This week may not be the ideal one for those of you with an optimistic disposition. I’ve got a few things to get off my chest, and as it turns out a few others have too. I’d rather keep it focused on the cars and how much fun they are to own, to look at and to drive. But sometimes you’ve got to open the dump valve and relieve some pressure.
So the following will be a little bit about what I do on this site, why I do it the way I do it and why I think GM are dropping the ball with Saab in various jurisdictions in this new modern age that we live in.
A picture tells a thousand words. I could use a number of pictures here and all would be equally suitable, but I’ll choose this one and entitle it “This is what it’s all about”
This one’s a long-ish one, so grab a coffee and sit down.
This post has been prompted by the suggestion (yes, it’s still nagging at me) that stories surrounding the MY 2008 Saab 9-3 were a primary factor for the sagged Saab 9-3 sales in the United States during February 2007. 9-3 sales were down by around 550 units compared to February 2006, though interestingly, they were only down a small amount from the preceding month.
I can accept the fact that some shoppers, upon hearing of the re-style and the addition of XWD would consider waiting for the new model. However, I can’t accept that this site has the traffic or the clout to influence a shopper’s decision to anywhere near that degree. If it has, then Saab should consider hiring me as I’m having a greater impact on their market than their multi-milllion dollar ads – and I think you’ll agree that that whole notion is rather preposterous.
My job here on Trollhattan Saab is pretty simple. I work for the visitors that come here. I do everything I can to provide all the latest news about Saab automobiles. This site is primarily aimed at Saab enthusiasts and it’s presented the only way I know – from the perspective of an enthusiast. My appreciation for Saab was born at 200km/h and honed by occasion after occasion where I have enjoyed the fun, speed and utility of turbocharged, sporty and practical Saabs. I love driving them and I love sharing knowledge about this most iconic of carmakers. I’m interested in what they’re doing and it’s quite obvious to me as a blogger that there’s a lot of people out there who are in the same boat.
My primary loyalty is to the Saab brand and culture. GM own the company but Saab owners and enthusiasts own the culture – and the sooner GM learn that the greater they’ll benefit from having Saab in their stable.
Saab isn’t mainstream and hence isn’t always understood by the mainstream media. We see this all the time in misguided road tests that judge the cars based on the adequacy of their cupholders rather than the ease and comforth with which you can take a 4-hour roadtrip with breathless performance and a truckload of luggage. This site exists to expound on the joys of Saab ownership from the perspective of a group of people that “gets it” – actual Saab owners themselves.
When your average curious Joe does a search on Google and lands here, he’ll find a site that writes honestly about Saabs from an ownership and enthusiast perspective. He’ll find a place that appreciates the Saab brand and what it represents rather than the people that own it. He’ll be able to learn a little about the foundations upon which the company was built, its ability to punch well above its weight and the whole philosophy of building the car around the driver.
It’s to their detriment that GM have seemingly lost the ability to communicate that to their Saab customers in recent years through either their products or their marketing.
Saab’s job is to produce compelling products built in the Saab tradition with excellent engineering and innovative ideas to provide a unique driving experience. It’s secondary job is market these vehicles in a compelling manner that attracts a sufficient and suitable customer base. Last but not least, it’s job is also to service these customers in a way that fits in with Saab being the premium European brand within GM’s fold.
I think they’re getting better at some of these, but there’s little doubt they’ve dropped the ball in many areas and current events point to further bumps in the road.
I’ve driven the latest 9-3 in all three forms and I’ve also driven the latest 9-5 vehicles as well. They’re all excellent cars and I’d be happy to have any of them in my garage if were fortunate enough to be in the position to buy one.
But consider the following cars and the times when they were released:
The Saab 96 GT750
The Saab 99 EMS
The Saab 99 Turbo
The Saab 900 Aero (SPG)
The Saab 900 convertible
The Saab 9000 Aero
The Saab 9-3 Viggen
The first Saab 9-5 Aero
Each of these vehicles was a compelling car for its time. Each had that certain something about it that encapsulated the brand and at the same time took it to a new level. Each was differentiated from its siblings in a way that made people aspire to owning one – and they continue to do it to this day as collector’s pieces or as the dream Saab for an enthusiast like me that can’t yet afford to buy new.
Now, as good as the current cars are (and they are very, very good) – is there really anything in the range that would fit in with the pantheon listed above? Maybe a 9-3 Aero Sportcombi fits this bill and perhaps a 9-3 Convertible as well. Maybe.
Saab shot itself in the foot around 4 or 5 years ago with a lack of cost control that saw prospective vehicles axed and a fair bit of independance lost. It’s now paying the price for this with average quality ratings and poor customer perception.
The prospects for the future are improving, however. With a fundamentally different 9-3 on the horizon, the evolution of BioPower, a new 9-5 to come and a 9-4x and a 9-1 on the drawing board there’s little doubt that things are looking up.
But you can hardly blame an enthusiast community for showing interest in these future models when the history of the brand has been so storied, so innovative, and the current models are devoid of a hatch or many other points of difference from their competition. As competent and fun to drive as the 9-3 was, there’s something that’s quite “me-too” about having a sedan as your primary model for so long and for a demographic like Saab’s, it’s just not enough. Thank goodness for the addition of the SportCombi.
