It’s waaaaay to late in the evening to be trying this, but when inspiration comes…..
Think back to the first time you really became conscious of Saab as a brand of motor car. Not the first time you saw one, or the first time you heard of one, but the first time you actually became aware of the capabilities of a car with a Saab badge.
What’s the one thing you can remember? What was your reaction?
For me, it was surprise. When I got into my mate’s 1986 model 9000 Turbo for the first time, I was pleasantly surprised by how incredibly comfortable the seats were. I was impressed by the leather. I was amazed at the “gee whiz functionality” of the climate control system (thanks Debra Kelly-Ennis for the expression) and at 200 km/h on the way into Philip Island it’s fair to say that I was blown away by the speed.
That was the one drive that brought Saab into focus for me. Maybe you had a similar experience? Something where a Saab you encountered, maybe for the first time, proved that it was way more than what you expected it to be.
The Detroit News published an article today on the continuing role of Saab within the GM portfolio. It says that the brand is safe for now and that Jay Spenchian and his crew have the green light to grow the brand – the target is sales of 80,000 in the United States by 2010.
A barrier that it identifies, a question that it asks, is what does the Saab brand stand for? What’s their mission? If I had my Saab brand book here I could spout it off verbatim from the original text that dealers are trained on. But that book is currently sitting in my office.
I can share with you what their mission should be, in my mind anyway….
It should be to continue to build cars that do things in ways the others haven’t thought of. Build them so that when people drive them, they think to themselves “Hell, why doesn’t my car do that?”. Like turbocharging. Saab broke the ice on turbocharging way back in the 1970’s, made it a standard. With oil prices surging and common recognition for greater efficiency, guess what’s becoming more and more common amongst more and more carmakers?
That’s right. Turbocharging.
The intuitive heating system that I first enountered in the 900. The way the entire cabin was made for driver comfort and ease of use. The practicality of a hatch that could swallow a herd of wildebeest.
The more I learned about this car company, the more I wanted to learn. Is that my nature, or the nature of the cars themselves?
And more importantly, does the current batch of cars and those on the drawing board inspire the same level of curiosity and fascination?
It’s my fervent belief that Saab can sell as many cars as they can make provided they adhere to the same levels of innovation, functionality, inspiration and beautiful design as they did in the past. If they can build cars that continue to surprise every time a new person gets into them, then all they’ll have to do is get bums on seats and the problems will be solved. That may sound too simplistic, but it isn’t.
Saab has a magic number somewhere. That number is the figure needed to ensure ongoing viability and adequate research and development for future models and innovations. A Saab is an acquired taste and GM and Saab both know this so they’re not trying to move millions of cars. What they need to do is reach the magic number that will ensure that the right cars can be made both now and into the future.
A Saab buyer is a curious animal. They have a certain level of discretion. They don’t mind being a little showy every now and then, but the centre of attention belongs to others and they’re welcome to it. They appreciate the differences. These potential buyers aren’t everywhere you look, but there’s well and truly enough of them that don’t currently drive Saabs to make that magic number a worthwhile and attainable goal.
So, what do Saab have to do?
Make cars that inspire and surprise. Prove, and then engage those new technologies: The plug-in hybrid that I’m hearing was killed at the last minute before the Stockholm show by men at the very top levels of GM. The SVC engine. The full-line of Biopower engines that I’ve heard (just tonight) is rumoured for announcement later this year (November).
Just like turbocharging, Saab should lead the way in emerging automotive engineering – the difference is that this time there should be some noise about it as well as continued improvement and innovation to build on the leadership they establish.
At the same time, they need to inspire the marketplace. Get bums on seats. Get people into the cars and surprise them. These cars are (and should be) built for owners, not for journalists. The importance of the press shouldn’t be ignored, but efforts should be made to stir interest through non-traditional means. Driving events, motorsport – whatever. The full potential has to be harnessed to get people’s interest peaked.
For goodness sake, do another Talladega run this year. Feature a full range of gasoline, diesel and Biopower vehicles and make some noise about it.
Finally, all those cynical journos that will stick the knife into Saab at a moment’s notice should be made to show respect. The Aero-X commands respect. Future Saab models must be similarly inspiring in their styling, driving characteristics and of course, functionality.
Saab has a fantastic future if it’s handled correctly. One gets the feeling that it’s now or never for GM and Saab. The pieces are in place – all they have to do is think strong and play the game wisely. Do that right and they’ll continue to surprise everyone, maybe even themselves.