I explained how we have 3 Saabs in our family, 2 9Ks and a 9-5, and have been a Saab owner for 23 years. I said we have two 9Ks in part because of the hatch. I said it is a key feature and that hatchback sedans are missed it in the current line-up, SportCombis aside. And Steve said, "Stay tuned." Since he can't talk about stuff like that, especially to someone he just met, but there could be a hatch coming back to Saab cars. I don't know if it is what he is referring to, but he did say there is some type of crossover model in the works that will be FWD and AWD. I suspect that's where the hatch comes in. Or maybe they realize a sedan with a hatch is a good thing. Anyway, there's hope there!
He says the coming AWD system is expected to be a big boost for Saab as it is something the brand needs to compete in the market today. It will *not* be limited to the already previewed 9-3. I would expect AWD to be available in all or most Saab models moving forward as the new ones are rolled out over the next few years. It'd make sense, not that big companies always do things that seem logical.
Also coming soon is a common integrated interface for audio, climate control, etc., across all the models. It will not (thankfully) be a system like BMW's iDrive system. It sounds like traditional Saab large buttons and some knobs will do the job. Will this be something that is Saab-unique or shared with other GM models? Don't know, but my guess is there will be some shared common features and capabilities. Execution is the proof of concept, so it's wait and see. From what he said it sounds as if they are moving in the right direction.
I noted that some long-term Saab enthusiasts get hung up on platform sharing, so we talked about that. He recognizes that some people react to this approach, but that it's a fact of life in modern auto manufacturing. We agreed that what is hung off a platform for engine, driveline, suspension, etc., is what makes a car unique. Steve is very aware that keeping Saab distinct from other GM products is important. I had the impression that doing this is a challenge in GM with its tendency to homogenize car lines, but that they are working through it. Let's hope so!
We also talked about the 9-7, and I told him upfront I was not impressed with having a Chevy wearing a Saab badge. But Steve was not defensive. He said they are selling 500-700 per month and the truck is bringing new people into the showroom, or retaining Saab owners who need a truck or a vehicle that will tow. From a corporate perspective that's probably true, and if it brings money to Saab that's a good thing.
It was great to meet Steve and spend time talking with him. I talk with senior execs enough to know they have limits on what they can say, but I also know when they are blowing smoke. Steve seems like a straight shooter and a guy who wants Saab to do well. He has been meeting with dealers, been to Sweden a couple of times, and learning about Saab and the culture it has created. What was especially impressive is that he flew in to Boston on a weekend just for a one-day local Saab event and spent time walking around and talking to Saab owners. The best execs in companies I work with (places like Xerox, Kodak, Océ, IBM) I know all do this kind of thing, and it shows in how successful their companies are.
After talking with him, I have some real hope that Steve and his team can make Saab what it needs to be to survive and still retain the "Saabness" that we all value. I'm looking forward to spending more time with him at SOC in August.
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