Jack Baruth argues that Lexus, having raised the bar for near-luxury vehicles with a reskinned Camry, is ultimately responsible for killing Saab, and contrasts the two marques:
The Saab story includes airplanes, rally drivers, turbochargers, iconoclastic personalities, and more than half a century of fabulous designs. The Lexus story is this: it’s a Toyota for people too snobbish or fearful to be seen in a Toyota. Saabs have been wonderful, frisky, characterful companions for a very long time. People cry when their Saabs are towed away for the last time. Nobody’s ever cried over a Lexus, except possibly when they received a repair bill for their out-of-warranty second-gen LS400. Saab was real. Lexus is fake. Simple as that.
Or is it that simple? Saab has been a fraud and a fake for nearly twenty years, selling second-rate cars on dimly remembered glories. Meanwhile, Lexus has been continually building the cars their customers want, always fresh, nearly always reliable, always sold and serviced with a smile. Saab’s better future was perpetually around the corner; meanwhile, the next Lexus was completed on time and plopped, Harvest-Gold-colored, on a calmly rotating showroom turntable. Ask any Saab enthusiast about the brand and they will tell you about the 900 SPG, but ask a Lexus owner about his car and he will tell you he likes it. What is real, and what is no longer relevant?
Perhaps it’s just that mystique hasn’t counted for much in the actual cash register since Mercury tried to sell a car by that name. Daimler spent more than a decade trying to stir up demand for an S-Class Benz at triple the price under a brand name no one had seen for forty-odd years; occasionally someone dusts off a sort-of-classic nameplate from the days of American iron, there is sound and fury, but nothing to drive; I’m guessing that for every thousand self-described Alfa Romeo fans on automotive message boards, Alfa will eventually sell about 14 cars. There’s no money in dreams, maybe. Or perhaps it’s just that everybody making cars has decided that they want to grow up and be Toyota. Which is relevant, but no fun. And yet I may end up owning an
Anodyne Antiseptic Avalon, simply because it’s the closest thing to what I drive now.