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2012 Saab 9-4X

michael bettencourt The Globe and Mail

Hey Guys: You make me laugh. I generally chuckle while watching the two of you on your weekly show; last weekend I had to change my shirt after spitting out my coffee in a laughing fit. This topic, however, is decidedly unfunny. There's some serious storylines coming out of Sweden. Volvo and its Chinese parent are publicly feuding over its future direction; go back to more distinct Volvo-ness, or go up-market to take on the Germans? Then there's Saab, a company that wishes it had a parent company right now to feud with. Here's the question: Can Saab survive? Should I buy one? And same for Volvo. Regards, Rich in Winnipeg

Cato: Tragic. That's the Saab story. Volvo's is similar, too.

General Motors put off the death of Saab for two decades, dating back to 1989 and right up until the General went bankrupt in 2009. For all those years GM proceeded to do - well, do nothing of any consequence at Saab, even after buying the other 50 per cent 10 years or so later. Saab versions of the GMC Envoy? That was the genius of GM.

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Then Volvo. Ford squandered billions on the pipe dream of making Volvo the next BMW or Audi or Mercedes-Benz. Except when Ford was running the place, the micro-managing was stultifying.

The result: Saab as a GM brand disappeared with Hummer, only to be sort of resurrected with borrowed money and the ambitious hopes and dreams of Spyker. I, personally, cannot see a long-term future for Saab in its current form.

Volvo is partnered with Geely of China and will survive and grow one way or another. Volvo's greatest value to the new Chinese owners isn't the brand, or the plants, but the global distribution network and the know-how at Volvo in terms of navigating through the global maze of safety and environmental regulations - none of which any Chinese auto maker can truly understand and appreciate. Yet.

Vaughan: As usual, Cato has an exciting, insightful preamble. What a scene-setter. Genius.

But Richie, I'm glad you enjoy the show. And as you have just seen, that Cato is a riot, isn't he? His schoolyard comments about my hats and maturity always have me and everyone else in stitches. Oh, and his deep knowledge of popular culture as a reader of People magazine cannot be underappreciated - except by me. I'm already cracking up thinking about his puerile insults.

Anyway, on the other question: Saab - like Cato's humour - is DOA (dead-on-arrival) and Volvo is close behind.

Cato: As you can see, our friend Vaughan is a lonely, angry man who fancies himself a Canadian Warren Buffett. I see more Rodney Dangerfield than the Great Buffett. Don't you think Vaughan bears a striking resemblance to Dangerfield? And his cheery conversation style is identical.

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Truth is, Vaughan positions himself as a poor man's value investor through and through. Richie, as such, he would suggest that Saab and Volvo are lousy investment plays.

Vaughan: Well, alright. There is still an attachment to the quirkiness and independent thinking that once was the basis of the brand - that is until they became just another sub-sub-sub division of General Motors. You can still go to the Tanglewood Festival and find a couple of billionaires showing up in three-cylinder, two-stroke, authentic Saabs trailing a cloud of blue smoke.

Cato: Such a lovely stroll down memory lane. When I think of Mr. V I am reminded of Rodney's Caddyshack character, Al Czervik, who fired this gem at someone's wife: "You must have been something before electricity."

Vaughan: On the other hand, a friend of mine, back when he was making big money, bought a Saab Aero and bragged about his outside-the-box appreciation of automotive excellence. Then he got the thing repaired - again and again - and got the huge bills - again and again.

Cato: Winning quality competitions has never been a strong suit for Saab, nor for Volvo.

Vaughan: Precisely. When I think about the current agonies of Volvo I think about our friend Peter Horbury. He was head of design at Volvo when they broke out of the shoe-box-on-wheels formula and went into the Scandinavian art-furniture-minimalist thing.

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Cato: Peter took the big Ford promotion and moved to Dearborn, where he led Ford design for a while. Now he's back at Volvo, leading the designers yet again.

Vaughan: As far as I know, Peter speaks not one word of Chinese. I wonder how he's doing.

Cato: Language school.

Vaughan: Hmm. Good point.

But Richie, you want to know if Saab will survive. Answer: no. I hate to say it because I wish the Swedes could control and lead and prosper with a car company. But it hasn't happened and Saab's future is unlikely to go well. With regrets.

Cato: Until the Saab picture become crystal clear, it would be irresponsible to recommend one. Of the Volvos, though, I like the XC60 crossover wagon. But don't overlook the great deals on the S80 and the XC90.



2011 Volvo S80 T6 Level 2 AWD

2011 Volvo XC60 3.2 Level 2 AWD

2011 Volvo XC90 3.2 Level 1 AWD

Wheelbase (mm)




Length (mm)




Width (mm)




Height (mm)





3.0-litre six-cylinder

3.2-litre six-cyinder

3.2-litre six-cylinder

Output (horsepower/torque)

300/325 lb-ft

240/236 lb-ft

240/236 lb-ft

Drive system

all-wheel drive

all-wheel drive

all-wheel drive


six-speed automatic

six-speed automatic

six-speed automatic

Curb weight (kg)




Fuel economy (litres/100 km)

11.3 city/7.7 highway

11.7 city/8.1 highway

13.5 city/9.1 highway

Base price (MSRP)




Source: car manufacturers

Jeremy Cato and Michael Vaughan are co-hosts of Car/Business, which appears Fridays at 8 p.m. on Business News Network and Saturdays at 11:30 a.m. on CTV.

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About the Author
Senior writer, Globe Drive

In 25 years of covering the auto industry, Jeremy Cato has won more than two-dozen awards, including three times being named automotive journalist of the year. Jeremy was born in Montreal and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. More

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