An open letter to Jay Spenchian

It’s been a good news week.  First up, there’s some positive reviews floating around (read below), then there’s the news from my mate Bob that there’s going to be no brand shrinking at GM (OK, so maybe that’s medium-to-good for a Saab enthusiast) and now there’s the best news of all.

Deb’s done the dash.  Yes, Debra Kelly-Ennis has pulled the plug as head honcho of Saab USA and I, for one, am glad to see the back of her.  Don’t let the door hit you on the ass on the way out, honey!

I don’t want to seem ungrateful.  As at the time of writing the company is still hanging around. With a few new models and some upbeat reports lately, things are looking OK.  But in the little I saw and read of DKE, let’s just say she didn’t strike me as a car person, let alone a Saab person.

So welcome then, to Jay Spenchian as General Manager of Saab Cars USA.  Up until now Jay’s been the marketing guru behind the resurgence of Cadillac.  And apparently it’s been a wonderful resurgence.  Sales up for the last three years and Caddy’s Cool Again.  Hence the appointment to Saab – GM’s global premium product. 

In continuing my series of letters to GM, it seems appropriate to bring Jay into the fold.

Hi there Jay,

I was hoping that Bob would call me regarding Deb’s position, but it seems you’ve got a slightly better track record at resurrecting motoring icons.  I really thought I had a shot, but there you go.  I did make him a genuine bargain basement offer of my services, but he was reluctant.  You win some and you lose some.  I lost one, but I’ll cope.  The important thing, Jay, is that you and Bob are going to continue to benefit from my wisdom and enthusiasm for Saab, despite the fact that I’ve been passed over for this job.

I was really worried for a while about Saab being a possible candidate for extinction.  Thankfully there’s been some real shows of support and even a few new vehicles to look forward to.  Now that Deb’s gone (just between you and me, I mean…no-one’s reading this, right?) I think the sky’s the limit!!

Jay, I’ve taken a peek at your work with Caddy and I like what I see.  Not that I like Caddies, but I like the way you’ve repositioned them as a premium brand of choice in the US.  Having seen some of those 80’s and 90’s models from afar, that was no easy task.  I took a look at one of your presentations on how you reinvigorated the brand and I’m hoping that the same thought and vigour will be placed into the Saab stable.  I particularly like the link between the brand and music.  So simple.  SO effective. (But as tempting as it might seem – don’t use Abba.  Resist, Jay, resist.)

So, here’s a few tips.  You want to know what the people want?  What your typical Saab buyer will look for?  OK.  Listen up.  Read on.

Differentiation – Jay, even the modern Saab enthusiast knows that you’re going to have some constraints placed on model development.  There’s going to be some platform sharing etc.  It’s a commercial reality.  But please, get on the phone to the design team and make sure that this is never obvious from a look at the car.  Your average Saab buyer IS an individual.  They look at Saabs and see them as thoughtfully designed, practical, stylish and fast.  Not 350 cu in fast.  Smart fast.  They like the aircraft heritage and they like the fact that their car doesn’t look like everyone else’s on the street.  They’re not loud about it, but they like it.

Innovation – whether it’s fuel cells, hybrid, whatever….the time is right for another big winner on the Saab innovations list.  This is your global premium brand Jay and it needs to hit some home-runs again.  Saab survived as a minnow in a whales-only industry for 60 years by doing things first and doing them right.  With another oil crisis looming, the time is certainly right for Saab to be seen as a leader here.  Don’t let Toyota take all the glory.  Somewhere in a warehouse in Trollhattan is an SVC engine.  Go look it up.

The hype for the last 3 or 4 years has been SUV’s and small trucks.  Big mothers that will tow a house.  Everything comes full circle though, Jay.  We’re all sitting on the cusp of a new dawn in motoring and Saab should be right there, setting the pace and leading the pack.

Fun – Go check out the bulletin boards Jay.  There’s a whole bunch of them where people are mentioning a name from Saab’s past – Sonnet.  A smallish, fun sports car.  Think Miata with innovation, genuine torquey power and more class.  Think entry level for the young professional.  Think retired 50-something cruising the coast.

Not just a Sonnet though.  All Saabs should be fun to drive and enjoyment comes from fitting the car to a driver’s requirements.  Saab have done this for years and you’ve got to allow genuine Saab design to lead the way in this segment.

For the grunt-lovers, there’s got to be some real fun when the pedal hits the metal.  All the big boys, the target brands, have a performance moniker.  Some might mention Aero to you, Jay, but don’t be fooled.  The Aero is a classy car, but we’re talking about a hero vehicle here.  The one where the bar is set.

Viggen.  I came up with a bunch of premium monikers a little while ago – feel free.

And for goodness sakes, make us proud.  Rally the thing.  Per Eklund is apparently working on his own rally 9-3.  Get him in as a rally team manager and let’s whip some Suuby/Mitsu/Toyo/Pug/Citroen butt!!

Quality – well duh!!  As obvious as it may seem, quality is key in this segment of the market.  There’s a very big target out there for Saab to aim at.  Several of them in fact.  One wears a blue and white target on its front and back end and the other wears an upside-down peace sign.  You’re taking on a bunch of German anal-retentive precision automobiles here, Jay, and it’s going to take a quality finish to beat them.  Can Saab compete?  Damn it, we can win!

You know things are getting strange when a man quotes himself, but here we go anyway:

I want to see Saabs made by proud Swedes, speeding down the Autobahns with Beamers in tow, their drivers ashen-faced and crying for their mommas!!  I want to see Swedish auto workers abuzz with the idea of harnessing all their intelligence and building the best cars they’ve ever dreamed of.  I want to see Saabs full of innovation, power and practicality, like they’ve always been, but I also want to see people shouting from the rooftops about how good they are instead of ads that are just as subtle and clever as the cars.

Respect – Saab owners want to be respected for their choice, Jay.  We ain’t dumb.  And we ain’t ‘quirky’.  Do NOT let one of your young execs try to talk you into using the word ‘quirky’.  Ever.

GM can best show respect for its customers (read: Saab owners) by continuing to research and build Saabs in the tradition upon which the company was founded.  Practicality, Innovation, Power, Comfort, Style.

Don’t disrespect us (we are your family, Jay) by portraying us as idiots.  You’ll do that if you produce dumb ads.  Yes we are individual, independant free thinking types, but if you use those words straight up, all you’re going to do is interest those that are interested in seeing themselves as individual, independant, free thinking types. 

Just.  Promote.  The.  Car.

The smart ones will get there.  Trust me on this.  Promote the car.  You aren’t selling a lifestyle.  You’re selling a car.  Make sure it’s a great car and then tell people about it.  Associating it with a lifestyle is somewhere around step 5.  Let’s get Steps 2 and 3 in place first.  Be smart about it.  Rock it out.  Fill ’em up.  Get right into people’s faces but….promote the car. 

Smart consumers can see the spin.  Respect them.  Promote the car.

That’s it for now, Jay.  I wish you well.  If you need a hand I’m more than willing to extend the same offer to you that I did for Bob.  Just call, email, comment, whatever.  I’ll be there in a jiff.

Wow, the next few years are going to be a blast!!

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