The power of a strong brand

The fact that Saab have managed to retain a strong and loyal following gives some indication of the importance of brand strength. Saab’s brand loyalty focus is reasonably narrow however, when compared to the big guys.

BMW and Audi have become behemoths in the executive car sector. Everything they do turns to gold. This partly due to the fact that on the whole, they do actually execute pretty well. But there’s also a heck of a lot of snowballing going on.

The IIHS crash test results for Convertibles provide some pretty decent grounds for an examination of this and I’ll use two recent safety pieces to illustrate what I mean.

Firstly, BMW.

BMW have quite a decent safety record. Their current vehicles are rated quite well by most agencies but they’re by no means at the top of the tree. They make great handling cars, but they’re ultimate driving machines certainly aren’t the ultimate safety machines.

Maybe that’s why they were looking into Volvo earlier this year. The news that BMW were doing so prompted a too-rare blog article by AutoProphet, a respected automotive blogger who works in the industry in Detroit. He was (like most people) trying to figure out why BMW would be sussing out such a move when he wrote this:

Would Ford really keep money-pit Jaguar and sell Volvo? And why would BMW want Volvo, after their sour experience with Land Rover? I am not sure I see how Volvo fits into BMW’s portfolio–BMW’s cars are sportier, and every bit as safe.

Now, I’d say that BMWs were every bit as conservatively designed as Volvos. I’d even say they were every bit as comfortable across certain models.

But I’d never come out and make an assertion that BMWs were every bit as safe. The data doesn’t back up that asertion either. As I mentioned, BMW are by no means poor in terms of safety, but let’s just say that a modern Volvo is to handling as a modern BMW is to safety.

I don’t know if AutoProphet was having an off moment whilst trying to make a point, or if this is a genuine belief, but it illustrates the power of a strong brand. BMW are the brand that a very high proportion of motoring writers would most likely pick over anything else if they were given a choice of one car for life. Are they that good?

Well, they’re very good, but there’s a lot of me-too going on as well due to the image of solidity and success that BMW have managed to cultivate.

And what about Audi?

Indeed, Audi make some pretty good cars now, too. They’re lauded as the benchmark for interior design and execution and have enjoyed consistent strong growth since the early 1990s.

Ted Y pointed us to an article in comments that highlights Audi’s safety credentials. It’s from MSNBC:

If you’re going to get creamed in a car, might as well make it an Audi A4.

That’s because it’s one of the safest cars on the road, according to data we consulted in forming this year’s list of most sound autos.

The Saab 9-3 and Acura RL were also included in their list but didn’t make the grade when it came to that stunning opening paragraph. Guest-star roles only, I’m afraid.

What they didn’t know when they wrote that article a few weeks ago (or when they updated it a few days ago) was that the Audi A4 convertible would be rated so poorly in the first round of IIHS convertible crash testing.

Honda (Acura) didn’t have an entry in the field but the Saab 9-3 Convertible joined it’s sedan sibling as a best pick from the IIHS.

Saab doesn’t yet have the broad brand strength that the Germans enjoy. It’s got a long way to go in the eyes of many and GM have a big responsibility to take the brand to the place where it rightfully belongs as an innovative, quality European marque.

That’s a tall order, but I solemnly believe that Saab are up to it if they’re properly resourced and supported.

Safety has always been a hallmark of Saab and I’d go so far to say that the first European designed Saab that doesn’t get top safety marks from the various testing agencies will deal a horrendous blow to the brand, as well as jeopardising the faith that the Saab faithful have in GM’s stewardship of the brand.

So far, so good, though.

The latest results are in and Saab is right up there once again, punching well above its weight. I’m sure that the marketing arms of GM will swing into gear and give this latest achievement a fair bit of time in the spotlight.

Build that brand.

—–

The Saab 9-3 convertible recently received a Top Pick award from the IIHS in the United States. In achieving this award, the 9-3 Convertible was rated as ‘Good’ for front, side and rear crashes. ‘Good’ is the highest rating a vehicle can achieve.

The Audi A4 convertible achieved ratings of Good, Marginal and Poor, respectively.

The new BMW 3-Series convertible also achieved ratings of Good, Marginal and Poor.

Prove to yourselves this point about brand strength. When you read stories about this round of tests, see what comes up first – the fact that the Pontiac G6 rated 10th of the 10 cars tested, or the somewhat astonishing fact that the premium BMW and Audi finished 8th and 9th respectively. I’d suggest that whilst the G6 rating so poorly is a surprise, the Bimmer and Audi rating just above it is even more of a surprise, but not many journos will call it that way.

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16 Comments

  1. Talking about brand identity, those Cadillac ads that have been cropping up on this site have been doing a pretty good job of identifying the brand…Given the Caddy vs Saab discussions in the past, I’d be interested in others’ opinions on the difference between “Born From Jets” and “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit”…and to add one of my favorites, Alfa’s “Life is too short to not have driven Italian”.

