Thursday Snippets (w/Bailout News)

Thanks to all who wrote up their car coloUr infomation yesterday, especially to all the first-time commenters. Your contributions are most appreciated. We’re at 144 comments as I write this and many of them feature more than one car, so we’ve got a good basis for results.

If you haven’t added your car’s coloUr to the list, then please feel free to do so at the link above.

I’ll be tallying the results in the next few days and will present them soon. I’ll see if I can get some production coloUr information from Saab as well.

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Legislators and news outlets thought that there might be a vote today on the bill to allow loans to be paid out to GM and Chrysler.

There are some pretty stout provisions in the legislation, but it seems that a number of US politicians are still hesitant to end their best chance in ages to be in front of the camera commit to the bill and to the industry. From the Detroit News:

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, urged President Bush to try to convince more Republicans to support the auto loan package and that the prospects for quick action in the Senate have grown dim.

“It has gotten very tough in the Senate in the last several hours. The optimism I had 24 hours (ago) has been tempered at this point,” she said. “This president and the Republicans in the Congress have got to decide if they are truly willing to pay Russian roulette with the lives of 3 million Americans and the economy. I hope that more rational heads will prevail.”

The reaction is a big setback for automakers and means supporters may have to go back to the drawing board to grant a federal auto czar more powers. Two supporters of the auto bill, Sens. Kit Bond, R-Mo., and George Voinovich, R-Ohio, said they will be seeking new changes.

“If there are changes needed, we will work with the leadership,” Bond said. “There needs to be a strong hammer and nails” to ensure they make changes. Voinovich said the bill was to give automakers “some oxygen while the patient puts a plan in place so they can stay alive.”

A number of Republicans are even proposing an alternate bill, which will see the government act as insurers for 50% of any amounts forthcoming from private investors to the embattled companies.

My thoughts, FWIW: these guys – all of them – seem to be doing a lot of talking and wielding a lot of big sticks. Meanwhile, the companies are dying. Literally. If they can’t pass a vote this week then a Christmas break will loom closer and closer. Somebody there needs the authority to make a decision.

UPDATE: The US House of Reps has passed the bill today, but the bill still has to go through the US Senate, which is where the tough guys are.

Sixty of 100 senators must agree to end debates on controversial measures. Democrats have a 50-49 advantage, including the two independents who side with them.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he wanted to vote quickly, but opponents could delay final action from occurring until Saturday or Sunday.

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With that bailout legislation in mind, there’s a piece over at CNN Money that actually offers some level headed advice for the Car Czar, whoever they might be.

Full text at CNN Money, but here’s the bullet points:

1) Don’t ban the auto executives from their corporate jets.
2) Remember that developing a new car is like a pregnancy
3) Don’t expect the automakers alone to wean America from its gas-guzzling habits
4) Never forget that you can’t force consumers to buy cars they don’t want
5) Inflict equal pain on everyone
6) Don’t be too hard on the automakers

It really is worth a read.

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Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson drives the Ford Fiesta.

Is this the best road test ever???

TurboNines dreaming of a rebirthed Saab Viggen

Thanks to all the people who sent in a reference to the Autoblog coverage of the question “Would reviving the Viggen help or hurt Saab? Whilst Autoblog were doing the asking, their question was based on some hardcore photoshopping and pontificating over at TurboNines.

T9s consider what options might be available for Saab to jazz up the range a little and consider that a revival of the Viggen badge and the infusion of some Hirsch techonology might be the key to doing this in an inexpensive way.

Personally, I’m divided over a potential re-birth of the Viggen badge. I owned one. I loved it and still do today. But I also know that the press would fill their stories with references to negative vehicle attributes that are purely historical and would be irrelevant in a modern XWD-equipped Viggen. Simply put, I’d love to see the badge again if you could guarantee that it didn’t come with the baggage.

As for Hirsch, I’ve been lobbying for greater access to Hirsch parts in the USA and Australia for around three years now (here’s a biggie from earlier this year). Unfortunately, the arrangement with Hirsch doesn’t make it a fait accompli that it’s offered in all markets. The Saab organisation in each country needs to have Hirsch parts tested and approved prior to offering them in their jurisdiction because Hirsch equipped Saabs are still covered by the factory warranty.

