Swedes on Steve Shannon

Maybe this is based on a US article that I missed somehow, but it’s unfamiliar ground to me.

Anders has sent me a transcript of an article in a Gothenburg paper, Goteborg Posten, which I’m going to try and translate a little for everyone here as it’s got some very interesting stuff in there.

Like the introduction:

Steve Shannon, Saabs new USA manager, has come on how one will succeed to sell more travels by car in the the big car country in west: Fewer dealers.

It’s the last two words that really caught my eye there. More on that shortly.

Actually, doing a little more of this translation bizzo, maybe they’ve used a little of the Boston Globe article.

There’s a bit about the Saab gig being one that’s a little different, and how he’s taking over after two years since the last chief came on board. There’s a bit about the Saab enthusiast community being quite a fanatical one, and a sentence about an open letter by a blogger that advised: Never use the word ‘quirky’.

That much all sounds familiar, but there’s some new stuff in there that is new:

The word ‘quirky’ is difficult to translate, but has clearly been used far too often by GM-cheifs in order to describe Saab as a special brand. There is probably some similarity in saying that “the ignition key is in the middle bracket”.

Steve Shannon is experienced within GM and has clearly read up before the new job. So he does not use the word “quirky” to explain that Saab is a special brand….

Any errors in there are mine. It’s half translation and half me trying to make sense of the translation. But I like the fact that he’s not referring to Saab as quirky. Quirky always sounds accidental to me. Saabs aren’t the way they are by accident.

Next there’s the stuff about Saab being pure-plus business for GM, how it’s unlike any other GM brand (if that’s so, why do we have to share that radio???)

This bit’s interesting….I believe it’s Shannon talking:

Where cars are built? We have surveys that show that 70 percents of our customers know that Saab is European. But only 25 percents know that it is Swedish. Americans are not so good on geografi…

And this:

The next generation Saab 9-5 divides architecture … with one Buick that is appropriate to sell in China. Drift ropes (unsure about that – SW), interior, handling properties are the crucial factors. These cars are dramatically different.

And this:

Suv: The 9-7X (one Chevrolet Trailblazer with Saab-modifieringar) has been good for us, but new 9-4X that will be built in USA fits Saab still better. Saab is a brand that will have a passenger car basis suv/crossover.

I’m pretty sure where that says USA it means North America. Most prior articles consistently mention Mexico as the like building spot for the 9-4x. Interesting nonetheless.

Now to the dealer stuff, which I find quite interesting:

Saab has 240 dealers in USA. Too many.

We probably will expand very little geographically in USA the nearest years, says Steve Shannon. It means that we, precise as the rest of the American automotive industry, has too many dealers in certain areas. These dealers started in an entire other time than we live in now.

I’ve never heard of there being too many dealers before. I’ve heard complaints of there being no dealer or service centre within 50 miles, but never that there’s too many of them. I know it’s got to be economically viable, but…..

we need to become fewer 25 dealers, says Steve Shannon and predicts that Saab this year will sell somewhat fewer cars than the 36,000 that were sold last year.

– how it goes between 2008 and 2009 I cannot say, but 2010, when 9-4X comes, then goes the sale up significant.

Some very interesting thoughts here from the Saab USA head honcho.

What do you all think?

I’m loathe to get into launching a full-on opinon about this because I may have made some sort of error in translation and missed a nuance or two. The over all impression I got from that last paragraph that he’s writing Saab off until the 9-4x comes, which I know can’t be true.

Can it?

Perhaps an interview like this with an English language paper would sort out anything that was lost in translation.

Steve: I’m happy to provide any corrections to this if you can supply them. Oh, and you still have some questions of mine somewhere on your desk if you’re feeling bored between now, and…say… when the 9-4x comes.

Hey, I’m kidding!!

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  1. The “fewer dealers” philosophy dates back at least 11 years. At the US Saab Owners Convention in 1996 then-new Saab Cars USA CEO Joel Manby said that he wanted to reduce the overall number of dealers in the US and to have as many of the remaining as possible be single-brand stores.


  2. How about just improving customer service to the existing dealers…or do some research and open dealerships where they are needed, and close the ones that have the least business.
    The dealers network IS NOT where it needs to be. That doesn’t mean closing branches will improve the outcome! What a dumb move.

  3. In my opinion the dealer network is due for an evaluation. I can easily see where Saab might have too many in one area, and not enough in some others.

    For such a low volume brand, for a given geographic area it makes more sense to have one dealer selling 12 cars a month rather than 2 selling 6 cars a month each.

    OTOH there is spotty dealer coverage in some smaller cities.

    If that means closing one of the dealerships in the NYC area and adding a dealership in Boise or Spokane or Reno, or similar places, it’ll probably be a good thing.

  4. as a US dealer I can tell you that GM is treating the Saab dealers like an old dish rag. It used to work selling Saabs but doesn’t do such a good job selling Chevy’s and Subaru’s. Must be their fault, we don’t do anything wrong at GM and we certainly won’t own up to it if we did. Damn dealers……

  5. Sounds like they are willing to stumble on for a few years until the 9-4x arrives. I do think it is a sign that Saab wil be sold off. I know in my comapany they use the following rule – if a company is making a loss and the land and machinery out value the redundancy costs then the site is shut. I still think that GM will get Saab into the position that Ford was in with Aston and then sell it. They will look at what happens to Jaguar and Landrover. Apparently there is quite a bit if interest from middle eastern buyers who are happy to pump in funds. No one would buy Saab right now and if they did they would lose even more money.

