Saab 9-5: Uphill Road to a New Market

June 22nd, 2011

Saab 9-5 Aero

Many people seem to dislike Saabs and could care less what happens to the company. Indeed, the abrupt risings and fallings of the company’s fortunes are like a bad soap opera. We have reported on some of these, but Saab is still breathing and seems to have produced a very nice car in the 2011 9-5.

A more positive version of the story, with comments by Victor Muller (Saab’s new owner) and a review of the 9-5 first driven last year and now suitably upgraded, is here. And yet, production still seems to be a stop-and-start affair, at least as of two days ago. Even though Saab has gotten some Chinese financing, it still has problems with suppliers.

Though things aren’t looking too rosy for the company, the car is winning plaudits and awards. The 9-5 earned the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) top award for crashworthiness. No comment.

The 2011 9-5 Aero has also gotten good reviews, too. It has a different look, feel, character and driving performance than its competition (e.g., BMW, Infiniti and Audi), two decent engine choices including a zippy 4-cylinder and Saab’s unique Haldex all-wheel drive (with the V6).

2011 Saab 9-5 rear seatIt’s a big car, with plenty of backseat room inside, great seats, and good riding qualities, and it’s still “nimble-feeling.” The downside of the car is really its price, which is probably $5-10,000 too high. The base car is $39,350, but the fully loaded Aero that MotorAuthority drove came in at about $57,000, which of course is 535i territory.

A few reviewers commented that it was a shame that such a good car, finally coming to market after some 13 years of stop-and-go development, will now have to struggle with a still-sick company, a “very shaky dealer network” and a dumb pricing strategy.

For Saab to become viable again, it will need a core group of committed owners, as existed before. The only way to market this car now—assuming Saab’s labor, financing, production and dealer problems get solved—is by making an exceptional lease offer (and a special cash incentive), appealing to those luxury buyers who really want something different.

I’m guessing that there are sufficient numbers out there who are tired of the Lexus-Audi-BMW choices and would be happy to try a different style of luxury sport sedan.

Saab cars are not as quirky as they once were, yet they’re still “different.” Do you agree?

—jgoods

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  1. June 24th, 2011 at 01:07 | #1

    How quirky is a Vauxhall Vectra not at all and so far Saab hasnt actually built anything not out of the usual parts bin. Saab is overpriced for what it is and was never a luxury car till GM priced it as one It was allways an oddball thing with a Transit van motor not a high priced performance car.

  2. Randy
    June 22nd, 2011 at 17:46 | #2

    Aside from trying to come out from under GM’s bankruptcy cast-off cloud, Saab really needs to distance itself from the former parent and show that it’s products aren’t warmed over Buicks or Opels. Price will be the other issue, because I can’t see a potential customer compating Saab’s lackluster styling and performance with similar priced competitors. Most people buying in that price range also consider resale value (or consider it automatically when a lease price is based on cost minus resale) and right now I can’t see a company that has one foot in the grave as being a good resale prospect.

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