Flint: The CadiSaabs Are Coming

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2005 Saab 9-2X by Marty Padgett (5/10/2004)
Saab gambles part of its future on a very strong hand.

Imagine this: Mercedes designs a low-end car built off the Chrysler Neon platform, builds it in the Chrysler Neon plant inBelvidere, Illinois, and sells it only to Americans. It gives Mercedes a very low-priced “entry lux.” They don’t sell it in Europe because it wouldn’t fool any Europeans.

Would Cadillac people be shaking in fear? Or would they be deliriously happy because they knew the move would ruin the Mercedes reputation?

Believe me, they would be dancing in Detroit because this would be really a dumb idea. Mercedes would never do it.

But Cadillac does. General Motors intends to badge Saabs as Cadillacs, and to build these CadiSaabs in the Saab plant in Sweden. They would be sold in Europe, not here, of course, because here everyone would know they aren’t real Cadillacs. But GM must figure it can fool the Europeans.

That’s the plan. There may still be time to stop it, but I doubt it.

Iron and steal

Why is it a terrible plan?

Cadillacs are “Detroit Iron.” That is what makes them Cadillacs. To put a Cadillac car on a Swedish Saab-based architecture is to destroy what Cadillac is. You want to wreck the reputation in Europe before it is even created?

Then build the CadiSaab.

They can’t even sell Saabs in Europe: 19,500 in three months this year, a handful fewer than the year before. If they can’t sell Saabs over there, how will they be able to sell Saabs badged as Cadillacs?

Right, they won’t be badged. They will really be different, even though they use the Saab architecture and will be built at the Saab plant. They’ll have all-wheel drive instead of Saab front-wheel drive.

That won’t fool anyone. European writers will dump all over them just as they dumped on the Jaguar X-Type, calling it a Ford Mondeo without much disguise. Oh yes, Ford tried to use the all-wheel-drive bit, too.

GM expects to sell lots of Cadillacs in China. Here’s an idea: badge a Daewoo as a Cadillac, the Cadiwoo. What do Chinese know about cars, anyway?

Why is GM planning this? They want to make a mark in Europe and feel they need a car priced below the CTS. Also, the Saab — oops, the CadiSaab — can take a diesel and there’s no diesel ready for the CTS.

And probably most important, Saab is a money-loser and they want more production in the underused Swedish factory.

So Cadillac’s reputation will be risked to fill a Swedish factory. That is really long-term thinking.

Problem solved!

All right, Since GM won’t, I will take it upon myself to solve the problem.

Cadillac just doesn’t have enough terrific product for Europe now. The new rear-drive STS (replacing the Seville) is close but no cigar. It really doesn’t match the Mercedes E-Class’ upscale interior. Same with the smaller Cadillac CTS. The $70,000 XLR roadster is fine but it won’t whip the Mercedes SL on its home ground. The Cadillac Escalades and the SRX are real Detroit Iron but they can’t sell more than a handful over there.

Well, there’s nothing to be done now. They can sell what Cadillacs they have and underprice them to build a market. The weak dollar that should make that possible. Then improve those Cadillacs every year. Build a global market for Cadillac elsewhere: China, Arabia, Russia. Just put Europe on the back burner and keep improving the product.

Now to help Saab. Two suggestions:

Build a two-seat roadster off the Kappa (Pontiac Solstice) architecture. Have the Saab engineers design it and try and fix it so it can be sold in Europe. There’s a problem because of new European pedestrian safety regulations affects the hoods. Again, let the Swedes try to make it meet the new rules because they are good at this. Even over here, a Saab two-seater fits the Saab image.

Build Saabs with hybrid engines in the Swedish factories — diesel hybrids for Europe and gasoline-engined hybrids for the U.S. Saab would be the perfect operation for Greenness.

And forget about the CadiSaab.

Now, you may say that Chrysler has a sports car, the Crossfire, that is part Mercedes, so what is wrong with the CadiSaab? When a Chrysler uses Mercedes parts, it moves up in the world. If a Mercedes used Chrysler parts, it would move down. You won’t see any Mercedes cars with Chrysler parts.

What about those Subaru WRX cars badged as Saabs, and the coming Chevy TrailBlazer that is to be badged as a Saab? Answer: Saab has lost so much money over the years (my guess: $3 billion-$4 billion) that being true to Saab tradition is out the window. GM doesn’t care about Saabness; it only wants to stop losing money there.

That’s not true with Cadillac.

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