I’ve been laid low with the flu over the weekend so didn’t even get near the PC (my wife, the adorable PJ, said I’d leave germs on it). Thanks to those that dropped by and left some kind words on the passing of the 10,000th hit. That whole post seems a little redundant now as the hit counter approaches 11,250!! But I digress.
Sales data for March was released last Friday in the US. Toyota and Nissan continued to show the way with double-digit sales growth whilst the big two in the US (GM and Ford) recorded declines yet again. Toyota recorded a gain of 12.3% on the back of strong demand for its hybrid Prius. I can just imagine the boardroom meetings at GM or Ford a few years ago – "Heads we develop fuel cell technology. Tails we build V8 SUV’s".
GM indicated that their light vehicle sales were down 1.3% in March, though they appeared to still sell the lion’s share with 417,281 vehicles. These figures were reported to not include Saab vehicles, though a little digging has uncovered the bad news: Saab was down 18% for the month and is down 8% for the year. It’s not all total doom and gloom as Saab’s performance paralleled that of others in the class. Mercedes Benz were only down 1% for the month but BMW and Volvo both posted 10%+ falls.
Interestingly, amidst all the talk of rising gasoline prices and the subsequent drop in demand for big vehicles, GM’s truck sales were up 4%. Go figure. I think that one will play out as an anomoly in time. Truck sales overall are steady for the year, but the increasing market share of the more fuel-efficient Japanese brands does point towards a buying public that will be sensitive to the running costs of their vehicles onwards into the future. European brands suffered a double digit dip overall, down 12% for the month and 4% for the year, likely due to the strength of the Euro pushing up prices.
Looking Saabishly into the future, I hope GM understands the role Saab could play in luring fuel-sensitive customers. Saab responded to the last oil crisis in the 1970’s by successfully developing turbo technology. Today, they still manage to get more out of less with the ongoing use of this technology. Why they don’t push this more beggars belief. The crossover market seems to be the biggest sector still enjoying growth – giving SUV practicality along with car-like handling and efficiency. Hopefully the SportCombi will be able to make some inroads here.
A final thought – we have a little cafe in our office building that has just been taken over buy a new owner. It’s not fancy. The sort of place where you can go and get a sandwich or a bag of chips. In and out in 60 seconds. There’s a few tables and chairs there for people that want to sit and enjoy something a little more elaborate, but basically it’s your classic quick-stop food joint.
I went down there last Friday at lunch to get a small bag of hot chips (US readers, think ‘french fries’ (unless you’re a Republican, then think ‘freedom fries’)). Normally these were cooked continually and just kept hot in the bain-marie. Friday there were no chips to be seen so I asked if they were still serving them (new management, you never know). The new owner, a particularly unsophisticated man with a decent beer gut and greying Elvis Presley hairstyle, informed me that they now cook their chips only on demand.
His explanation was that when they sit in the bain-marie they cool down and they’re not quite as fresh. He didn’t want people walking out with 3-minute-old chips thinking "Geez, what a crappy restaraunt". So I waited 5 minutes for my $2 bag of chips.
Ho hum. What a great time. 5 minutes of my life that I’ll never get back again waiting in a crappy diner for the optimal, freshly cooked chip.
It was his concern that people would think "what a crappy restaraunt" that got me thinking. He doesn’t run a restaraunt. He runs a takeaway that serves lunch to an office crowd. Time is of the essence and if he’s going to keep everyone hanging around for 5 minutes for the freshest-of-fresh chips then he’s going to end up with a room full if impatient, hungry customers that aren’t particularly likely to return a second time.
Saab translation – working out what your customer wants is key. Don’t blind yourself with what you think they might want. Work out what’s important to them and give it to them in spades. Performance. Safety. Style. Individuality. These aren’t marketing terms, they’re qualities and a 10 minute test drive will tell the average Joe if they’re in place or not.
Saab’s average Joe is an educated customer and he’ll need to deal with sales staff that are more educated than he is. And he’ll need access to this salesperson within a reasonable distance. I think that until GM gets this stuff sorted, sales data like that which we see above will remain.
It’s not that hard. Simple as a bag of chips, really.