Friday, December 10, 2004

Observations of a Neophyte Car Salesman
I started in the automobile business selling Saabs (and Chevrolets) in 1984. Selling cars lost its charm, I tried service, and have stayed in the Saab service business for almost 20 years.
As a result of some convoluted circumstances, I am now selling Saabs again, as an exercise in moonlighting and to broaden my skills. I chuckled recently when I saw that car salesmen were tops on a survey of least trusted people. First off, I'm impressed that elected officials, Enron executives or evening news anchors didn't win. Truth to tell, I really think the entire human race has a veracity problem. Think car sales people are lying scumbags? Try buying a violin. I've known of more instrument dealers to run afoul of the law than car dealers!
But what really makes me laugh--assuming as I do that there are a lot of lying, thieving car salesmen in this world (and none of them work with me) --is that this is what the consumer wants. The reason I left sales in the first place was that I refused to lie, and it cost me business. Yet I would see bold-faced liars making promises and statements that were 100% bull....and these guys sold cars. Lots of them. People would rather hear a lie that makes them feel better than the truth that disappoints them.....but then they want to complain because they've been lied to! This explains the phenomenon of politicians, tel-evangelists, corporate CEOs, media and entertainment figures who get caught in their lies, and it costs them nothing! Nothing! And this is the populace that wants to cast aspersions at some lowly salespeople. That's just too funny.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Time to Recant
In a previous posting I ranted about cell phones, or should I say, cell phone users and abusers. In the past two months, I have had to work in both Charles River Saab and Saab of Framingham, and reluctantly, I saw the need for my customers and employees to have a means to reach me. I gave in, and got.....a cell phone. Much to the delight of my fellow employees, I have not only procured a phone....I have also embraced it and would not want to be without it. That said, I will point out that I do not make calls from my car, and will only answer the phone and speak with while wearing a headset so that I can keep both hands on the steering wheel. As much as some might delight in my saying so.....I was wrong about cell phones.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

2000,000 Miles and Counting
Last month, my fine 1988 Saab 9000T hit the 200,000 mile mark. I must admit that I missed the event. I knew it was coming, but was paying more attention, I guess, to driving than the odometer and when I checked it after taking exit 50 off of I95, the odometer read 200,001 miles. This is the third Saab that I have shephearded past the 200K threshold. Porsche, I think, used to have a mantra of "It's not how fast you go, it's how you go fast." Likewise with this car. Many cars can be driven to this mileage. How many, I wonder, do it as gracefully as this car? Even at its current age and mileage, it is a wonderfully safe, comfortable, economical and fun car to drive. It carries me 100 miles a day to Charles River Saab, tows my boat, once lugged 1000 lbs of IKEA cabinets from New Jersey, gets sandy and wet at Crane Beach all summer long, has navigated every blizzard in recent memory (someone has to get here to plow the lot!), and done it with aplomb. The leather and the paint even look great. Sure, in time some rust on the body will become visible (but there is still none on the undercarriage!)  but otherwise the old boy is still handsome, in that quirky Saab way. Never an engine or transmission problem. The steering rack, struts and shocks are all original. The clutch made it to 197,000 miles--and for the record, it broke (a finger on the pressure plate) and was not worn out.
YS3CT55....J1014892 I salute you! How long will its tenure last? I can't say, but I never have taken a car to 300,000. Maybe this time.....

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

The New 9-2X has arrived!
Whether you love or hate the idea of the 9-2X, everyone should take a good look at this car and that includes taking it for a ride. The bottom line is that it is a fine car. The size and character of this car are perfect for filling a void in the Saab line-up. All-wheel drive is a nice feature to have, and otherwise the cars are nicely equipped, especially in having a "5th" door. Some elements of the car, especially to those most intimate with the current generation of Saab products, will seem crude (in subtle ways). But the fun factor is certainly there, and the quirk factor, which has quietly disappeared to a degree from our cars, is present. I think everyone needs to give this car a legitimate look before decrying it as an unworthy bearer of a Saab emblem. Those still skeptical might least look at the 9-2X as the progenitor to some really interesting smaller Saab product yet to come. Until then, let's shelve the debate, buckle up, and have some fun!

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

What Makes the 9-2X Different from its WRX Cousin?