Saab buyers expect a different level of service from their dealer. As a Saab enthusiast I’d expect my dealer to be knowledgable of both the current cars and Saab’s history. I’d expect them to gain an understanding of my knowledge and respect the fact that I’ve done my homework and know what I want. I’d expect them to come to a sale through relationship rather than tactics and pressure. And I’d expect them to be still be interested about the sale after it went through.
Thankfully, my local dealer exhibits all these qualities and I hope yours does too, but I know that many don’t. Saab would do well to take their top 5 dealers in each jurisdiction and employ them for three months a year as trainers to others. Sounds silly, I know. But how many Saab dealers out there now are dealing Saabs because they have to under a dealership agreement and don’t really know diddly-squat about the brand, its history and its typical customer?
Cadillac recently won BusinessWeek’s inaugural award for best automotive-related customer service. What’s more, they placed third in the entire award, being pitched against category winners from non-automotive areas. So it’s not like it’s impossible for a GM company to do well in when it comes to customer service. I’ve heard enough stories through this site to know that some Saab dealers can do it exceptionally well and some can leave a lot to be desired.
GM may not fully realise this, but Saab owners are a finicky bunch and there’s very good historical reasons for this. Many of them have owned Saabs in the past and therefore have possibly had poor repairs done on their cars by a non-specialist Saab repairer. This harks back to the days where Saab were indeed quite different to everything else out there. It’s why I take my Viggen to a specialist rather than the local Saab dealership, which also deals with Holdens and Hyundais. If you think I’m letting some 19 year old apprentice loose on my Viggen when he likely hasn’t seen anything remotely like it before in his life then you’ve got another thing coming. And I’d be just as wary if I owned a 9-5.
Saab owners should be made to feel every bit as welcome as Caddy owners. They should get treatment comparable to Mercedes owners (ask a Benz owner when was the last time they paid for a globe when they called in to have one replaced). They should be appreciated with the same level of respect as BMW and Audi have for their customers. Anything less and you’re just handing another win to your competition.
This might be the single area where Saab may have the most catching up to do. The electronic world is changing month by month and hiring a kid who’s a wiz at Flash to tart up your website isn’t going to cut it. As a matter of fact it may even be an impediment in many situations as you’re forcing your customers to be compatible, but that’s another matter.
It’s not only the changing nature of the electronic world, it’s the engagement of the Saab community in that changing world. This site has grown exponentially in the last 2 years. The Saab Network (or as I like to think of it, the electronic version of “Cheers” for Saab enthusiasts) involves a huge community of Saab owners as do SaabCentral, Saablink and numerous club websites and other forums around the world.
Saab’s own demographic studies show that the average Saab buyer is around 42 years old, professionally employed and quite discerning in what they choose to compliment their lifestyle. They’re quite capable and engaged in using the web to research what they’re looking for and Saab need to tap into this with more than just a flashy website.
There isn’t a car company yet that’s properly tapped into the phenomenon that’s referred to as “Web 2.0” but they’d be well advised to do so. This site is just a blog and therefore a very basic part of that, but a properly resourced and established interaction between company and customer is possible and vital, now more than ever, and moreover it’s perfectly suited to a brand like Saab with a small but highly engaged customer base.
Contrary to my previous writing here, that’s not a job that I’d want. I’m now content in my little corner of cyberspace with my independance and ability to grow the site as I wish. I’m also lacking the knowledge and skills to do the engineroom work that would need to be done in such an exercise. I can tell you though, that the company that does this first and best will rake in a windfall.
As to the more traditional kind of marketing….
Saab seem to have a number of campaigns going on in different places, which points to the fact that they’re either well on top of what customers expect in different markets, or that they haven’t got a clue.
I tend to lean towards the former rather than the latter. I think their marketing is pretty well presented, there just needs to be more of it and the control over that lies with the beancounters at GM. Saab are takers of budgetary advice, not givers. But GM don’t need to be told that you’ve got to spend money to make money.
Hopefully Saab’s budget will increase as new models come on board. GM are getting plenty of benefit from Saab engineering and turbocharging knowledge and Saab’s got heaps of upside potential in many markets, so a little investment could go a long, long way.
If I were to make a presentation to a global Saab company conference, I’d tell them that I work for the visitors that take the time to come and read stories on the website.
I’d tell the bosses from Detroit and Russelsheim that they work for the engineers and designers. Their job is to make decisions that provide the best environment for the real brains of the company to do the best job they can in producing the best Saabs for a modern age.
I’d tell the engineers and designers that they work for the interests of Saab dealers. The dealers have to have something compelling to sell to clients and it’s the job of the engineers and designers to provide a compelling product that inherits all the elements that made Saabs so distinctive over the years.
And I’d tell the Saab dealers that they work for the customers. They’re the people who are going to pay your wage, make you look good in the eyes of the company and hence make the company look good in the eyes of more people. The dealers have to be outstanding and they have to have something outstanding to sell.
I’m going to do my bit and cover everything Saab in the best possible way that I can. Here’s hoping that GM and Saab can do their part to best of their ability too.