Should I buy a Saab?

Consumer Reports News: December 22, 2009 02:55 PM

 

Put simply, given the competitiveness of the upscale sedan and convertible marketplaces, there are better choices than a Saab. While the Saab 9-3 and 9-5 have performed well enough in our tests to be recommended, they have among the lowest scores in their respective classes. These cars are at the tail end of long model generations, and there are newer designs available from competing companies—ones that will be around for years to come. Plus, the uncertainties regarding Saab ownership create concerns and risks for current and prospective car owners.

Buying from a lame duck brand carries unique risks for consumers that do not exist with healthy, mainstream companies. As GM has proclaimed with Pontiac and Saturn, it will honor Saab warranties and perform service work at other, surviving GM franchises should the brand be shuttered. However, best corporate intentions won’t make those dealerships more convenient, better stocked with parts, or better trained. And should Spyker or another buyer takeover Saab, it is impossible to predict the impact on owners or the organization’s viability.

Even before the announcement that GM would close the division, Saab models showed greater depreciation than average, meaning they lose more value over time than typical models. Part of the reason for that rapid depreciation has been years of steep discounts. It is doubtful this will improve with the division closing or even being sold off, and the rapid depreciation might not be offset by the possibility of steeper discounts. But if you typically drive your cars into the ground, depreciation may not matter so much.

As we found in our investigations during the so-called auto crisis, while dealerships may perform work on models from other brands, there are practical limitations to parts inventory and technician training. Simple work like a routine service call is not a problem. For example, a Chevrolet mechanic who works on a TrailBlazer will find a Saab 9-7X to be familiar. However the shop may not have the experience to tackle a problem with the Saab 9-5—a sedan that shares little in common with other North American GM models. In such cases, even a warranty request would be deferred to another more capable, or more willing, dealership.

Would you be able to fix a Saab for years to come? Absolutely. It just may not be as convenient as in years past. What once may have been a quick service visit before work may require a day off work to travel to a neighboring town or county. Saab was to terminate dealership agreements with 37% of their dealer body under the doomed deal with Koenigsegg. Regardless of who buys the brand, it is likely that the Saab dealership body will shrink, thereby limiting locations with trained Saab mechanics.

As always, consumers should enter the buying process with eyes wide open. With Saab, there are simply better alternatives that do not carry undue risks.

Jeff Bartlett


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