China’s nice, but home is where the heart is

Bob Lutz has been touring the Orient, visiting Shanghai’s Motor Show and various GM installations over that way.  As Bob mentions in the blog, carmakers will ignore Asia at their own peril.  Not only is the market there in it’s infancy with literally millions upon millions of potential customers to be won over in the next 10-15 years, it’s also a market with culturally relevant and relatively familiar faces nearby.

And it just so happens that those familiar companies are the ones that have been the big improvers in the US market this year.  These Asian companies are eating off huge chunks of GM’s market share and the irony is that the cash they’re stockpiling from these sales is going to go into R&D and model development for the growing Asian market – a market they’re instantly familiar with as it’s their own backyard.

So what’s GM to do?  Well, home is where the heart is – right?

In basketball parlance, GM has to protect it’s home court. (Hey, it’s the NBA playoffs and despite being stuck at the ass-end of the world here in Tasmania, I’m hooked in on a daily basis)

In saying that, what I mean is that the US market has to continue to be GM’s bread and butter.  Right now, they’re having their pockets picked by lower cost and brand-rich competitors from Asia and they have GOT to turn this around.  The right market mix of product and price will get the ball rolling and the rest is up to the people.  And GM has to communicate with the people.

This is a Saab website, I can’t pretend to know enough about the market in general.  So I’ll wax about where the brand I love is heading over there.  (Jay Spenchian apparently just gave a presentation somewhere on ‘The State of Saab’ – I’d love to read this).  Maybe some non-Saab types could extrapolate from here and diagnose some other brands.

All up, despite the weakened sales figures, the future does look a lot better for Saab.  I posted a snapshot of Saab a few weeks ago.  You can read that here.  Apart from what’s mentioned there, let me quickly run through the positive signs I see right now:

  • Debra Kelly-Ennis recently resigned. ’nuff said.
  • The 9-7x is coming very soon.  A few people have actually driven testers now and comment on the superb handling of the car and yes, it’s been well finished in the Saab tradition on the inside. 
  • The 9-3 Sport Combi is beginning to be spotted around dealerships in the UK and should be in the US some time soon.  I can’t help but think that some of the weakened sales figures are people holding out a little for these two new models (maybe wishful thinking, but I have a feeling it’s not that far off the mark)
  • The 9-3 Sport Sedan will get the 2.8 litre turbo V6 engine.  Provided the chassis can handle it well enough and get the power onto the road, this could really be a BMW killer.  Can they market it correctly???? 

Quote: "I’d like to show them where they can shove their ‘Penultimate Driving Machine’.  I’ve driven a 3-series BMW.  I’ve driven the 9-3 Sports Sedan.  For my buck I’d take the 9-3 any day and not just because I’m biased.  Because it’s a damn fine car.  Dollar-for dollar it should be a BMW killer……"

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!!"

Someone tell me where it’s written in law that this CAN’T happen.

  • The 9-5 is due for a major facelift in the near future.  Lets hope it’s a good one and let’s hope that the Hirsch upgrades are offered everywhere and marketed properly (Back to NBA speak – would you sign LeBron James and then just not tell anyone and leave him in the locker room?).
  • There’s some chatter about a replacement for the 9-2x, based on the Astra model that comes out of Europe.  Not my cup of tea at all, but it’s a popular platform and done right (with a Saab interior – hallelujah!!), could provide a major impetus into other Euro markets as well as the US. 
  • 2007 will see the introduction of low-sulfur diesel in the US, providing a much greater opening for Saab’s very successful diesel models to be added to the range on offer.  If someone at Saab USA is not thinking about this already, then I really REALLY REALLY need to get a job there.

All you non-Saab folks can maybe have a look at where your favourite brand is right now and make your own assessment.  For me, I think the model lineup at Saab is sensational and only going to get better (I didn’t even mention AWD coming in the next couple of years!!).

The X-factor will be how GM push their premier global brand into the people’s consciousness.  I’d love to help out, especially on the homefront and as always, Bob and Jay, I’m available (see "quote" link above or any of my other Letters to GM).  I’d offer to go get things started in China, but I don’t speak Cantonese and anyway, I’d prefer a burger to a No. 23 with rice any day.

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