He speaks. The Spench. The Jaymeister. Da Man.
Response coming shortly.
Full text preserved for posterity below.
The State of Saab
By Jay Spenchian
If there’s one word that describes Saab owners best, it’s “passion.” As in, passion for the brand, passion for the product, and passion for our rich heritage.
I had the opportunity recently to experience that passion at the 23rd Saab Owners Convention at scenic Mount Stratton, Vermont. I delivered a “State of Saab” address to those owners, which I’ll present in boiled-down form here.
Saab has been, and will continue to be The Statement of Individuality. We will continue to deliver a distinctive interpretation of a premium European vehicle, with progressive design and driver-focused performance. At the same time, we’ll remain practical and safe. It’s no surprise that we attract the kind of independent-minded individuals that we do – mostly people who are not satisfied with the typical automobile.
Let me clarify that with a couple of examples.
Design? The Scandinavian school of minimalism rules here. Less is more, which is an excellent fit with our progressive buyer demographic – people who prefer to stand out of the crowd in a quiet, understated way.
Performance? We don’t chase after the highest horsepower ratings in our segment. We focus on low-end torque to provide power where the customer needs it – as in city driving and overtaking.
Functionality? Saab interiors draw from our aircraft experience, providing a comfortable and functional cockpit for the driver. Our engineers believe a comfortable driver is an alert driver and an alert driver is a safer driver.
Safety? We are certainly segment-leading in safety. Last fall, the 9-3 Sport Sedan was awarded an unprecedented “Double Best Pick” by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. No other passenger car has ever earned that distinction, notably with just standard equipment.
All of this contributes to the passion of our customers. It is the essence of Saab. Our task, here in 2005, is to leverage that passion and extend the brand into new segments. In that regard, we know darn well that we still have a lot of work to do.
First off, let’s keep in mind that Saab is a small company by any standards. We sell about 130,000 vehicles a year in over 50 countries around the world. The US represents almost 30% of Saab’s total volume, which makes us the largest single market for Saab.
So the challenge is, how do we meet the demands of so many markets – and the unique requirements of the big and highly diverse US market in particular?
How? Leverage. Saab has the unique opportunity to leverage the resources of General Motors, the largest automobile manufacturer in the world.
I know many Saab loyalists view GM ownership as the beginning of the end for Saab. However, the truth is that Saab’s long-term viability is dependent on GM ownership for investment in new products and marketing resources. And Saab is just as critical to GM’s success. Saab represents a unique position in the GM product portfolio because it’s GM’s only European premium brand, and it’s GM’s most recognizable global brand.
Because there is very little interaction with other GM makes, virtually all Saab business is plus business to General Motors.
For Saab globally and for Saab USA, being part of the GM family presents the best asset that we have for meeting our growth imperative. And as we have at every other critical point in our history, we will approach this opportunity with both innovation and intelligence.
As a start, we have outlined our mission by creating a Plan for Action that targets all our major challenges.
First item on our action plan: we need to grow our limited product portfolio into the ‘right’ segments. This means maximizing our product development investment and ability to conquest market share. This also means that we preserve and distill Saab’s brand essence.
Second, to minimize the impact of currency fluctuations, we must devise manufacturing strategies that support the brand and the necessary growth – for both the short term and the long term.
Next, to provide a clear competitive differentiation, it’s essential that we communicate a brand identity that is uniquely Saab, through thoughtful, aggressive marketing and advertising.
Fourth is to collaborate with Sweden’s global brand-building initiatives and provide guidance for how we can “localize” the Saab brand promise and value proposition to the US market.
Pulling all of this together for the customer is the fifth, and maybe most important item in our action plan. This means defining and sustaining a world-class dealer network and premium ownership experience.
By doing all of this well, we will maintain sustainable market credibility. That should give us a good shot at fulfilling Saab’s immense promise.
Now, these may all be nice plans – but what really matters is how we execute. On Friday, we’ll get down to some discussion of specific products.