Tasmania’s Sad State of Saab

I live in what once was a thriving Saab town.

Saabdealertrophy.jpg

That trophy now sits on my window sill. It’s the 1998 Rural Customer Service Award and it was won by Kingsway Motors, a former Saab dealership here in Tasmania.

The guys behind Kingsway sold the dealership shortly after winning this award. They’d had a great run. Kingsway Motors was located in one of the more affluent suburbs here in Hobart, a spot called Sandy Bay. They had a small showroom just off the main street but that’s all they needed. They had a loyal local customer base and they served them well.

Around 1999, the dealership was bought by the Jackson Motor Company, who were primarily Ford dealers located in the north of the state. They wanted a foot in the door here in the south and the Kingsway purchase was their golden opportunity.

They never really wanted the Saab franchise – they wanted the real estate. They were absolutely hopeless when it came to Saab. I don’t know if they finally wriggled out of their dealership contract or if it was taken from them, but around a year or so later the Saabs were moved out and a bunch of new Volkswagens moved in.

The Kingsway guys didn’t get their service award for nothing. They had one of the best Saab mechanics in the country working for them. Steve E trained on Saabs from a young age, cutting his teeth on 99s and 900s.

How good is he, exactly?

Well, after Jacksons took over Kingsway, Steve wasn’t wanted and went to work for another workshop here in Hobart. At Kingsway they had 1,100 Saab clients on their books. Steve took 1,000 of those with him to his new employer just by word of mouth.

Given that things were so poor at the new Jackson-owned Saab dealership, it came as no surprise when it was finally relinquished. The responsibility for Saab in Tasmania was taken over by a company called Motors, who were the Holden and Hyundai dealers here in Tasmania. Prior to Saab coming on board they also sold BMWs from the same showroom as Holden.

The guy in charge of their BMW section was Tony B, and he took over the responsibilities for Saab as well when they came on board and BMW moved out. Motors re-fitted one of their excess spaces as a Saab Ultimate dealership and for about a year or so all looked beautiful. It wasn’t quite so beautiful behind the scenes, but it looked good.

Even with the new 9-3 Sport Sedan released, sales of Saabs weren’t enough to sustain the floorspace that Saab were given at Motors, so they moved down the road to share the Holden space.

Fast forward a few years to 2007…..

The Motors group have never been totally sold on Saab. A limited range has meant limited sales and in many ways, Motors treated Saab as a brand that had been thrust upon them rather than one they would have by choice. Tony B stayed loyal to Motors and to Saab through some very hard times. Earlier this year he felt the need to advance his career and applied for the Holden Sales Manager job that was advertised at Motors, where he’d been a successful operator for 14 years.

Tony is a fantastic car guy with a great manner and thorough product knowledge. He was the #2 rural Saab dealer in Australia – and yet Motors still passed him over when it came to the Holden job. Around the same time, the BMW Sales Manager job became available and Tony was successful with his application. He started there this week.

A few years ago, Motors also had a specialist factory trained Saab mechanic, Matt G. He’s often seen on this blog as “Saabologist”. Matt got sick of the way Motors pressured him in the workplace – pressure that led to corners being cut in the service dept. He left there a few years ago to take over a small business with his Mrs, who is simply known as “The Pants”.

As I write this on Friday, April 13, the old Kingsway building is now empty and available for lease. Jackson Motor Company has built a new showroom and are selling Audi and Volkswagen from there.

So we now have an empty building where Saabs were successfully sold for years, a premier Saab salesman working for BMW and one of the best Saab mechanics in the country servicing out-of-warranty Saabs for someone else’s business and making that guy heaps of money in the process. Our other premier Saab mechanic is making (delicious) fudge for a living and doing the occasional wrench job here and there.

Something’s very wrong with this picture.

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13 Comments

  1. Feel your pain…its a constant “weve got a better product” BUTT the LAME 95…the locations, the overloaded dealererships, NO service/marketing support…somewhat larger fierce competition…(Sorry Swade, the last time I saw an OZ Saab dealer was 88)…well go figure! Ask volvo/subaru..AWD in all but the worst of winters…big waste of time. Go SAAB, the only “stick to their roots mfg ever”.
    Btw are those Ds flying off the lot?