Last night I watched the Saab sales training walk around video on the 9-2X and a couple of things jumped out at me:

1. Suspension Changes: Saab claims stiffer bushings in the front control arms, different shock damping and a couple of other changes to improve the ride and handling. Not sure if the Scooby has the lighterweight aluminum suspension bits that they were talking about. Once the 9-2X is out, I'll want to drive a WRX to see how differently it handles. The Saab will probably be a bit heavier, due to additional sound insulation and equipment.

2. Wow, the Saab really is so much better looking than the Scooby! The "Saaby" nose is so much cleaner than the WRX, without the permanent roof load bars, it looks sleeker overall. And the interior is worlds better. I'm not sure I love the two-tone interior treatment, but it does fit the car's character.

3. Standard Saab 4 year, or 50,000 mile warranty, though no charge scheduled maintainence is only 24/24 vs 36/36 on the 9-3 and 9-5.

I'm a long time automobile and Saab enthusiast (8 Saabs in 20 years) and I'm excited about the 9-2X. I've been to the Charles River sponsored Steven's Advanced Driver Training as well as Skip Barber driver training. I love to drive, and I'm really looking forward to spending a day in early July at the Saab 9-2X "Ride & Drive" training!

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Hang Up and Drive!
I have an admitted loathing of cell phones. I do not carry one. I have had one handed to me, and I gave it back. There have been a very few instances when I had wished that I had one. But I have always managed to do without, and figure that if the rest of the planet wants to be connected 24/7, fine, but I enjoy the peace of occasionally being incommunicado.
Being a tolerant person, I don't care that everyone else seems to be talking all the time. I do care, however, when that talking interferes with my pursuit of happiness. Some times the use is merely rude and annoying: on the treadmill at the gym, in a restaurant at the table next to me, in line at the grocery store at 110 decibels. Perhaps cell phone use should be regulated like smoking. What I really can't tolerate, though, is drivers who not only speak on their phones, but are doing so without a hands-free kit. Somehow the combination of both the conversational distraction and the physical distraction of talking on a cell phone transforms drivers into hideously dangerous menaces on our roads. I was on Route 2 recently heading west just past Belmont hill. A Saab 9-5 suddenly veered from a left lane to cut across two lanes of traffic to make an exit he almost missed. No look. No turnsignal--not surprising since his cell phone was in his left hand. In the process of making this maneuver, this Saab driver almost collided with me. I had to bury the brakes to keep from getting hit. I could not swerve because of traffic in adjacent lanes. This unsafe driver never knew of the accident he nearly created. His gaze was dead ahead, and his mouth was going a mile a minute. I am sad to report that this dope is a customer at Charles River Saab (based on the emblem on the back of his car).
There is nothing inherently dangerous about a cell phone. It's only dangerous in the hands of someone using it inappropriately. Hang up and drive, or pull over and talk. Or get a hands-free kit!

Friday, March 12, 2004

Yankee Superiority (not the baseball kind)
In my last posting I went on and on about safety. After writing that diatribe, I went looking for some facts about highway fatalities. I went to the NHTSA website and found a study of highway fatalities, by state that covered 1975 to 2002. For the country as a whole, fatalities fell from 44,000 to 42,000, a 4% decline. But the drop in fatalities per 100 million miles traveled dropped a whopping 55%. Chalk that up to much better cars, and some acknowledgement of the horrors of drinking and driving.

As I looked at the state-by-state specifications, I was really shocked. The overall best results were turned in by Vermont. They experienced a 45% reduction in deaths, and an 81% reduction in deaths per 100 million miles, leaving them with .81 deaths per 100 million miles. Here’s the real shocker. Massachusetts. We were number two, and just barely. Massachusetts saw a 47% reduction in total deaths, a 69% reduction in deaths per 100 million miles, and .86 deaths per 100 million miles. That’s almost half the national average of 1.5 per 100 million. And for the record, New Hampshire was third, Connecticut and Rhode Island were tied for fourth. Maine, for some reason, was way off the mark, though slightly better than the national average.

