The future heritage of Saab
Lou Ann Hammond, Thu, 2 Feb 2006 08:00:00 PDT
Whoever controls the image and information of the past determines what and how future generations will think; whoever controls the information and images of the present determines how those same people will view the past. George Orwell, 1984
There are reasons companies merge with another company that are larger than they are, usually due to finances. Some companies even sell out and allow themselves to become something other than what they were.
Take for example the Reynolds Plantation in Greensboro, Georgia, near Lake Oconee in Greene County. Greene Country was named after the revolutionary war hero General Nathaniel Greene. Reynolds Plantation used to be a plantation that, according to history, was known as "Cracker's Neck". Cracker's Neck sounds like it could be a more sordid part of the South's history, but according to a website devoted to the history of the confederate army, "the origin of the name is reported to date to the time when tobacco was the main cash crop. The tobacco was packed in large hogsheads and rolled, using oxen, to Augusta for market. Rawhide whips with long crackers were used by the drivers." The plantation's hands changed over the years till finally the wealthy hands of the Ritz-Carlton received the 10,000 acres. It is now one of the five most visited Ritz-Carltons in the world.
I say this because, as everyone knows, Saab has a distinct history. Most people think that Saab, started in 1937, was the first Swedish military aircraft company Svenska Aeroplan AktieBolaget (SAAB). In fact, the first full-scale aircraft factory was started in 1914 by Enoch Leonard Thulin, an aeronautical engineer. Unfortunately, Thulin died in one of his creations and there were no buyers. According to the Saab-Scania book, Svenska Aero AB was established in 1921 by a group of German aircraft manufacturers. Under the terms of the treaty of Versailles Germans were forbidden to produce airplanes in Germany. That company collapsed in 1935. It was not until 1937 that the Svenska Aeroplan AB that we know today was formed and registered its offices in Trollhattan, Sweden.
The 9-5 is the flagship for Sweden's Saab. According to Jan Ake Jonsson, Saab Ab's Managing Director, globally 25 percent of Saab's volume is the 9-5 and 50 percent in Sweden. The Saab 9-5 was first launched in 1999 and has sold more than 400,000 since then. With all the conjecture over whether Saab should be sold, could be sold, one forgets that the 9-5 has been named Safest Car in Sweden for many years and is a recommended buy by Consumer Reports. Why such high accolades for a company that Jerry York is telling General Motors to sell?
The Saab 9-5 still holds true to Saab's heritage of a 4-banger that acts like a 6-cylinder. The 9-5 sedan and wagon are powered by a turbocharged 2.3T-liter four-cylinder that generates 260 horsepower and an equal amount of torque at 258 lb.-ft. You can get a five-speed-manual transmission with overdrive as standard or an optional five-speed-automatic transmission with Sentronic that allows for manual gear selection via steering-wheel.
The models have been simplified; no more Linear, Arc or Aero. There are two body styles, a sedan and a Sport-Combi, otherwise known as a station wagon. the 9-5 SportCombi is a 4-door, 5-passenger luxury wagon. The turbo engine achieves 21-mpg in the city and 29-mpg on the highway. It's competitors are the Audi A6 and the BMW 525i.
This year's freshening of the 9-5 includes new front fenders, a new hood, fascias, projector headlights, taillamps, and trunk tailgate. According to Sean McNamara, Product Group Manager, there are more than 1,400 enhancements to the 2006 Saab 9-5 compared to the 2005 Saab 9-5. Some of the enhancements are; 17 inch wheels for better gripping, a new trunk shape, larger track width, a jewel effect on the instrument panel, changed steering wheel, standard heated rear and front seats. There is elegant styling on in the interior and a nice positioning of door grips when your driving partner starts to go a little faster than you are comfortable with.
A new audio system includes as standard, MP3-play capability, XM Satellite Radio and an in-dash six-CD changer.
Saab is known for its safety and the 9-5 includes as standard, an all-disc antilock brakes, electronic stability program (ESP), traction control, side-impact airbags for the front seats and active front head restraints.
Globally Jonsson thinks like a Saab buyer. He talks about CO2 and ethanol and world events. The global perspective, according to Jonsson, is heading towards independence from oil. " Gran Persson, the prime-minister of Sweden declared that he will personally be responsible for the taskforce that will break Sweden's dependency on oil by 2020. It was mandated that gas stations over a certain size have to have alternative fuels. There are now over 300 gas stations that carry ethanol. The first month we sold 5,000 bio-power 9-5s." Bio-power cars are flex-fuel vehicles (FFV) that take ethanol or gasoline. There are heavy incentives in Sweden to purchase FFVs; a 20 percent reduction on taxation if you buy an alternative fuel vehicle, free parking, no congestion charge. In Sweden 1 liter of gasoline costs around $1.30, while ethanol costs $1.00 a liter, a full 30 percent decrease in price to match the decrease you see in energy.
Sweden gets their ethanol from two sources; they import it from Brazil and they produce cellulose ethanol from wood in Northern Sweden. In Sweden total car sales total around 270,000. In January, 12 percent of total sales were alternative fuels, 80 percent of those vehicles were ethanol. Saab is part of the BioAlcohol Fuel Foundation (BAFF).
The enhanced Trionic 8 engine management system was developed by Saab engineers that worked closely with Brazil, where ethanol is king. The Trionic software is geared specifically for a turbocharged engine that factors in controls ignition timing, fuel injection air mass measurement and throttle setting all while accomodating the different characteristics of the fuel and air mixture requirements of ethanol.
For better or worse, there are parts of the South that are so steeped in tradition and heritage that they cannot be lost or forgotten. Then there are parts of the South that people hold dear and try fervently to hold onto; the gentrified South as it would be called. Saab parallels this line. Saab has had products that were missteps and General Motors may be too willing to bring them into the fold instead of allowing them to stand out. Saab is not a luxury vehicle, but it is a distinct vehicle with a completely different customer base. Saab will be bringing out concepts, according to Jonnson, that will show the future of Saab. The Saab 9-5 is the type of car that Saab's heritage was founded on and, with any luck, will continue to be its flagship. General Motors and Saab have the opportunity at this point in time to control the information and images of the present to determine how people will view the past.