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Exhaust Notes #32: More Detroit Merger Talk

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Are we nearing the end of Chrysler? Or the beginning of a new blended family? Or just another day at the rumor mill?
Late on Friday, the first stories began appearing about GM and Chrysler in possible merger talks. And at least in Detroit, dominated the weekend news cycle. GM’s stock went up this morning, but given that the Dow was up 5.6% and GM went up only about 3%, the stock bump might have happened without merger talk. GM closed on Friday at $4.89, a number some say is actually less than the company would be worth in capital assets alone.

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All of this merger talk, whether these deals are realistic or not, does nothing good for public perception. The economy is weak, last week’s events on the stock market don’t reassure anyone, and talking about GM and Chrysler perhaps needing to merge to survive only further erodes confidence in American business. While GM and Chrysler LLC, as well as any other maker in trouble right now, needs to consider even unthinkable options and test our common assumptions as they get out of this trouble, this merger does not inspire hope.


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2008 Saab 9-7X Aero: 390HP SUV. Just What Saab Needs

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Slow-Selling 9-7X Range Adds Aero Model for 2008MY
Saab borrows the 390HP 6.0L V8 that Chevrolet used to create the TrailBlazer SS for a 9-7X Aero for 2008MY. With the power, the Aero gets polished aluminum twenty-inch wheels, a specific paint color (Carbon Flash Metallic), and Aero embroidered leather seats inside. The Aero also takes a heavy-duty rear axle with a limited-slip differential and increases braking power with larger rotors, iron twin-piston calipers, and high-performance brake pad lining. These mechanical differences are the same changes applied to the TrailBlazer to create the SS, though the Saab 9-7X already had a lowered suspension compared to the Chevy. (Aside from adding the Aero model, there are only color and wheel changes to the 9-7X range for the 2008MY.)

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The Saab 9-7X is on its way out, and losing what little relevance it had. The product gave Saab a quick and inexpensive SUV, but one so un-Saab-like that it did not help brand image. Joining the club of offering excessive power from an already thirsty product, especially in the midst of media and public concern over fuel economy and “global warming,” seems misguided. Luxury entries from brands with performance history like BMW X5 and Porsche Cayenne offer high-output performance-oriented models to help keep brand image up, but adding a 390HP Aero 9-7X does nothing for Saab’s overall brand image. Saab cannot disguise the fact that the 9-7X Aero is an American-mindset product. Even as Saab used jet references in announcing the Aero, describing the Aero’s performance as “jetlike” and the 9-7X Aero as taking off and TV commercials play on the jet theme, they can’t make this round product fit into Saab’s square product hole.
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Still, putting image and brand personality aside, our experience with the Aero’s mechanical twin Chevrolet TrailBlazer SS gives us confidence that the Saab variant will be an entertaining drive. The Aero may bring in a non-traditional Saab buyer, but Saab has nothing with which to keep them, nor are they developing new products in the same vein.
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Saab 9-5 – Promise Missed

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Our VehicleVoice colleague Jim Hossack posted a blog giving his brief comparison of the Dodge Charger R/T and the Saab 9-5 sedan. Hossack was impressed by the Charger and undrewhelmed by the 9-5.
Saab 9-5 Compared to a Dodge Charger R/T – Unfair!
The fact that the 9-5 is priced about $5,000 higher than the Charger R/T did not help. While the base price of the 9-5 is about $35,000, the as-equipped price of the 9-5 tested was just shy of $42,000. The Charger R/T price was about $37,000 – what a deal. The price of the 9-5 is even more embarrassing when you note it is powered by a 2.3L turbocharged 4-cylinder engine putting out 260-horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. Not too shabby, but when you compare the more pricey Saab against the brute 340HP 5.7L HEMI V8 with 390 lb-ft of torque, 9-5 is pretty tepid.
Sure, the Saab’s turbo puts out more than 100HP per liter – impressive if you are a Euro-fanatic – but the sheer horsepower of the HEMI feels better in its delivery.
Yep, it’s not a fair comparison. The 9-5 is supposed to be a highly finessed European sport sedan and the Charger is a blatantly American large, powerful sedan without sophistication. Yet, somehow, for $5,000 less, the Charger is an infinitely better deal. And with the Charger at about $37,000 you even get a rear seat DVD player.

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With these kinds of comparative relationship existing, the reason for the existence of the 9-5 really has to be called into question.


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Geneva 2006: Saab Aero X Embraces Heritage as it Looks to Future

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Saab’s Aerospace History Influences Future Design, and a Sports Car Concept
The purpose of the Aero X concept that Saab introduced at the latest Geneva auto show is to explore how the brand might express its heritage and Scandinavian personality in the future. Though the concept on the Saab stand this year is a two-seat coupe, and Saab is said to be developing a sports car entry for sometime this decade, the Aero X is not a direct representation of what that sports car might be. The Aero X allows Saab to display future design cues, further explore eco-friendly powertrains, and express the company personality in a new-generation form.

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While the Aero X is not representative of any particular upcoming model, among the exterior graphics expected to be adapted to future production cars are the horizontal sweep across the rear of the concept and elements of the face.


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Let's Talk Cars: GM, Fuji and Toyota

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Welcome to “Let’s Talk Cars.”

