The Trollhattan Weblog Response

Jay’s managed to pour quite a few fish into the Fastlane barrel today. Now where’s my gun?

Firstly, I’ve got say how pleasing it is to finally hear from “The Pharmacist“. The link above is to Jay’s post on the Fastlane blog, but you can either click there or scroll down to where I’ve reproduced it for the Trollhattan archive, below. Anyone that doubts the effectiveness of weblogs should stop right in their tracks and ask themselves what other medium could provide the instant connectivity to so many people in so many places. I knew that The State of Saab message had to be delivered some time, and given recent posts on Entry Level Saabs and Selling Saabs, it’s a timely addition to the Trollhattan Saab archive.

So, where to begin?

In Jay’s words, it’s the “essence of Saab”.

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.

Darn right, Jay.

Not that the start has been too shabby, but the fact that there’s still work to do has been recognised is an encouraging sign. The extensions into these new markets have been in the form of the 9-2x and the 9-7x. In both instances, Saab engineers were able to take a proven platform and make it better. But it’s noted that in both instances, there were pangs of doubt (to put it mildly) from not only the Saab community, but more importantly, the market. Some of those noises have been quietened by the delivery of favourable road tests and reports. The fact remains, though, that a distinctly Saab model will always be better received than an adaptation.

Can I get a witness??

How about the 9-3 SportCombi? Saab down to it’s shoes and the most anticipated Saab since the 9-3 Sport Sedan.

In terms of future models, the most worrying statement actually comes before the ‘essence of Saab’ statements above. Here it is:

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.

I’m sure I speak for many other Saabisti around the world when I say that we, the Saab community, born of an independant mind and weaned on the 96, the 99, the classic 900 and the 9000 do not want “a distinctive interpretation of a premium European vehicle.”

We want a destinctive premium European vehicle.

You can take your plans to ‘interpret’ European and put them in the round-file right now. Give us the real deal. Designed, planned and engineered is Sweden, drawing on all the experience built up over a car company’s lifetime. Build it in any of your quality controlled plants around the world, but for goodness sakes, get the fundamentals right – please. I know we’ve got some pretty decent interpretations in the 9-2x and the 9-7x. These are understood to be bridge vehicles, however. The future of Saab should reside in a design centre in Sweden (and Russelshiem, I guess).

Collaborations? Not too bad. We know there’s a 9-6x in the wings that will prove to be a pretty decent vehicle too, but distinct from the 9-2x and the 9-7x, this will have Saab input from the very early stages.

Saab place in the GM family? Well, there’s no doubt in what Jay’s written here:

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.

But there’s probably a few snickers going on in the Renaissance Centre over this:

And Saab is just as critical to GM’s success.

But the truth and the immense potential inherent in the Saab brand lies here:

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.

The average, intelligent Saab enthusiast understands the financial pressures that Saab face and can be realistic about the medium term future of model development: sales appeal is the key. But we also understand that if you don’t stand for something….well you know the rest. Saab’s identity is well developed. It’s just never been well communicated.

In a rising fuel-cost environment, a progressive brand like Saab could, and should, be a launching point for new fuel technology and development worldwide. This is the immense potential in the Saab brand and it’s a natural fit for a company that was the first to ‘get more from less’ by introducing the turbocharger to passenger vehicles in 1977. This progressive development is happening in a micro sense already, with the E85 fuelled Biopower 9-5 in Sweden. Hopefully GM realises the potential here and leverages Saab’s history to further extend this differentiation.

The introduction of diesel Saabs into the US is a case in point. In 2007, diesel fuel regulations in the US will provide for Saab to be able to effectively market and sell their range of diesel vehicles that have been a spectacular success in the UK. With bucketloads of torque and new, cleaner technology, these are bound to be a boon for the US market and add another piece of market-share to the Saab slice of the pie.

Is the demand there? You betcha. I’ve had multiple comments here at Trollhattan and have started some threads on other bulletin services that ended up running for 10+ pages. The overriding theme: if they brought it here (i.e. the diesel Saab), I’d buy one.

And Saab is the perfect launchpad for diesel technology in the US. All those black clouds of doubt about diesel in the consumer’s collected minds were caused by GM’s other brands. Let Saab introduce the GM diesel in the US and you kill two birds with one stone: a more acceptable introduction from a progressive brand, and a greater slice of the pie for Saab. Is there a downside here?

