GM’s marketing head-honcho, Mark LaNeve, has blessed us with a delightful piece on the Fastlane blog regarding news about some improved sales data; but all he does is beg the question – given a true quality product to sell, why aren’t people buying??
(Warning, Mark, some toughlove ahead.)
The fact that he offers positive news about sales data amidst who-knows-how-many months of declining sales figures merely underlines his job title, Vice President, GM North America Vehicle Sales, Service and Marketing. May as well be the VP of Sales, Perception, Ignorance and Neverland (i.e. S.P.I.N) as far as a Saabophile like yours truly is concerned.
I’ve written recently about the fact that I do indeed consider Saab’s future to be brighter. Let me summarise as to why:
- The imminent arrival of the 9-3 Sport Combi. This car is creating a huge buzz already.
- The imminent arrival of the 9-7x. First sightings and drives have been positive.
- The success of Saab, particularly diesel models, in the UK and Europe. (Note GM, this blogger WILL be watching for diesel variants in the US come 2007 when low-sulfur diesel fuels are the norm over there. You have been warned.)
- The introduction of the 9-5 Biopower in Sweden. More powerful then a regular gasoline model and it runs on a renewable fuel source. How this is not a recipe for success is known only to Big Oil.
- The 2.8l V6 turbo is to be introduced into the 9-3 Sport Sedan range.
- The promise of AWD in next few years
- The hint that the next 9-2x will be more of an individual Saab vehicle in the future.
Now, when I say the future is looking brighter, let me say that I consider the present (apart from US sales figures) to be fantastic. And this really does beg the question: Why aren’t these vehicles selling in North America?
Some of the answers are obvious, some of them less so. Model by model on the current limited range, let’s take a look:
This is undoubtedly the weakest link in the current lineup. Touted as an important first step into the AWD market, it’s a car that’s loved by all who have them, tolerated by Saab people that don’t, and a source of questions starting with the phrase "What the …." for everyone else.
Pro’s: from all accounts this is a great car. As one reviewer put it, the best WRX your money can buy is now at your Saab dealer. Punchy motor, great handling, comfy (even if smallish) interior and plenty of character. I am yet to read a negative review about this car, but I’ve heard plenty of negative perception.
Con’s: The negative perception that attaches itself to such an obvious piece of badge engineering. As great as this car might be, Saab has always been an individual manufacturer and this was always going to be a hard sell without more distinctiveness than just sheet metal. It really suffered from carrying over the Suuby interior.
How to sell: Step one: assuming this model line is to continue (which I’m skeptical about), get someone working on a Saab interior.
Step 2: The ads that I saw for the 9-2x look OK to me. From afar, the incentives that have been offered appear to be a two-edged sword. Yeah, people use them as an incentive to buy, but there’s the negative perception associated with having to offer huge incentives (up to $7,000 is the latest I’ve heard – amazing). It might be naive of me, but wouldn’t a reduction in the sticker price that would bring it in line to around 60% of the incentive offer be a better long term solution? Make it a drive away, no more to pay figure.
The 9-3 Sport Sedan
In my opinion, these cars should be out of supply in the dealer’s yards. They should be creating a wind vortex as they run out of the showrooms with smiling owners at the wheel, the salesmen lying exhausted at having to service so many people in one given day.
This car is superb. Again, I haven’t read a bad review. I posted a review yesterday where the reviewer was genuinely concerned that the next custodians of the vehicle wouldn’t…..love it….like he had. And that was a Vector – imagine if he’d had the Aero.
Pro’s: there isn’t enough room to write them all.
Con’s: there are some cons with the 9-3??
Why isn’t it selling? That’s a question that better minds than mine will have to be left to answer. Maybe it’s underinvestment in advertising. Maybe it’s underinvestment in supporting infrastructure – a dealer access problem. I’ve heard complaints here and there that Saab dealers can be few and far between in some areas. I’ve also heard that once a customer gets to drive a Saab, they usually buy it. But they’ve got to get into it first. Given that the US is the land of convenience, this is obviously not going to play into Saab’s favour.
The 9-3 Convertible
Again, like the 9-3, this is just a superb vehicle. I’ve posted a reviewer’s impression on the 9-3 convertible just this morning and like all the others, they love the car. And what’s not to love. It’s the true 4-seasons 4-seater.
I took one for a few days just after it had been released and I can honestly say it was the car to restore my faith in the GM era. It’s that good.
Pro’s: see 9-3 SS, above.
Con’s: see 9-3 SS, above.
It would be fair to say that the 9-3 Convertible is Saab’s current halo model and whilst I don’t know the exact sales figures for this car, they’d be impressive in terms of the proportion of total US Saab sales they occupy. Any proportionate increase in Saab advertising would have flow-on effects on convertible sales but perhaps the strategy should be to increase convertible advertising and receive the trickle-down from there.
Any cringe you felt whilst reading that last paragraph is due to the fact that Saab needs a musclier halo model. Give us a new Viggen, please!!
The 9-5 is probably Saab’s current cult-car. Again, they’re loved by all who own them, but this is a crowd that seems to be getting smaller each year. It’s been hampered by a lack of real model development since it’s introduction. A few minor face-lifts have been all that’s happened, where competitors have introduced at least one or maybe several new models, leaving the 9-5 behind.
I don’t know about the US, but here they have had some reliability problems. And if it’s your top model, that’s the last thing you need. And maybe that’s the problem with the 9-5. It’s a car that doesn’t quite uphold it’s marquee status within the range. It certainly receives little marketing support as far as I can see.
If one were feeling particularly cruel, one could refer to the 9-5 as the Fredo Corleone of the Saab ‘family’. Worthy in some way or other, but dependent on it’s little brother for survival.
The one development that did occur in the 9-5 range was the addition of the Aerowagon. Maybe it was a pricing issue, but I don’t see a heck of a lot of these around either (and I live in a Saab town).
I’ve never driven one, but these babies are supposed to go like the clappers (as they say here downunder) and have all the top shelf accommodations.
Saab is GM’s global premium brand. It has a range of excellent cars with some really exciting additions and developments coming in the next few years. The question for Mark LaNeve and Jay Spenchian is how do you get people in to showrooms to drive them, because once they do that, they’ll be a long, long way down the road to buying one.
Mark, thanks for the short bit of good news about how months of continued declining sales are actually positive for GM. Now, as one of your commenters suggested, please stop wasting time and start figuring out how to better market the great cars in the range to the people that reside outside your office building (i.e. the real world).