Brand dilution

David over at Thirdway Advertising Blog has a great post on his site about the ongoing dilution of the Saab brand. Whilst I don’t necessarily share his pessimism about Saab’s medium to long term future, it is a timely reminder that the things that make Saab the carmaker that I love are becoming less and less prevalent.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve driven the 9-3 on both road and track and it’s as much fun as you can have sitting down. The 2005 9-5 is a beautiful car and as comfortable a tourer as you could ask for. I’ll reserve my comments on the new 9-5 until I drive one next year.

David sums a few things up pretty succinctly:

The most important thing about the Saab from a branding standpoint is that it embodied the three characteristics of great brands – it was authentic, it was unique and it was consistent. In this world of the Gap, Starbuck’s and McDonald’s the value of brands that are different from the mainstream cannot be overstated. Saab had that.

Even more succinct:

Great brands have in intuitive ability to get the small things right.

If there’s one thing that’s evaporated from Saab’s build language, it’s this. Corporate development has taken the place of intuitive development and I fear that the newer Saab models might suffer from this. We’ve all lamented the loss of a hatchback Saab and as good as the 9-3SS is, the practicality of a Saab hatch was pretty much without equal. Sportiness, comfort, safety, performance and practicality all rolled into one.

These days it would appear that models have to toe the corporate line of fiscal responsibility before the practicalities of the design are nailed down. When you read that GM is allowing Saab’s designers more creative freedom, it’s a relative turn of phrase, I’m afraid.

I’d encourage you to read David’s article: Sad case of Saab.

I’m quite optomistic about the future for Saab. I refuse to believe that a car company with so much to offer could be left to wither. It’s going to take a fair bit of faith on the part of someone with fairly deep pockets, but I still firmly believe that the Saab design ethos is timeless, and therefore able to carry on into the future.

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  1. Certainly food for thought…..just not really the kind of thoughts I’d like to be having about saab. It is a shame to see the kinds of comments that GM & others in the car biz bandy around about SAAB.
    Realising that they are in a tough game and that EBIT is everything is part & parcel of doing business these days. I work in pharmaceuticals and we are constantly under pressure to show earnings growth, not just sales. This pressure is real for any business and its what distracts from clear, original thought about the future of a business beyond the financial quarter.

    This is where great business people thrive; under pressure they can see a way forward that delivers both growth and profit. In my experience, the best approaches are based on a sound understanding of the business/the market/the customers/the products and your assets. In a consumer market, a brand is a piece of tangible equity that should be valued this way or you will be seen as a commodity and treated accordingly.

    As you said swade, the cars they make now are pretty good by any measure. I feel the greatest issues are in the overall business model and development. The range is limited and the future seems patchy. The brand is still readily salvageable but I just don’t get the impression that GM is that interested.
    They certainly saved SAABs arse in the past ( as far as I am aware) but they seem too dilute and with too many other issues on their plate to focus. George the pharmacist seems to show some committment but I still can’t see him doing much in the scheme of GM’s greater issues.
    A sale to an interested and capable party would be a good thing. Anyway, enough ranting this morning. Anyone keen to do the due diligence on SAAB?


  2. Well, the negative press and speculative dialogue about the future of Saab under GM is perhaps a big contributor to the real dilution of the brand due to the effect that this has on potential sales. Any potential new buyer of Saab product will be quickly put off by the negative comments about the future of the brand. So, perhaps not dwelling on this will help this great Car maker for its long term survival rather than the constant hammering about its short term future. Does anyone bug Volvo so much since the ownership of Ford ??? For the record Volvo’s range is not much more wider than Saab with only a 4WD (SUV for the Yanks) model in addition to the 2 main models. No doubt that Saab needs to lift its game in bringing more options to the fleet and bring more updates faster. But when it comes down to repeat business from current owners this brand performs as one of the best. Why not a lot is written about this fact ???

  3. I think that a big part of the disappointment with GM owning Saab, is that with all the brain power, the world’s largest auto manufacturer’s European brand still lacks the characteristics of it’s other European competition.

