With the announcement of the 9-2x and 9-7x in the last 12 months, many of us old diehard purists have called into question the strategy employed by GM and they way they’re ‘developing’ the Saab brand. I’ve written several posts that dance around this topic, but I think a more direct liturgy may be called for soon.
It seems us old purists aren’t the only ones noticing. The trend has well and truly been picked up by the motoring press. But it doesn’t stop there either.
Brandweek is an electronic publication dealing with marketing and it’s just published an article about the dilution of brands in the automotive industry. Unfortunately, Saab is one of their main cases in point.
HAVE brand loyalists become an endangered species? In the auto category in particular, the problem is not that customers have ceased to be loyal to particular brands but, rather, that companies and brand directors have betrayed their brand promises.
Why should a brand command the same recognition and appeal when its quality has been diluted and its founding values scrapped? Loyalty is the result of a repeatedly positive brand experience that creates a relation of trust between the customer and the brand. When brand defections occur, it is often because that trust has been shattered.
Saab is another case in point. The original brand promise has evaporated as parent General Motors engages in mix ‘n match manufacturing. Components are thrown together in a melting pot, making the Saab brand a shadow of its former self. GM is uncertain about the future of the Saab, and it shows. About all that’s left of Saab in the new Saab 9.2 is the interior and the logo. But a badge on a piece of metal is not enough to create Saabness.
And consider Saab’s imminent entry into the SUV market with the 9-7X based on the same mid-size platform as the GMC Envoy and Chevy Trailblazer. How can a brand defend its claim to distinctiveness when it is manufactured with the same engine and components that make up a host of other brands?
As a loyalist, I say give me a good Swedish car with brand character that fits my personality and I will buy it. That’s what the Volvo S40, which shares a platform with the Mazda 3, has managed, but it’s an exception. For the most part, brand managers in the car industry are learning from hard experience that customers will not tolerate sameness or being taken for a ride.