I’ve been poring over the rest of this book – The Saab Brand – trying to figure out what passages to bring next.
The remaining chapters talk about Saab Expression and the idealised customer experience. Desired customer responses. Discussion of ‘our’ Scandinavian hertitage, uncluttered layouts, focus, typography and relationship building. It’s a book about the brand, not about the cars, which I guess is an important distinction to make.
One sentence that I found intriguing was as follows. It sums up in a nushell the current dilemma that Saab find themselves in:
Saab has identified a number of proven approaches that will guide us in our marketing.
Does that strike you as wierd?
Saab being talked about in the third person in a book written by the company itself about it’s brand and identity. Is it a book by Saab, or by “us”?
This goes to the core of the issue for a lot of the Saab faithful. We know that the company isn’t the same as it used to be. We even accept the fact that it can’t be as it used to be. If it was, we’d be talking about Alfas, Porsches or (dare I say it) BMWs and Audis as Saab would be bankrupt.
I think there’s two issues at play here:
1) Saab can’t be as individual as it used to be as that level of individuality doesn’t sell enough cars to survive. They need to find the balance between distinct styling and greater market appeal, which leads me to….
2) Many of us old timers aren’t the ones that Saab are aiming for. Sad as it is to say, but whilst there’s a lot of saab owners out there, there’s far fewer Saab buyers. A lot of Saab people come to their appreciation for the brand by picking one up second hand, well-depreciated. They come to understand the traits of the car and love it but that doesn’t mean they can afford to go out and pick up a new one.
The people that Saab are aiming for might have an Acura or an Infiniti in the driveway. They might even have a BMW, an Audi or a Lexus. Saab have to be individual enough to be distinct but generic enough to appeal to these customers. In economics this is referred to as an entity being either a price-maker or a price taker. BMW is a price maker. Saab is a price taker. The distinction is that one has enough desirability to set the market rather than just respond to it.
Saab’s biggest market is still the United States, where its parent company is based, and obviously the book I’ve been sharing with you was prepared for that market. What’s become painfully obvious over the last few years is that the future of Saab design and identity may be crafted with that market as a priority.
Can the two be balanced? Can the brand’s integrity be maintained? Can a car be designed and built for the rest of the world and be accepted in America?
The 9-3 and 9-5 that we have now are arguably Saab’s best quality vehicles ever, but they aren’t the most distinct. They’re selling in greater numbers but they’re not as appreciated.
And this is the riddle that GM, the corporate parent, should be striving to resolve. It’s my belief that Saab’s numbers grew in earlier years because of a passion that developed for the brand. Saab’s recent growth has been fantastic and essential for the brand’s survival, but does it have enough of that identity at it’s core to drive a new wave of passion and enable it to stick?