How can this be? Aren’t we the most vicious, arrogant, obnoxious meat-headed drivers anywhere? Aren’t our roads the most miserable? And the weather alone should be responsible for plenty of traffic fatalities. How can this entire region, and Massachusetts in particular, be so far ahead of the rest of the country? Is it all the Saabs and Volvos we drive? Better enforcement of traffic laws? More stringent safety inspections? Better hospitals to save the near-dead? Fewer pickup trucks? In the absence of a better explanation, I suppose my parochial Yankee arrogance dictates that we’re just better than everyone else. Of course! To see the statistics, go to http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/pdf/nrd-30/NCSA/TSFAnn/TSF2002Final.pdf .

Thursday, February 26, 2004

AUTOMOTIVE SAFETY
Those who know me even casually are aware of my obsession with automotive safety. This was fostered in my early years with Saab, as I became keenly aware of many customers who came into our store saying that they had had an accident, and that their Saab had saved their life. My personal commitment to driving a safe car came after I had children. I could no longer justify driving a small, lightweight, zippy (fun to drive) car. I got my first Saab instead.

My interest in automotive safety was rekindled when I was introduced to Stevens Advanced Driver Training (www.skidschool.com) . Not only did attending their classes raise my skill level, but it made me painfully aware of how dangerous our roadways are. I am now a Stevens devotee and for those who don’t know, I try to organize two classes per year for my customers at Stevens, and I would encourage every driver to seek their training. I had long thought I was a really good driver, that I understood the physics of an automobile and of driving. Boy, was I wrong.

Now I am on the verge of having my eldest son join the ranks of licensed drivers. I am scared senseless. We all see the stories, daily, of traffic fatalities in this state. All too often they involve inexperienced drivers. Many times they are doing stupid things—drinking, speeding, racing. How do we keep our kids safe? Good training—my son will attend Stevens Advanced Driver Training when he completes the state mandated “driver’s ed.” Good equipment—put your kids in the safest car you can, and teach them how to use all that safety technology to keep out of accidents. Good parenting--when all else fails, have the testicular fortitude to take the keys and license away.

I love to drive (good thing since I commute 90 miles a day). I drive....enthusiastically. But I also drive safely. These are not mutually exclusive, especially in a Saab!

Friday, February 13, 2004

I think it is unfortunate that following the Super Bowl, that the Janet-Justin flap overwhelmed all the great things that transpired that night, like a really entertaining football game! After the game itself, the commercials were fodder for post game discussion, and the consensus was that this was not a banner year for Super Bowl advertising. I will put in a plug for the Chevrolet “soap” commercial: it was cute. But as a “car guy,” I was completely transfixed by the Ford GT40 ads that ran sometime prior to the game. If you missed these, and if you enjoy things automotive, please do yourself a favor and visit http://media.ford.com/newsroom/feature_display.cfm?release=16812
and play both commercials. It won’t be quite the same as seeing the ads on a big screen, with the surround sound turned way up (the sound may be the best part of the ads), but if you’ve ever found fast cars sexy, these ads will be a turn-on.

Too bad that Saab will never have a hand at a Super Bowl commercial. Then again, maybe that’s a good thing. But if they did, maybe they could remake their 1988 “Saab Ballet.” If you haven’t seen this before, take a look. This is a scream! http://carfreaks.b0nk.net/saab.asf