  2. And things are even worse if you are located in the north of the state!

    Motors has just built themselves a rather nice and impressive new showroom and maintenance area here in central Launceston. I was bored one Sunday afternoon and went down to check it out and found it to be full of Hyundais, Holdens and now Nissans. Their idea of a SAAB ‘display’ was one lonely looking 9-3. I felt that I should break it out and give it a good home, but thought better of that. There was no signage on the buildings to even indicate that they sell SAAB cars (do they still offer servicing up here?).

    If you were new to Launceston, or heard about SAABs and thought you would like to check one out, then you certainly wouldn’t know that they are our SAAB dealer up here.

    Considering that Tasmania seems to have a nicely developing middle class now due to increases in property values and higher income jobs, I thought it would make sense for dealers like Motors to go after these people rather than letting them go down to Bathurst Street and visit Launceston Autohaus and let them drive out with a 318i..but then, if you have no interest in the SAAB brand at all, it makes perfect sense!

    I think another huge to being a small brand in a business that deals with three significant brands that are extremely popular to a lot of the folks down here. When it was Kingsway, was it a SAAB-only dealership (my old 900 came from there)?

    I wonder too..with the increase in car brands coming out of Europe into Australia these days, that consumers aren’t getting the message about SAAB clear enough. I think that is especially true here in Tasmania.

    I have only ever seen SAAB advertised on TDT..something that about 60% of Tasmanians receive, whereas Jackson Motor Company seem to have VWs advertised every night on the analogue stations. Bruce Stevenson has a few Audi commercials running..the other night I even saw a Peugeot ad.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if SAAB came along and took over the old building, got the old players back into the Kingsway building and market this brand as it deserves to be.

    Sorry to ramble, just my 2c 🙂

  3. Funny, but I’ve been thinking about this sad state of affairs all week. Unfortunately though, Steve, you missed few things off your list of woe…..

    There’s Paul L, who was Steve E’s counterpart. For a while he was working at Steve’s new place, but he’s since retired to a quiet couintry life.

    There’s David M, the former Kingsway Sales Manager. Everyone who owned a Saab knew him. After Kingsway closed up he started flogging used cars from his house, but that didn’t last. He’s now at EuroCentral flogging Hondas instead.

    There’s Bill S, who was the Saab service manager at Kingsway. He sold out, offloaded the entire parts stock for $200, sold his house, and retired to a new home in the country. Last I heard he was running a hobby farm.

    If only we could do what the Blues Brothers did, and reunite ‘The Band’. Right now I couldn’t think of anything better!

    Drew

  4. I’m watching with interest to see if our tas SAAB dealer replaces Tony with another dedicated person, or throws responsibility for shifting the marque in with other lesser brands.

    That truly would be the end of the glory days.

  5. I’ve had a bit more of a think about this, and I’m not in a very good mood right now!

    This whole situation has been brought about by GM and Saab Australia, and their completye inability to do ANTHING even VAGUELY approaching good business practice. Look at Saab’s position 10 years ago compared to now and convince ANYONE that they know what they’re doing!

    What’s worse, our car club is sponsored by Saab Australia, and as a member I’m expected to swallow all this shit without protest. I’m not allowed to say their dealerships stink, their service is second rate and their cars are inferior to other products being offered. Yeah, right!

    Not any more. If this is the future of Saab Australia, and thus our car club, I hereby suggest that GM and Saab Australia take their interets elsewhere. They can stick their operations fair up their backsides for all I care, and I’m going to be making moves to set up a car club not oveseen by complete MORONS like them!

    Further, I’ll be actively discouraging anyone from buying a new Saab (or any product) from Motors, and I’ll be doing my best to give Steve Eyles at Hobart Automotive some more business.

    And on the off chance that some executive wankers at Saab Oz read this, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE get Emily, Parveen and the rest of that dumbassed crowd to jum off the nearest bridge!!!!!!!!!

    Drew

  6. Drew: Too much coffee will do that to you — step away from the Starbucks.

    I think that your situation is perhaps a bit extreme given that you live in a relatively remote part of the world on Tasmania, but I believe that in some small ways you’re experiencing the types of things happening with Saab dealers the world over.