  6. maybe sales will really get going once the next-generation saabs trickle down. perhaps, that’s what steve shannon was talking about, but in terms of the 9-4x.

    (…my first iphone post.)

  7. I’m pretty confident that GM does not plan on selling Saab. Saab is becoming a technology center for GM, for turbocharging, for E85, and now for XWD.

    Plus with the Ecotec motor and Epsilon II Saab’s mechanicals are deeply integrated into GM. That’s a big difference between the Saab-GM relationship and the Ford-Aston Martin relationship.

    IIRC Ford has decided against trying to sell Volvo for the same reason – it’s too integrated into the overall business for an easy and inexpensive separation. And Ford is a lot more motivated to sell Volvo than GM is motivated to sell Saab.

  8. You got an iPhone?!? Darn… I want one! Hopefully they don’t screw up the thing for Europe. We are used to just buy phones and use whatever SIM card we have…

  9. Commenting on the US dealership network, it is simply a matter of distribution of the network. A majority of SAAB sales in the US is concentrated in the Northeast. Hence, an area like Boston may have 7+ dealers within a 50mi radius.

    But the Southeast and Midwest and Northwest areas of the US have maybe one dealer servicing up to a 300+ mi radius.

    This disparity automatically eliminates a potential customer base (who’s gonna drive 200+ miles to a dealer for service?).

    IMO, SCUSA could increase their sales in the US dramatically if they could simply increase their sales in these SAAB starved regions-instead of solely depending on the Northeast for sales. However, it’s the “chicken and the egg” problem.

    Too few dealers-coupled with little/no exposure equals low/poor sales. Poor sales does not encourage opening additional dealerships. So, my theory of jumpstarting SAAB sales in the US is just that-a theory.

    SAABs are historically known for their winter prowess (hence their popularity int he Northeast). However, in the Southern states where snow is rare-this attribute does contribute to sales.

    IMO, SAAB has just done a poor job of promoting/increasing sales in areas where there is a potential huge market but a sparse/non existent dealership network to grow sales. That, combined with poor or no brand exposure in these areas do not equate to more sales.

    SCUSA hasn’t grasped this idea of broadening their sales horizons in the US. If they have, it is not self evident (as it seems only huge incentives move SAABs off dealer lots).

    In addition, it doesn’t help that that they are peddling some of the oldest lineups in their market.

    The current 9-5 is the oldest car in its segment and is handicapped by a “lack of V6 power” perceived by many as necessary to compete in the $35k+ segment (as almost all of their competition offer 6 cylinder power).

    The current 9-3 is handicapped by the fact that despite being a superior car to the 9-5 (newer platform, curtain airbags, V6 power, 6speed trannies, and now XWD)-it cannot be more powerful than the “top of the line 9-5” with its 260hp 2.0T 4cylinder engine. Hence, the ’08 9-3 puts out a still lowish 255hp (+5hp than the ’06-07 models)-when, logically it could easily reach 300hp with little effort. Even lowly Nissan Altimas and Toyota Camrys in the US, for example-have more V6 power than the turbo V6 engine in the 9-3 Aero.

    Also, the current 9-7x is only the brand left using a platform abandoned by other GM marques-who now have completely redesigned models.

    SAAB is being assaulted from all sides by the copmetition (both by family sedans that have more power) and the entry level luxo market that is moving farther upscale at a lower price point (see ’07 Infiniti G35, Lexus IS 250/350)-with a lineup that is showing its age (the upcoming 9-3 XWD notwithstanding) and desperately needs an infusion of fresh new models that may (or may not) stop the hemorrhaging. It still has a hard time establishing and differentiating itself from other brands despite the latest “Born from Jets” theme.

    In addition, SAAB seems to have largely ignored its largest market to date and needs to correct this oversight immediately.

    Now, off my soapbox…

  10. May I add…I know people that wouldn’t consider a Saab simply because of distance to the nearest dealership.
    So yes, cut more dealerships and see sales continue to slide.

    Porsche, please buy Saab.

  11. Agree with Saab007. The 9-5 is holding back the entire line. The 9-5 should be updated before the 9-4 is released. The crossover market will be saturated by the time the 9-4 gets here, and it will probably play itself out as a fad just like SUVs. Sedans will always be around until the flying car is perfected.

    Furthermore, Shannon should put out a new policy stating anyone using at GM using the term ‘quirky’ to describe Saab will be terminated immediately. Quirky is too close to goofy, oddball, eccentric to impress new customers. The vocabulary to emphasize is: ‘Aerospace’, ‘Performance’, ‘European’ (not necessarily Swedish), ‘All-weather’, ‘Driver-oriented’, and ‘Security’ (more manly than ‘Safety’, leave that to that other Swedish car…).

    On the dealer network, evaluate where the overlaps are (ie, New England) and thin those out. The try to add new dealerships where there are none, particularly near up and coming medium size towns. Leverage the Cadillac/Saab/Hummer idea as far as it will go.

  12. I know nothing about dealers so I won’t comment on that. I do know that I definitely think that if there is a GM division that I wouldn’t mind Saab being all buddy-buddy with, it’s Buick. I think the two brands have a lot in common and should probably work together more. I’d rather see Saabs with Buick parts than Saabs with Caddy or Opel parts.

  13. “I spent a lot of time in this area so I’m used to seeing a lot of Saabs on the road,” he said.

    It seems, taht any Swede is more qualified for his new job than he is. Only regarding this…

    More seriously, how about bringing the European GM brand Opel back into the premium segment where it was located some decades ago? GM! Do you remember RAD?

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