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The premier episode of Let’s Talk Cars covers the purchase of General_Motors‘ stake in Fuji Heavy Industries by Toyota Motor Corporation. Is GM finding ways to streamline it’s operations? How does Saab fit into the picture?
Noted industry analyst Jim Hall speaks with AutoPacific founder and VehicleVoice editor George Peterson to give you the inside scoop on this hot automotive topic.


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Saab 9-5 Aero BioPower Concept

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Saab Explores Ethanol-Compatible Powerplant for U.S. Lineup
Automakers often use the Los Angeles Auto Show as the venue to launch their new “green” concepts. Saab revealed its 9-5 Aero Bio-Power Concept at the 2006 LA auto show in January. This 9-5 Aero delivers 310HP from a high-pressure turbocharged 2.3L engine optimized to run on E85 ethanol or on gasoline. While Saab began offering a 2.0t BioPower 9-5 in Sweden in 2005 (and resulting in surprisingly high sales due to Swedish incentives to use bio-fuels), this concept explores U.S. acceptance to the option.


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Ward's Announces 10 Best Engines for 2006

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Ward’s AutoWorld announced the results of their latest 10 Best Engines awards. The venerable Nissan VQ soldiers on (Infiniti 3.5L V6), but VehicleVoice (http://www.vehiclevoice.com) staff note some interesting results.
Does An Engine Have to Be High Performance to be Best?
Note the “Hemi”, “turbocharged”, “supercharged” nomenclature. Wow, most of these are high performance engines beyond what a typical buyer will find in their cars. Probably the most mainstream engine of the bunch is the 4.6L V8 in the Mustang GT.
How about the 4-cylinder engine in certain price classes? How about the best V6 between 225HP and 275HP?
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Here is the Ward’s Release

The editors of Ward’s AutoWorld magazine have chosen the 10 Best Engines for 2006, the 12th year of the award.
The engines and tested vehicles are:
* DaimlerChrysler AG: 5.7L Hemi Magnum OHV V-8 (Charger R/T)
* Audi AG: 2L FSI turbocharged DOHC I-4 (Audi A3)
* Audi AG: 4.2L DOHC V-8 (Audi S4)
* BMW AG: 3L DOHC I-6 (330i)
* Ford Motor Co.: 4.6L SOHC V-8 (Mustang GT)
* General Motors Corp.: 2L supercharged DOHC I-4 (Chevrolet Cobalt SS)
* General Motors Corp.: 2.8L turbocharged DOHC V-6 (Saab 9-3 Aero)
* Mazda Motor Corp.: 2.3L DISI turbocharged DOHC I-4 (Mazdaspeed 6)
* Nissan Motor Co. Ltd.: 3.5L DOHC V-6 (Infiniti G35 6MT)
* Toyota Motor Corp.: 3.5L DOHC V-6 (Lexus IS 350)


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Saab 9-5 – New Face for Top Saab

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Saab’s 9-5, last launched all new for 1998 model year, is getting a bit long in the tooth, and an all-new iteration is still some way off. In today’s auto market a five year life cycle is long, let alone a seven year cycle. But the venerable 9-5 still has years to go before it is all new.
[Apparently, Kirk Kerkorian (now owner of 9.9% of GM) is asking serious questions about whether Saab should be part of General Motors or not. Does this mean further deemphasizing Saab, killing Saab, or spinning Saab off? Don’t know at the moment. But, that’s another issue.]
Saab hopes to generate some interest in the meantime with a 2006MY refresh that went on sale in the States in December 2005. Updates include interior and exterior styling changes and refinements to the platform and engine lineup. Our first look at the update was at the 2005 Frankfurt auto show in September.

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Saab 9-3 Sport-Hatch

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Ever since the introduction of the new 9-3, Saab traditionalists have been screaming about the lack of a traditional hatchback model. Despite this, sales of the new 9-3 are far exceeding those of the old model, meaning that Saab’s decision to offer the car as a notchback sedan was obviously a wise one.
Still, those Saab enthusiasts are a pretty rabid bunch, and Saab would be unwise to completely ignore their needs. Plus, with functionality being all the rage these days, why not offer a more functional bodystyle in addition to the sedan?
The 9-3 Sport-Hatch concept previews the next bodystyle in the 9-3 range, codenamed 444 and due in 2004CY.
A hatch it may be, but it’s not a hatch in the way the old 9-3 was. The four-seat Sport-Hatch concept features a fastback shape drawing from the 9-3x concept. Inside, one can find more cues inspired by the 9-3x as well. According to Saab, while the 9-3x is a coupe-meets-SUV concept, the Sport-Hatch is meant to blur the distinction between five-door hatchback and wagon bodystyles.
As no proper concept car is shown underpowered, the Sport-Hatch features the 250HP 2.0L turbo-charged four-cylinder that can be found in Aero models in the lineup, and will likely be offered in the production Sport-Hatch.
Will this bodystyle appease the Saab traditionalists? Probably not, but this wagon bodystyle is even more practical than their old Saab hatchbacks, and by any standard the Sport-Hatch is a very handsome car. It should help add some incremental sales to the already popular 9-3 sedan, and offer one more reason to check out the Saab dealer. Finally, GM is paying some attention to this high potential brand.


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