  2. great writeup. You have a point indeed. I do think that Saab (GM) should expose their strongholds in safety more and more. I look at Saab ads and I see a sporty, distinct car with impressive styling. I know a decent amount of Saab’s history and innovations and if the general public could see Saab’s credentials, I think it would help them out tremendously.

  3. Excellent article swade, and I fully agree with you. When you get into the upper echelons of favorability with the critics, your brand rides on it as well, and other brands that might perform better in certain areas (like safety ratings) might be overlooked just because they might not offer the best of everything. Also a critic being paid to recommend automobiles is going to recommend what may look like the best overall product, and thats where snowballing occurs, thus clouding up reality.

  4. “The latest results are in and Saab is right up there once again, punching well above its weight. I’m sure that the marketing arms of GM will swing into gear and give this latest achievement a fair bit of time in the spotlight.”

    I’m not so sure. Would GM really want to spotlight this report where the worst-performing car was the Pontiac G6?

    Wasn’t the G6 the car that was supposed to use the same tooling for the convertible as its Epsilon cousin the 9-3? I guess this goes to show that just because two cars are based on the same platform doesn’t mean that they won’t be on opposite ends of the spectrum. I wish this would end the “SAAB is a rebadged Vectra” stuff out there in Europe…

  5. “the first European designed Saab that doesn’t get top safety marks from the various testing agencies will deal a horrendous blow to the brand”

    I think that sort of happened with the NG900 — it did surprisingly poorly in the IIHS test

    http://www.iihs.org/ratings/rating.aspx?id=48

    Truth be told, I was very close to buying a 900 when I saw that IIHS test…it broke my heart, and sent me to VW.

  6. You are right sbahmeier,

    the NG900 didn’t get a very high rating. The thing is that saab didn’t retest their car like many others do.
    When Folksam (insurancecompany) published their studies of real crashes the NG900 was among the better. So Saab got some credits back. Also the old 9-3 with the same architecture did a lot better in the test.

    I think that Saab should run an ad with crashing Saabs from the past with their safty awards. At then end the 9-3 vert with the latest result.

    And maybe a slogan with something like Saab has not only built fun cars, they also manage to build the most safe car for a decades

  7. Good post Swade, one of the best so far and very well written.

    I agree with everything said.

    I think Saab has a fabulous identity. All Saab needs is the product to compete. There are lots of people who would love to not choose German, as it so boring. But unfortunately, the German prestige brands do not have much competition when talking about absolute product. The 9-3 facelift is a start, and so will the 9-1 and 9-4x be when they hit the road.

    Saab is still seen as ‘cool’, when we get XWD on the 9-3, we should get more kudos for Saab when it comes to magazine tests and the like, if done properly of course.

    The futures bright, the futures Saab 🙂

  8. Good post Swade, one of the best so far and very well written.

    I agree with everything said.

    I think Saab has a fabulous identity. All Saab needs is the product to compete. There are lots of people who would love to not choose German, as it so boring. But unfortunately, the German prestige brands do not have much competition when talking about absolute product. The 9-3 facelift is a start, and so will the 9-1 and 9-4x be when they hit the road.

    Saab is still seen as ‘cool’, when we get XWD on the 9-3, we should get more kudos for Saab when it comes to magazine tests and the like, if done properly of course.

    The futures bright, the futures Saab 🙂

  9. Good post Swade, one of the best so far and very well written.

    I agree with everything said.

    I think Saab has a fabulous identity. All Saab needs is the product to compete. There are lots of people who would love to not choose German, as it so boring. But unfortunately, the German prestige brands do not have much competition when talking about absolute product. The 9-3 facelift is a start, and so will the 9-1 and 9-4x be when they hit the road.

    Saab is still seen as ‘cool’, when we get XWD on the 9-3, we should get more kudos for Saab when it comes to magazine tests and the like, if done properly of course.

    The futures bright, the futures Saab 🙂

  10. A similar study was done on the personalities of the respective drivers of said vehicles……., and the results were the same.

  11. This is an important topic, and so is convertible safety in general. It is why California Drivers for Convertible Safety (CDFCS) is pushing for mandatory helmetage for all drivers and passengers of convertible motorcars by the year 2012.

    Our children are our most precious resource. Visit http://www.convertiblesafety.com for more information.

  12. Vera, your (and your organization’s) heart is in the right place, but that has to be the worst idea I’ve ever heard. The last thing I need in a convertible is a helmet blocking my peripheral vision and giving me one more thing to be distracted by in today’s world of cars with way too many blinkenlights and bleeps. Also, if the convertible is built right, a helmet would be a bit redundant, which is the point of all those safety tests.

  13. Vera, if my convertible overturns, I have 2000 pounds of steel on me. 1 pound of steel around my head makes me feel so much safer…

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