Saab Australia have already done that homologation style work, around four years or so ago, yet they’ve delayed bringing Hirsch parts to Australia due to the small scale of our market. Earlier this year, we received intel to the effect that Hirsch would become available around mid 2009, however.

In the US, I’m sad to say that I’m not sure the top levels of SaabUSA are really aware of what Hirsch do. When I spoke with Steve Shannon about it last year he kept referring to “cold air induction kits”. To be fair, he had a general knowledge, but he also had a lot on his plate and getting across the finer details of a small scale tuner that might appeal to a minority of your already-small customer base wasn’t a task that was high on his list. Bottom line: Hirsch aren’t on SaabUSA’s radar, however right or wrong that might be.

The TS verdict: it’s an entertaining and very worthwhile read. If T9s position were possible then as a Viggen enthusiast I’d love it. I still tend to think, though, that Saab Performance by Hirsch might be the hi-po way of the future for Saab. If Saab could get to a point where Hirsch models could regularly be shown in Saab forecourts in all countries, I think that’d be a fantastic result not only for Saab, but for the guys at hirsch in Switzerland who do all the work, too.

Read the full story, with imagery, at TurboNines.

EnG Sitting in the airport snippets

A quick gathering of material that I’m posting as I’m in the Columbus, Ohio airport. Inside: a minor 9-3 accolade, wisdom and balance on the state of the car business from a Forbes editorial and a cartoonist that speaks the truth with pictures.

It’s a dreary day in much of the Eastern United States today, and I’m seemingly in the middle of that gloom here in Columbus. At least it stopped snowing around 9 AM. I’m ready to go home.

First up, the 9-3 XWD Wagon has been named one of the 5 best wagons by Nadaguides.com. You may recall that the NADA is the National Automotive Dealers Association here in the United States. They publish quarterly car values that are considered “the” blue book for many — they are preferred over Kelley in most cases.

“When they say engineered from jets, they mean it,” said Don Christy, president and CEO of NADAguides.com. “The 2009 Saab 9-3 Aero SportCombi is a great looking wagon with a laundry list of standard equipment. In this category, this is something special.”

This is according to a press release from SaabUSA. I think that the actual review is a mixed bag, but a top 5 is a top 5.

From Forbes writer Jerry Flint comes this little editorial about the promises that the Big 2-and-a-half automakers have to make in order to get government loans and bailout treatments. I think that his thoughts are pretty realistic. I primarily agree with him about the government’s heavy-handed assumption that exotic or semi-exotic fuel efficient technologies are a must for the Big Two-and-a-half to survive. He’s right when he says:

Electric cars and plug-ins are indeed on the way, but it is a long, expensive road to get there, and to be truthful, they just might lead to nowhere. Hybrid cars already are here, but only one hybrid, the Toyota (nyse: TM – news – people ) Prius, is a real success. Several hybrid models, including Honda’s (nyse: HMC – news – people ) first Accord hybrid, were or are commercial failures.

Yes, the automotive world is changing, but for the near future–and that means the next 10 to 20 years at the very least–the internal combustion engine is still going to dominate the automobile world. It is simply unrealistic to think exotic technologies are going to take over that quickly.

Good stuff.

Finally, from Jeff Darcy, the political cartoonist (read satirist) at Andy Rupert’s hometown paper, the Cleveland Plain Dealer comes this great cartoon.

Saab vs BMW – the battle of the hatches?

All things going well with that pesky possibility-of-extinction thing, it seems like late 2009 will quite possibly see an all-new battle of the hatches.

If the inside word is to be believed and the artist’s impressions are right, then Saab could well be looking at a Saab 9-5, possibly with a hatch variant of some sort, late next year. The timing seems to no longer be in doubt. Saab officials all the way up to Carl-Peter Forster have said that Saab’s plans remain on track to show the 9-5 and start producing it in late 2009.

These are the images that are considered the best guesses so far.

new9-5ae1.jpg . new9-5ae2.jpg . new9-5ae3.jpg

AMScover 9-5x.jpg

yagobal-BryanNesbitt9-5.jpg

Auto Motor and Sport have come across some images indicating that Saab won’t be alone in bringing a larger sized hatch to market late next year.

This, apparently, is the new 5-series BMW that AMS claim they’ll bring to market in the northern Autumn in 2009. I’m not sure if the photo’s for real (I’m assuming it’s a good photoshop job), but they have the full story in Swedish and some bigger photos here.

