birthed, I'm pretty sure the Saab planes had propellers. "Born from Props," though, isn't too sexy. "We Don't Make Compromises. We Make Saabs" was pretty good back in the 1980's, but it doesn't exactly roll off your tongue. To me the best slogan is "Ultimate Driving Machine." It is timeless. It's reasonably accurate. It's decidedly arrogant, which makes it perfect for BMW. Everyone knows it, too.

So are we to live with "move your mind" ? Unless someone comes up with something newer and better, I would suggest we go back just a bit and resurrect "Find Your Own Road." It's catchy, has a nice double-entendre, and goes to the aspiration of uniqueness that Saab and its owners have always strived for. If you don't remember this marketing, it ran for several years in the mid 1990's. The accompanying advertising was done in artsy-cartoon form, which was not universally admired. I liked it, but the only thing I'd like to take away is the slogan itself. For me, it just plain works. Here's a TV spot featuring Find Your Own Road.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

We are within weeks of the official arrival of the new 9-5. This car has been so anticipated yet so delayed by the events of the past year that at times it seems as if it is only a myth or legend. Still, we have seen the car at the NE Autoshow when I made a point of attending out of the real concern that that it might be the only time I'd ever get to see the 9-5 that we had been hearing so much about. All of those concerns are behind us, and in a slow trickle we've been getting information on the 9-5 to whet our appetites. That will ramp up next week when I get to attend our first training sessions on the new car. We will have two service advisors and three technicians also take part in this first round of training. My biggest hope is that there is an opportunity to drive the 9-5.

Generally, I am underwhelmed by specifications. You can pass me all the documentation you want about a car, but until I know what it is like to drive, I cannot render an opinion about a it. that said, there has been much written about the car, a vast majority of which is positive. I just read a review in the British publication AutoExpress, and they were impressed and thought it was the best Saab they had ever driven. They tested the twin-turbo diesel version, and reported 53 imperial miles per gallon in mixed driving. My math tells me that's 42 US mpg. Can you imagine the hay we could make offering a large car that got that kind of mileage?
This ad for the 2010 9-5 appeared on YouTube. Like many of the European Saab ads in recent months, I think it captures the essence and aesthetic of Saab very nicely.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Saab = Safety
There has been a lot of conversation about the new Saab and what attributes Saab enthusiasts want to see (back) in the Saab product line. Hatchbacks, turbos, ignition switches between the seats, etcetera have been championed in various forums. As much as I have enjoyed all those attributes (my daily driver is a hatchback, turbo, with the ignition between the seats…), to me, the one non-negotiable trait that I would demand from the new Saab is safety. Saab never branded safety as, say, Volvo, or even Mercedes-Benz. Yet, when one looks at the rich history of innovation from Saab, plus their willingness to forgo patent protection of many of their safety innovations so that the entire automotive community could share their advances, there is no doubt about Saab being a serious pioneer in this field.

My first Saab, a 1984 900T, was purchased to keep my kids safe. Until I had kids, automotive safety was barely a consideration when purchasing a car. Now, it remains one of my utmost priorities. Thus I was very happy to find this video of the offset crash test of the new 9-5. Having suffered an offset crash myself (at the hands of a dope in a Toyota 4-Runner on bald tires who hit black ice and crossed into my path), I can certainly appreciate that it is vital to see the load paths in the front of the car disintegrate as the impact is absorbed, as well as the passenger compartment cell staying intact Bravo!

See the video at
Shuttle Shuffle
Charles River Saab has long run a shuttle service for its customers. Back in the days before the notion of loaner cars existed, we had many customers taking the shuttle each day to Harvard Square where they either worked or picked up the “T” to get to other points in Cambridge or Boston. Because so many were in the shuttle at once, mini-vans were the vehicle of choice. As loaner cars started to proliferate, we needed fewer seats in our shuttle.

Last time we put a new shuttle into service was 2005 when we inducted the then-new 97X to the position. It was reasonably roomy and comfortable, and though the cognoscenti aren’t fooled by the placement of the ignition switch any style of the dash vents, it wasn’t a bad vehicle for our needs. I did have the opportunity to spend some time in a 9-7X. Those that know me understand that I would never own any SUV, Saab or otherwise. I found myself surprised in many ways, though, by the 9-7X. The tuning of the steering and suspension worked reasonably well, and in fact better than in some SUVs that weren’t built on truck chassis. Still, you’d find that the well mannered 9-7X would lose its composure unexpectedly with just the right combination of steering input, speed and certain irregular road surfaces. I’m sure the engineers at Saab who did the tuning were aware of the limitations, and if this had been a clean-slate build, they would have made more fundamental alterations to the chassis when faced with these abrupt changes in attitude. That said, the vehicle does have its fans and we have seen clients come back and buy a second one.Now, it’s time has come. The 9-7X is history, and so is our shuttle.

The new recruit, more befitting of our time and the Saab brand, is a 9-3X. Customers will be a bit more cramped, but they will be comfortable and safe as we bring them to and fro. We’ve enjoyed images of other Combis from around the world with bold graphics telling all passers-by what they are. While our 9-7X, in lingonberry red, was subdued and innocuous, we will be having graphics added to our carbon black 9-3X. We want everyone in Harvard Square to know what this great car is. And of course, where they can get theirs! Pictures to follow when the project is complete.