    Saab is a small brand. I’m not sold on the fact that they can support a large local network of dealers without facing some sort of compromises along the way. However, if it can be done, it must be done in a way that isn’t in step with the ‘normal’ dealer scenario.

    Theoretically, this is where GM steps in and makes things better.

    Given that Saab will be sharing platforms all around in short order, it should reduce the burden of individual GM dealers to take on the Saab line and make money with it even though the smaller volume remains.

    This doesn’t help in the short term, but it should help in the longer term.

    Sales. That’s the key for now. Sales. If they don’t come up, we will have to deal with the consequences. This is one of them, unfortunately.

    In my neck of the woods, I have the opposite, but related, problem. the Nashville, Tennessee Saab dealer is also the Jaguar, Porsche, Ferrari and Audi dealer. None are high-volume brands, but they are high-dollar brands for sure. Saabs aren’t as expensive, so the salespeople almost ignore Saab customers. The parts department charges unbelieveable prices for parts, and the service department is ludicrously high. So, you don’t get much attention, and they absolutely stick it to you dollars-wise. Not a good combination. However, they aren’t going to give up the Saab dealership anytime soon, you can bet.

  7. Anyone want some FUDGE?
    It’ll make you feel better.
    And if anyone in Tassie has some spare cash.
    Say $1,500,000 then let’s go into business, although the service and parts side will have to carry the sales for a while.
    I know Steve E has thought about it in the past

  8. Sounds like you all need a cuddle down there!!

    if its any consolation its happening Australia wide, speaking with a few people in South Australia, they were saying that they had a stand alone dealer, fantastic location, major foot traffic etc etc, so what happens next, well u guessed it, it moved in with a Holden dealer down the road, stuck Saab in the back of the dealership, and now they have only one 9-3 cab on display.

    Saab Aust keep saying that they are fully supportive of the brand and i believe that they are, they have a great team in Port Melbourne, but they are hamstrung buy the fact that the product that they have is starting to look dated and their ain’t much on offer in the near future

    Until the dealerships change, i really fear for the brand here, and from were i sit i am really seeing the effects of that happening.

    But If you want the Saab business model to survive to grow in Tasmania you have only one option..support Motors Saab

  9. After purchasing a convertible anniversary edition from a dealer here in Sydney, my friend is STILL waiting for any sort of follow up call or communication.

    My brother who bought a mini worth the same amount has had tickets to the motorshow, drive days, invitations to events, follow up calls… you name it.

    I don’t know of a single dealer here in Sydney who I would be happy or feel good about giving my business to or indeed who i could refer business to. They all rubbish eachother and they are simply sub-standard backyard hacks!

    I think the whole Saab structure is highly disjointed. Seems to me there are a few people at head office having all the fun and at the coalface the issues the dealers have with management is being translated in to 2nd class service.

    I would have no hesitation giving another brand my business if there was an alternative to Saab.

  10. In the UK the Alfa dealer network is an a complete mess. My wife went into a dealer to buy a 147. Despite making an appointment to see the salesman, he was with other customers (no problem with that) but did not even acknowledge us and then went out. That why she is now driving a 3 series.

    Anyway to get to the point, Alfa have recognised their dealer issues according to CAR. They have sacked 41 of the70 dealers and told them to deliver a “Lexus like experience”. They believe that they can up sales from 5000 a year to 40 000 a year with the right dealers and a strong JD power satisfaction score. Does any of this sound at all familiar to any of you living in Australia?

    GM Australia you know what to do.

    Also of interest – the 8C is getting orders from countries where Alfa has never even been sold and it may even race at Daytona. If only SAAB had a concept car they do do that with.

    PS. The reason they are bringing the Hummer to Oz is because GM think the Hummers biggest fan the Terminator comes from there.

  11. I just wish/hope/pray someone in Saab with some clout + guts/passion/vision reads all this and does something about it.

  12. Like a lot of you, have a great deal of time for Saabs
    I bought one (used GLI) from Kingsway, had it 15 years and sold it with 1 miilion K on the clock and still purring.
    I want to get a 1999 Convertable. Like pulling hens teeth.
    Nothing on the market in Hobart, a real shame as I more respect for the make than man y others.
    There has to be a buisness opportnity here!!

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