Monday, December 28, 2009

A Saab-story's final chapter.

GM recently announced that Saab, like its stablemates, Pontiac, and Saturn, is to be wound down into oblivion. It makes sense. Saab, despite a certain cache and decent potential, reminds me of B-movie actor Michael Biehn. They both always dwelled on the cusp of potential, developed a decent reputation, and loyal following, but never achieved the star status that always seemed within their mutual reach. Biehn played prominent roles in well known films like "The Lords of Discipline," "The Terminator," "Aliens," "K-2," "The Abyss," "Tombstone," and "The Rock." Yet nowadays, he can be found working for a case of hard liquor doing voice-overs for computer games and flunkie films for the Sci-Fi channel.

Traditionally, Saabs have been quirky. (This statement excludes the heinous rebadging GM engaged in) Their engines are small, but turbocharged, the ignition is located on the center console near the transmission between the front seats, and they have bizarre Nordic design features and ergonomics. Cute quirky differentiators that meant something once upon a time, but were lost long ago in the bureaucratic labyrinth that encapsulates GM. Over the last few years, Saab had morphed into a useless Scandinavian appendage on the GM collective. Like the Borg, GM has been known to assimilate its acquisitions and totally strip them of any distinctive value added features in order to more quickly ruin them. Over the last few years, Saab's were nothing more than rebadged Chevy's and Subaru's. Even Saab's brand managers lost the quirky Saab brand image by vacillating between two abortive advertising campaigns that overemphasized a "state of independence" or being "born from jets." Neither was great, but the fact that they couldn't stick to one certainly added to the mayhem of Saab's identity in the GM stable.

My experience with Saab's go back to my day's as a boarding school student in New Hampshire. My girlfriend during senior year was one of the few day students where I was enrolled. She had a winterized blue 1990 Saab 900 coupe with a 5-speed manual transmission. One of the many things I learned from her was how to drive a stick shift. It's a very fond and positive association for me, and while she is long gone, her gift keeps on giving.

In 2003, I bought a new silver Saab 9-3 linear sedan that I affectionately named the "Saab-story." Despite looking halfway decent and aging well visually, the car is a mechanical nightmare that has pillaged my checking account on several occasions. Since the warranty ended several years ago, it feels like I have been stuck paying alimony to an bitter and undeserving ex-wife. All these ludicrous expenses, constant nagging and bitching, with no benefits, pleasure, or piece-of-mind. Despite the fact that the werewolf is obsessive compulsive about maintenance and keeping an orderly car, little things that are absurdly expensive frequently fail on the Saab like clockwork. It reliably starts about 80% of the time. Not to mention that every Saab dealer I have been to in Georgia, Tennessee, and New York finds a way to shake you down worse than a Jersey mafioso. I have been detached from the Saab-story for years, but as an underemployed, recently minted MBA, I am in no position to jettison the gray lady. I look forward to the day where I can wind down my own Saab-story. That being said, it's sad that the such a quirky and iconic brand has fallen victim to GM's quest for mediocrity and sub-standard automobiles.

Someone remind me why we bailed GM out?

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