Gunnar Dackevall from Auto Motor and Sport has penned an editorial that considers the recent failures of American companies to sustain a relationship with ‘premium’ brands.
One such relationship that hasn’t soured at this point is GM’s relationship with Saab. Dackevall considers that it hasn’t quite reached ‘premium’ level yet, either.
Dackevall spoke with GM Europe chief Carl-Peter Forster in preparation for this piece, which has been translated for us by ctm.
One final opportunity for the US…
Few thing create such a debate among car enthusiasts as the conception of a “premium car”. Earlier, I wrote about GMs fruitless tries to convince us in Europe about the premium qualities of Cadillac. I allowed myself to question the capabilities of the Yanks to understand the concept at all.
At the final round of the Swedish Touring Car Championship (STCC), I met one of the former Volvo honchos. He agreed, saying “They don’t get it in Dearborn. They are in the process of ruining Volvo.”
Since Ford is about to get rid of all their premiums brands, it seems that Bill Ford finally realised that they are miserable at nurturing and refining luxury cars. The divorce between Mercedes and Chrysler shattered all hopes for the American mass producer of achieving higher margins.
After the debacle with Cadillac in Europe, the scrapping of Ford’s Premium Automotive Group (Aston Martin, Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo), and Daimler getting rid of Chrysler, there is only one small glimmer of hope in the premium segment for the American auto industry: the old abbreviation SAAB.
An insignificant, non-profitable, kind of unhappy little brand in the big automotive world (and that should go for the brand’s status in the aeroplane business as well). The maintenance is neglected, the model line-up sparse, and the global brand recognition is weak. The most positive thing you can say about the brand is that nobody dislikes it, a fact that is hardly true for any other well-known brand.
“It’s amazing how well the market reacts to news from Saab,” says Carl-Peter Forster, president GM Europe, during a meeting at the auto show in Frankfurt. “Even if we are talking just adjustments to a current vehicle, like the 9-3, it generally gets a very warm reception from the media. There seems to be an incredible potential in the brand, if we can only manage to deliver the right products to the costumers.”
And the right products in the near-term are the a brand new cross-over (9-4X, to be premiered in Detroit in January), a new smaller car (the 9-1, to premiere in 2010 and the only car to be manufactured in Trollhättan), and the replacement in 2011 to the current 9-3.
GM believes in Saab, no doubt about it, and the expectations are high. The idea to market Saab as the environmentally friendly alternative in the premium segment is rather attractive. A telling sign is the dealership network in the US, which remains intact despite slow sales and the fact that hope and XWD are the only things that can get the brand through until new models arrive.
But what about the new model line-up and its position at the market? Will Forster manage to do what former BMW boss Wolfgang Reitzle failed to do at Ford PAG, and Dieter Zetsche failed to do at Chrysler? That is, to create a serious premium brand within an American company?
I asked Forster how he would make a premium 9-5 out of an Opel Vectra: “Bigger car, bigger engine, more equipment, technology (XWD was mentioned), more refinement. And a more focused marketing of the brand.”
That is, more metal, more gadgets, more engine. An more money to market it. Forster is careful to point out that ‘premium’ is not a simple question of black or white. Everything is moving along a grayscale.
I don’t think we should expect the next generation of Saab models at the end of the decade to be premium. At least, not the way we Europeans define it.
True, they could still be attractive cars. But only on the surface. The American way.
Some more thoughts on this to come……