    Take a look at the new 9-5 Aero, the front end of the car looks like a Pontiac Bonneville, and it’s front wheel drive.. Then take a look at the performance options for the 9-5 that are listed as accessories on Saab’s website, and you will notice that the Performance and Exhaust listings are not available for even a 2005 9-5.

    And why is it that GM will put powerfull engines in a Cadillac but won’t in a Saab? What a disappointment to pull up to a red light with your 9-5 and the Grandma next to you is in a CTS V series. It’s time for a rear wheel drive Autobahn cruiser.

  4. I just read your article “Is a Saab for you” and it really got me thinking. I really like the idea of having a sleeper and not seeing the car I am driving every 2 minutes on the highway. I am thinking about buying the new 2008 9-3 2.0T. I was looking at the specs on the Saab Internationla site and it said that they recommended 95 Oct with 91 Oct min. What will happen if I put 87 Oct in it.

  5. Back in 1980 my parents decided to trade in their old VW bug and in their search for a new car, they decided to test drive a Saab GLi. My mom fell in love with it the first time she drove it. I learned to drive on it, and when I graduated from college eleven years later, they gave it to me. I loved that car. Loved the quirkiness, the comfortable seats, lots of other DETAILS that made it a Saab. I drove it until it hit 175K miles, after which it started having electrical problems. After that, I went through a series of Chevys, a beetle of my own, and a Subaru, which I grew also to love for its reliability and AWD.

    A couple years ago, the 9-2X became the first Saab I could really afford. I knew of the reliability issues and didn’t want to buy a used Saab. I wanted to buy one I’d take care of and tend to. Knowing that it was really a Suby underneath it made it a no-brainer. I was back in the Saab family. A couple years later, I was earning better money and had been drooling over the 9-3 SportCombi promotional material, and basically told my dealer to “get me one” and I’d trade in my 9-2X. I was going to buy it sight-unseen. It was a “real” Saab, and I couldn’t wait to own one… I went to the dealer’s to sign the papers, and god bless his soul, he asked me, “don’t you want to drive it first?”

    I said sure, and off we went.

    I sat in the car and was a little underwhelmed with the quality of the interior materials, but the fun is in the driving, right? The local roads were under a lot of heavy construction, so this would be a good chance to test out the car’s suspension — see how it would handle on the questionable NY roads.

    What followed was possibly the most depressing experience I have ever had driving a car.

    Every pothole and break in the pavement sent a shudder up the frame that I just knew in 10K miles or less would result in rattles. The engine was a total disappointment — it seemed like the turbo was either ON or OFF, there was no gradual phase-in. The steering was vague… In short, it felt like one of the Chevy Cavaliers I had owned a few years ago.

    I canceled the deal. I was depressed for weeks. I cursed GM for killing Saab. And eventually bought a Mazdaspeed6.

    Next time I go to buy a car, I will definitely test drive another Saab, but if they can’t sell cars to people who love the brand, who are they going to sell to?

  6. The fall of SAAB in the hands of GM was not a happy step for SAAB lovers. Don’t compare this to the case of Volvo falling in the hands of Ford. It’s different. The mentality of GM is “mass market production”. Menaing buy ANy company possible, copy the invoations those smaller manufacturers did to “GM” tagged cars and mass produce every where in the world.

    I have a SAAB 9-5 Aero (2003). and plan to keep this car (as the only SAAB I have), I don’t know about the future ,models.I’ve seen with my own eyes SAAB innovations in the so called Caprice (GCC area) and Cheve. Lumina !! such as suspensions and cup holders ,….etc. Imagine FM copied the fancy cup holder of SAAB to a GM car !!

    The future of SAAB isn’t bright in my view if it still stays in the hands of GM. I think a european car manfacturer should be better off buying SAAB back from GM. Diamlar-Benz, BMW ,…what ever.

    If innovations are stollen and “tagged” as authunetic products, you can imagine how bad the future is…..

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