The US Auto Industry

My love affair with Saabs began when I was a little kid. When I was in 5th grade, a Vietnamese friend of mine got driven to our magnet school from across town in this hideously ugly grasshopper looking burgundy car. From the outside it was ugly. Inside, it was leathery, cushy, soft, and it went FAST. The ignition was between the seats–how cool! This was an old school Saab 900.

When I was in high school my first serious girlfriend’s dad was an air force pilot who flew F-4s. While stationed in Europe, he had bought himself a true pilot’s car, the Saab 9000. It had a real cockpit feel and jet like acceleration, true to Saab’s (which stands for Swedish Aeroplane Corporation) aviation heritage.

A buddy of mine in college (wink) had parents who were Saab people. That exposure to the newer models sold me. When I went to law school, I promised myself I would buy one when I could. For graduation, my wife bought me a 2000 9-3 with low mileage on it and no features–just the stock model.

That car was cursed with some bad luck, but it wasn’t the car’s fault. It was an excellent ride. I got my first personalized plates for it–HONU ELE, Hawaiian for “black turtle” (close enough), which is what I thought it looked like. I loved it.

Then I started earning some money and I replaced it with a shiny new 2005 Saab 9-3 with almost all of the features.

It sucked.

You see, between 2000 and 2005 Saabs stopped being made mostly in Trollhattan, Sweden. GM bought Saab and consolidated some operations with their Opel factory in Germany.

Now, I’m not anti-GM. I’ve had GM cars since I started driving. I put 270,000 miles on my 1994 Saturn, drove it all over the country and made it through Chicago winters, Colorado snow storms and Hawaiian corrossion with it. I had a GMC Sonoma pickup that was super. Then I got this Saab. Gone was the hatchback. Gone was almost every Saabish feature except for the ignition between the seats.

It was an OK car, but I sure felt like I was getting a generic one.

So yesterday, I traded it in after only 10 months for a VW Passat. (I could write a whole post on how VW needs to retrain their dealerships if they want to compete with luxury brands–too many ‘no’s and too many things were my problem for a car that expensive…) VW still has the Saab spirit of impressive gizmos and “why didn’ they think of that before” features.

I haven’t seen a post-Ford Volvo or Jaguar, but I can only imagine. Ford is running the most unauthentic marketing campaign I’ve ever seen: Ford. Bold. Right. Fords are for generic people who live in generic suburbs who have generic jobs. Henry Ford even wanted it thus. They are a middle-American car, not an adrenaline/testosterone fix. Even the Mustang is something out of a John Mellancamp song, not a thumping techno or thrash metal tune.

Chrystler has also turned Mercedes generic according to many. Their Dodge brand which sells straight to the no-brain all balls NASCAR crowd is doing nothing but chruning out gas guzzling art deco plastic mobiles. . .

All of this goes against the times. Modern business focuses on niche. There are 10 kinds of Coke. There are hundreds of TV channels. You can stump a supercomputer calculating all of the permutations of a Starbucks order.

For better or worse (worse methinks) America expresses itself through its cars. I am a left coast doctorate-having liberal latte drinking macintosh user. The car for me used to be a Saab. If I was a red state construction working coors light swilling trailer park dweller, I would want a Dodge ram. I’m not. People want choices here.

So, what gives? I don’t know. They used to say what’s good for GM is good for America. If this is GM, America is fucked.