Friday, January 30, 2004

In thinking about the new 9-3 Sport Sedan, I recently did a comparison with my very first SAAB--a 1984 4-door, 5-speed 900 turbo (924M). Both are 4-door (with trunk) turbocharged sport sedans. When I was through with my comparison, I was amazed at the similarities, and impressed with the value of the 2004 car vs. its 1984 progenitor. For this comparison, I chose the 9-3 Linear with two options: sunroof and cold weather package. My 1984 900T had one option: cruise control. Here's how they compare (the 1984 spec will always appear first):
8-valve turbocharged 2 liter 135 hp engine / 16-valve turbocharged 2 liter 175 hp engine. 5-speed manual transmission (both). Solid front brake discs / ventilated front brake discs. Non-ABS / ABS. No TCS or stability program /standard TCS and stability program. No anti-sway bars / front and rear anti-sway bars. Solid rear axle / independent rear suspension. Manual steel sunroof / electric glass sunroof. Dealer-installed cruise control / standard cruise control. Cloth seats, automatic heaters / leather seats, adjustable seat heaters. AM/FM cassette / AM/FM CD. 15" alloy wheels with h-rated Pirelli tires: both. Fold down rear seat / split fold down rear seat. Power windows and locks: both. No alarm or remote door locks / integrated theft protection and door remote. No trip computer or information display /programmable information display and trip computer. Intermittent wipers / variable speed intermittent wipers. Electric antenna /integrated antenna. Halogen sealed beams, no washers / integrated headlamps, replaceable halogen bulbs and washers. No air bags / lots of airbags. No active head restraint / Active head restraint. Key in the floor: both. No cup holders / cupholders! No center console / center console. Three spoke steering wheel / three spoke steering wheel with an air bag and radio controls. No floor mats / standard floor mats. 12 month warranty / 48 month 50K mile warranty. Service intervals every 5000 miles / service intervals at roughly 15,000 miles. Free 1000 mile service / free 3 year 36 moth scheduled maintenance.
After 20 years, you'd expect many of the improvements I listed. What really surprised me, though, is the pricing on these cars. The 1984 sold for $18,000. And in those days, there was no discounting (I know, I was selling them back then). Today's car has a sticker price of $28,000, and you know that you can get that discounted. That makes the 2004 a remarkable value in my eyes, when you consider the additional content and inflation, as modest as it has been, over 20 years. I drove my 1984 for 225,000 miles. Last I saw it it had 245,000 miles. I have no doubt the 2004 will hold up as well or better.
I wonder what the comparisons will be like when I next write a comparison like this....in 2024

Thursday, January 22, 2004

There is a new Saab which will arrive in showrooms in the spring--the 9-2X. This car has fueled much controversy because it largely a very nice Subaru Impreza/WRX with a Saab snout and a few detail modifications. Subaru engine, drive train, controls......it's even built in Japan by Fuji, just like a Subaru. GM is a stakeholder in Fuji, and it appears to me that the pressure to have both a lower market car and an all-wheel drive car IMMEDIATELY fueled the decision to bring the Saab-aru to market. No one argues that this will be a really great car. The WRX is one of the best performance values on the road, but quirky in its appearance. The 9-2X, by contrast, is very good looking. That, coupled with a modest price tag and great performance, will position the 9-2X to do well in the marketplace. The only question is...who will want this car?
The good news, I think, is that it will attract new customers to the Saab brand. Hard-core Saab enthusiasts will hate this car. But then, the hard core loyalists have hated virtually every new car Saab has put on the road....for a time. I acknowledge that this is different, though. This is not Saab working on a shared platform, or buying its engines from Ford (Saab has a history of dependence on other manufacturers). This is starting with complete vehicle and injecting it with very little Saab DNA. I see the reason for loyalists'concern. If there is a bright spot, it is, as I have learned from "inside sources," that the 9-2X will receive more and more Saab systems every model year. At the end of the model run, a decision will be made to replace the car with either another built-by-Fuji 9-2 which at that point may be significantly genuine Saab (including the engine), or the project may be lifted from Fuji and rekindled in Europe using an Opel platform.
No matter the outcome, this will all be interesting to watch. I also have no doubt that the 9-2X, no matter what you think of its heritage, will be lots of fun.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Welcome to our SAAB blog. If there was ever an automobile that inspired enough passion and intense loyalty that it merited a blog, it is SAAB. Unlike so many automobile manufacturers, SAAB has retained its identity, its core values that make it distinct, throughout its history. Changes of ownership and of vehicle platforms have led many to view the SAAB identity as being doomed. Nothing could be further from the truth.

What is a SAAB? It is not the availability of a hatchback. It is not the location of the ignition switch. It is not even a turbocharger. No, what makes a SAAB—any SAAB—a SAAB is the core values that define the philosophy of its execution as an automobile. Twenty years ago, those essential SAAB pillars were revealed to me by Ralph Skinder, whose relationship with the SAAB brand goes back to the earliest days of SAAB in the United States. Simply put, he told me that there were five key elements in every SAAB: safety (both active and passive), performance, comfort, utility and efficiency. There are a couple of other attributes that come to mind: important ones, like durability and uniqueness. But those five create the backdrop to every SAAB to have ever graced our roads. It is that unique blend of seemingly contradictory elements that defines the essence of SAAB.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004