With thanks to Bengt P!!

What color is your Saab?

DuPont have just published their vehicle color survey results for 2008. I didn’t realise that silver had been overtaken in 2007 and the news for 2008 is that it still hasn’t regained a its place at the head of the pack.

The most popular color over all in 2008 is the combination of white and white effects (e.g. pearlescents).

White certainly looks good on this particular car:

Saab Convertible 2008

Saab Convertible 2008

DuPont have produced a number of color charts showing the results of the color surveys in different regions of the world. I’ve reproduced a few of them below.

It’s interesting that white was a winner in the US, whilst across the pond in Euope, blacks were the most popular in 2008.

America/Europe? Chalk/Cheese?

Click to enlarge.

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I was going to prepare a poll to accompany this post, but I don’t think it’d retain it’s relevance without tying it to a particular generation of cars, or perhaps the region.

So, what color is your Saab?

What model, what year? And what region are you in.

If we get enough responses I might try and collate them into some meaningful information.

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1994 Saab 9000 – green
1985 Saab 900 – silver

Australia. Bewdy mate!

Don’t call it a bailout Snippets from AutoNews.com

Automotive News have a couple of important articles in virtual print today. Subscription required to read the full thing, but the best bits are below.

I gues the most important one is this one:

The White House and congressional Democrats on Tuesday night reached an agreement in principle on a $15 billion proposal for bailing out U.S. automakers and forcing them to restructure or fail, officials said.

Now I know that that sounds a lot like the news we heard the other day, but it is different. At last telling, the legislation was being drafted and the finer points were still up for argument. This is an agreement that can be voted on this week.

Democrats have arranged to have the House of Representatives vote on a bill as early as Wednesday and send it to the Senate for consideration.

Stability being the mother of survival, this is good news.

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That was the important one.

This one’s the interesting one.

Richard Johnson is the Managing Editor of Automotive News, which means he probably spends his work day looking over the writing that other people do. Today, he wrote a few paragraphs about Saab and Volvo, and it really makes you appreciate that there’s still a fair bit of goodwill out there for Saab.

Here’s some excerpts.

Sunday morning, I sat down in a TV studio in suburban Detroit and stared into a camera lens that, in my mind at least, represented the entire Swedish population.

The program was “Agenda,” a kind of Swedish “Meet the Press.” The nation’s prime minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt, was also a guest, listening in as I took questions from “Agenda’s” Karin Hubinette…..

…..Hubinette got to her main point.

“Will a bailout of the Detroit 3 save Swedish jobs?”

As she asked the question, a poignancy in Hubinette’s voice registered over the satellite hookup. Just like us Americans, the Swedes are worried…..

…..Saab and Volvo have been poorly served by their American owners. At its peak in 1987, two years before GM took control, Saab sold nearly 50,000 cars in the United States. Last year it sold 32,711…..

….The two companies have given more to their owners then they’ve gotten in return. Volvo’s well-engineered platform architectures have been put to good use by Ford. Both companies have been a source of fresh talent.

Saab delivered Bo Andersson to GM. Andersson is a product of Sweden’s armed forces, and his militarylike cost-cutting regimen as head of global purchasing is one reason GM has held on as long as it has.

GM’s troubles with Saab might be traced back to the January 1990 press conference at which the American company was introduced as Saab’s 50 percent shareholder. David Herman, an American GM executive installed as CEO, was stumped when a Swedish journalist asked him what the Saab brand stood for.

GM, which later took 100 percent control, never did figure that out. Maybe the Swedes wouldn’t have known what to do with the quirky brand either, but they had done pretty well until then…..

….Truth be told, I’d like to see Saab and Volvo once again become smart, independent Swedish companies, finding their way in a world of giants as they had done for so long. After two decades of consolidation and brand-hoarding in the auto industry, there is still scant evidence that size matters all that much.

There could be a fair bit of truth in that last sentence. Companies need to be big enough to do the necessary R&D, but sheer size doesn’t guarantee that you’re insured against a downturn.

Brains and preparedness go a long way towards that end.

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Thanks Turbin!

Saab and Volvo merger: engineers want it

This story’s hitting the Swedish press all over the place today. I’ve had two emails about it already.