Moving on……

Jay speaks of Saab USA’s ‘Plan for Action’ that encapsulates much of what I’ve been talking about here. In summary:

1. Grow our limited product portfolio into the ‘right’ segments.
2. Devise manufacturing strategies that support the brand and the necessary growth
3. Communicate a brand identity that is uniquely Saab, through thoughtful, aggressive marketing and advertising.
4. Localize the Saab brand promise and value proposition to the US market.
5. Pull all of this together for the customer

1 to 3, and 5 – I get. I think I’ll have to get into marketing school for point 4, but that’s OK.

Part of pulling all this together for the customer, though, is giving customers the opportunity to get to your dealerships, drive the cars and be thrilled with the experience. Jay, I’d implore you to read my post on Selling Saabs (Pt 2) and the comments therein. It’s a strategic investment, and not a small one, but the upside potential is huge (I finally get to use the phrase ‘upside potential’ – I’ve always wanted to be an NBA blogger).

Bob Lutz recently spoke about the fact that there’s no automotive growth in history that hasn’t been centered around the quality of the product. It’s point one of the action plan and it really is where the rubber hits the road. If the cars aint any good, then the rest of it is just froth and bubble.

I’ve spoken a little on product earlier in the post so I won’t labour the point. With regard to the subject, Jay promises the following:

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.

Will I be watching for Friday’s installment?

Does a bear shit in the woods?

Pardon my French……couldn’t resist!

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6 Comments

  1. “The introduction of diesel Saabs into the US is a case in point. In 2007, diesel fuel regulations in the US will provide for Saab to be able to effectively market and sell their range of diesel vehicles that have been a spectacular success in the UK. With bucketloads of torque and new, cleaner technology, these are bound to be a boon for the US market and add another piece of market-share to the Saab slice of the pie.

    Is the demand there? You betcha. I’ve had multiple comments here at Trollhattan and have started some threads on other bulletin services that ended up running for 10+ pages. The overriding theme: if they brought it here (i.e. the diesel Saab), I’d buy one.

    And Saab is the perfect launchpad for diesel technology in the US. All those black clouds of doubt about diesel in the consumer’s collected minds were caused by GM’s other brands. Let Saab introduce the GM diesel in the US and you kill two birds with one stone: a more acceptable introduction from a progressive brand, and a greater slice of the pie for Saab. Is there a downside here?”

    I recently made the switch from selling Saab to selling Volkswagen, and even though I am disappointed and hoping to one day go back, it has given me a world of insight.
    Eight out of ten inquiries so far in my time at VW have been for the TDI. The New Jetta, Golf, and New Beetle TDIs are going for no less than US$1000 over sticker, with some used going for thousands more than a comparable new TDI. Saab’s focus should certainly be on getting their diesel motor approved for the very instant the cleaner burning fuel is available in the U.S.

  2. You Go Boys! dzlsabe here. I was gettin that impression at the VW TDI meet near Madison last weekend. They were 3-deep occasionally and willing to sacrifice unneeded or under-used body parts.

  3. One of my neighbors is the manager of the local VW dealership. After barbequing at his place Monday evening, over a beer he told me that last Saturday EVERY SINGLE PERSON that he talked to in his showroom was looking for a VW diesel.

    Wake up, folks at GM. It’s not always about getting a 300+hp RWD Camaro.

  4. Amen Swade – well said!

    I really have only two small concerns with Jay’s message.

    First – when he speaks of functionality he refers only to the driver environment. For me, a key aspect of functionality is outstanding space utilization – small on the outside, large on the inside. The recent trend has been away from that ideal (I can barely fit in the back seat of a 9-3SS and while the 9-7X is certainly roomy, it’s anything but small).

    Second – I’m concerned about the hyper-focus on the US market. True, the US is Saab’s largest single market (although at the rate the UK is going that may not be true for much longer) but well over two-thirds of Saabs are sold *outside* NA. Saab’s survival depends as much (or more) on that as it does on the US.

    Looking forward to Friday…

  5. Good post Swade, I agree with all that you have said.

    Like the “other” Alan, I have to take issue with the functionality comment. As you know, my big complain with the 9-2x is that it is not laid out well compared to other Sabbs. Obviously, part of this is the Subaru design, but Saab could have done a better job of re-designing the interior.

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