In the mid-80s the Japanese attack began in the higher vehicle classes. In North America it was the Honda Legend that was particularly successful under the Acura label. A reason to worry about the Swedish brands! Saab therefore took a closer look at the legend. The Japanese was not found to be particularly disturbing. Not yet.
The test runs as you might expect in 1989. Benevolent respect for a well-equipped car that has its weaknesses in the details. But behind it is the European certainty that the challenge will be mastered. In retrospect, one looks at the struggle of the camera industry and the watch industry as successful examples.
Admittedly, Leica and Hasselblad survived the bloodbath in their industry. But in what size and at what price? Also interesting are details that are not sufficiently discussed in the test of the Honda Legend. His origin, for example. And the progression of the story after that, after 1989.
Project XX by Rover and Honda
The Legend is a joint project between Rover and the Japanese manufacturer. For the English, he was the much sought after successor to the legendary SD1, for Honda the entry into the higher vehicle class. He worked as an Acura in the United States until 1990. Inexpensive, very well equipped, robust technology. A powerful sales organization in the background. The legend was Volvo and Saab's nightmare.
Things were going well for Rover on the home market. As Rover 800 it was at times the most popular car in its class on the island. While Honda drove up with the next generation in 1990, the British remained loyal to the XX project. A comprehensive facelift upgraded the large rover, making it more British. It remained on offer until 1998.
The Honda Legend is not a threat yet
30 years after the shoot in Sweden, you are surprised. The Saab Spotlight editorial team draws the right conclusions. The Japanese are strong in sales. The conclusion that Trollhättan has to do is what Nippon can do. Development shows that Saab will never be able to do this. After 1989, GM got involved. Over the years, you experiment with different sales structures. Merges Saab and GM Vertrieb, separates them again, relies on exclusivity and then does the role backwards.
That differs from country to country, changing managing directors work their way through the markets. There will never be an organization like Honda or Toyota at Saab. One reason for failure.
The Japanese learn quickly
The test appears pretentious today. Shot too much from a European perspective. It can be instructive to see him to the end. Because conditions are changing quickly, much faster than expected. In 1989 Toyota launched a new brand and a completely new vehicle. The Lexus LS 400 is something of an earthquake. Luxury class from Japan, very successful from the start. In Trollhättan, and not only there, the alarm lights go on.
But GM is really panicking. They have nothing in their program against the LS 400, the waves of panic sloshed into the Stallbacka in 1990. The new acquisition Saab should quickly provide the antidote to the Lexus. The Swedes are actually fully occupied with the 900 II. They try anyway and they fail. Your answer to the Lexus challenge will never be seen.
Saab is now learning from Toyota
Because the situation turned. It is no longer the Japanese who are learning from the Europeans. Now it is Europeans who are schooling with the Japanese. In the mid-90s, the plant in Trollhättan was visited by Japanese engineers. Saab learns from Toyota how to build cars better. Less mistakes, increased quality and effectiveness.
The new Saab 9-5 benefited greatly from this in 1997. He becomes a success, even with Japanese instructions, and Saab wins many new customers. Until the end, the plant is considered the showpiece in the global group of companies.