Here’s the full story as printed at The Local:

Representatives for thousands of engineers at Saab Automobile and Volvo Cars have proposed that the only way to save Sweden’s auto industry is to merge both companies into one single car manufacturer.

Saab and Volvo still have “complete development organizations” which can conceive, manufacture, and sell cars on the global market, write Magnus Sundemo and Håkan Danielsson in an article in the Svenska Dagbladet (SvD) newspaper.

Sundemo and Danielsson both hold leadership positions within chapters of the Swedish Association of Graduate Engineers (Sveriges Ingenjörer) at Volvo and Saab, respectively.

They claim that together, the companies have sufficient “scale for basically all components which go into determining a competitive manufacturing price”.

At the same time Sundemo and Danielsson reject the scale advantages promised by Saab’s and Volvo’s large foreign owners. According to the two, the potential gains were grossly exaggerated.

Sundemo and Danielsson instead suggest a common development organization for the entire Swedish vehicle industry – an organization which can protect against the loss of industrial competence, they hope.

They add that there are already a model programmes on the drawing board which Volvo and Saab could begin to manufacture relatively quickly.

“The search for a future owner must be directed toward a solution by which industrial know-how and capital generated in the Nordic region and where both brands are retained in a new, common company,” write Sundemo and Danielsson, adding they envisage several owners for such a company.

Thanks Trued and ctm!!!

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My first quick attempt at a logo sketch:

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My 2 cents:

Like Sweden, Australia had two major players in the car market when I was growing up. Until the Corolla made an impression, it was only holden and Ford that mattered. In terms of emotion, it still is only Holden and Ford that matter to your average Aussie.

I can’t imagnie Holden and Ford merging, for obvious reasons. Similarly, though, the possibility of a Volvo and Saab merger has never seemed like a realistic possibility to me. But then again, if your survival’s at stake…..

I’ve long lampooned Volvo at this site and I know from hearing some old war stories from the Swedes that there is a friendly and very natural rivalry there. But underneath, who amongst we Saabnuts doesn’t envy Volvo’s full range. Who wouldn’t love a Saab equivalent of a C30 – one with a useable load space, for example?

The thing that impresses me the most about this article is hearing a Saab (and Volvo) staffer speaking his mind.

Saab have been let down by their corporate parent.

It is wrong that Saab’s existence is threatened whilst several soul-less brands will carry on producing the automotive equivalent of white goods. I’m sure some smarmy mainstream GM fanboy will say “that’s the price you pay for being small” but screw that.

Trued translated a few sentences from the original article in Swedish that weren’t included in the edited translation at The Local:

The last years have been frustrating, We have seen how advanced technical solutions have been stopped and shipped away and has not come to use to meet the demands from consumers and government…..

….The SAAB 9-3 can with simple means get a drastic reducement of fuel thirst…..Knowledge from aircraft industry gives us possibilites to use carbonfibre composites in combination with high strengt swedish steel. enabeling safe and light cars.

Based on these quotes and the goodwill that seems to have been in the room, I hope the powers that be are exploring every possibility here.

Saab Museum Virtual Tour

The Saab Museum in Trollhattan, Sweden, is a must-see for all Saab nuts. There’s so much history there and the people running the place are locals who eat, sleep, live and breathe Saab. The museum’s diretor, Peter Backstrom, has forgotten more about Saab than most of us will ever know.

No-one’s knows if there’s going to be a full-on Saab Festival in 2009, but I hope a lot of you have some holiday time marked down for June and just roll up anyway. I’ve got my eye on it already.

The Saab Museum was the hub of activities during the 2007 Saab Festival and walking around in there for those few days was an absolute treat.

I received an email from a guy named Marek, who I’m assuming works for or owns a company called Vistrad, who produce some of those fantastic virtual tours and scrolling photography that you see online from time to time.

Marek must also be a Saab fan, as he’s made up this panoramic virtual tour of the Saab Museum based on photos he took there in November 2008. He says it’s his gift to Saab fans, something for which we should all be thankful :-)

This is like one of those 360 degree views, but instead of a small space like a room or a car interior, it’s the wide clean spaces inside the Saab Museum.

Here’s a few screenshots. Click here to visit the Saab Museum Virtual Tour.

And thanks, Marek!!!!

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Related content: my own tour film from the Saab Museum. June 2007.