So, what should a Saab Dealership look like?

For those of us in the US, we are very accustomed to automobile dealerships that look a certain way — generally, they are huge parking lots full of automobiles with a large corrugated metal or concrete block service building in the middle with a showroom grafted onto the front. The showroom is usually a very beige or gray affair with a few tiny offices or cubicles along the back with cheap faux wood and metal desks cluterred with phone books, forms and notepads. The showroom floor has a few cars, plastic plants and a handful of promotional posters or banners. Many times the floor-to-ceiling windows are painted or plastered with promotional graphics touting discounts, new models or financing terms. Something like this:

Toyota Dealership

Or this:

Jeep Showroom

Of course, all of us would expect better of a Saab dealer. But why? Is it because Saab has a ‘premium’ brand status? Is it because Saab’s traditional designs are low on bling and high on understated form-follows-function sensibilities?

There is a better way. Consider the simplicity and attractiveness of the recent Trollhattan Saab sponsor, Saab of Hunterdon.

The open layout with high ceilings and indirect lighting are a great start. The mood suggests artwork and sophistication and really shows the Saabs to their fullest. It’s all about the cars, and that’s a good thing.

Hunterdon interior

I’m especially impressed with their very attractive service advisor area. The full-length colorful panels and the roomy, relaxed atmosphere is a great step towards giving every customer a great experience when they visit the dealership. After all, who wants to wait in a cramped back room beside the Coke machine only to be summoned to the service window where an employee barely glances your way?

Hunterdon Service Area

And I’ve saved the best for last. The service bay at Saab of Hunterdon is immaculate!! It looks better than many (most?) showrooms! Certainly, the orderly cleanliness shows pride on the part of the technicians and certainly communicates that the dealership has high standards.

Hunterdon Garage

As much as we talk about ways to improve Saab sales, and as much as we lament that the general public doesn’t “get” Saab and the Saab experience, doesn’t it make sense to convey that message through the dealer network and their customer care touches? Why wouldn’t Saab strive for a dealer experience equal to their product?

Saab USA would do very well to study the customer satisfaction with dealers such as Saab of Hunterdon. I believe that they would have some very compelling reasons to insist on doing things the “Saab way”.

If you know of other dealers that are exemplary in this area, fill up the comments!!

14 thoughts on “So, what should a Saab Dealership look like?

  1. Love that service department. Love it. Nice colors and the signs hanging from the ceiling look really professional. Awesome setup.

    If I worked in a place like that I might still be working on cars… Maybe. As for a brand – I think working on a Saab would be rewarding as the customers would really appreciate the work a technician does on their vehicle. Working on Chevy’s for years in a dirty service department where customers rarely cared about their cars and one is treated like someone who digs ditches (no offense to those of you who dig ditches – it is just a metaphor) tends to make you wonder why you are ‘doing this’ some days…. Thankfully I am not.

    Most people simply have no idea how much technical information technicians have to learn and digest every year. I could spend an hour with students explaining how the rear wiper on my 9-3 swipes when the car is initially put into reverse from the ‘data-bus’ message it gets. Very cool until you need someone to understand and repair it.

    A dealer like that attracts such a different breed of customer as well. I commented once on how Chevy wanted to compete with Toyota on this site and they will never do it with some of the poor dealers in this area – and I am not just talking about outside appearance. Attracting and retaining quality employees plays a big role in that as well.

  2. I think this gets back to another important point, Swade. SAAB dealerships do better by themelves.

    A good example of this was Shaker SAAB (now Shaker SAAB Brookpark). Perhaps it was the old 96 wagons and the Sonnet sitting just inside the garage door. Or it may have been the framed wide-angle picture of the SAAB meet in Cincinnati, Ohio. Or maybe it was the part manager who knew exactly what I needed and how long it would take to get hard-to-find parts. Those are the marks of a dealership run by someone who loves the brand.

    Forgive me for mentioning them repeatedly. They are the benchmark in my mind for SAAB service. Furthermore, if I may be so bold as to say so, I don’t think that this kind of customer-dealership relationship is possible when SAAB is just another of the brands in the showroom.

  3. Tedjs,i second that.
    If i were working in a service department like that then i would also still be a mechanic and not a fudge packer.
    I think the last straw for me was a service manager who continually reprimanded me for giving SAAB customers “preferential treatment”
    What a joker
    And the average punter wouldn’t have a clue at the complexities of a modern SAAB with it’s 44 computers and 3 BUS systems.I do miss complex electrical diagnosing though,and i have a great story of a new 93 that only had 1 reverse light working,that the dealer that i worked in spent 2 months trying to diagnose,finally decided to call me to go and take a looksee,and hey presto,2 hours later she was working.
    Understand the function chain and understand the root cause.
    The fault turned out to be a crimped wire in the Auto Dimming rear view mirror.

  4. For me, top treatment from the service department is paramount… My old dealer that I purchased my Saab from was very good. They treated me like gold. Unfortunately they now sell BMW’s. The new dealer I am with is doing a good job, but I am not used to to the Vetts and Hummers all over the place.

  5. I bought the car from a major dealer in Brussels, and it surely looks fine. But the service is not too good, with non-car people in the front desk, which is also the only point of contact for customers. I put my money on service not on looks.

  6. Great comments, gents. Especially Tedjs and saabologist, given that you have dealership experience.

    This is an important part of Saab’s revival, if there is to be one.

    Ken H: you are right about the looks being secondary to the service, but I think that if you have both, you’ve done something great. My two cents.

  7. Saabologist –

    I miss doing some of those ‘weird’ electrical/driveability problems as well. And I am sure after you fixed that 9-3 with the reverse lamp issue there was that sense of satisfaction that can only come from having other people say ‘how did he find that….?’

    Too bad “understand the function chain and understand the root cause” sometimes turns into “don’t show me how it works, just tell me how to fix it” with some of these young guys….

    Unfortunately for the manufacturer and the customers some new car dealers are ultimately entertaining places to observe in some cases. The art of retaining, training, and listening to key employees continues to elude them like that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. They have a long way to go…

  8. Man, Hunt Valley Saab doesn’t look anything like that (screw “Saab of Greater Baltimore,” it’s Hunt Valley Saab). Their showroom is tiny, and their service bay is dirty and cramped. Also, the receptionist was a bit snippy, but she looked like she had a headache before I started talking to her, so maybe that was just bad timing. I should open my own Saab shop :p

  9. Also, Saabologist – I’m totally intrigued, how does a crimped wire in an auto-dimming mirror kill one reverse light?

  10. This looks very similar (almost identical) to Saab of Downers Grove, IL (formerly one of the Gartner dealerships).

    Unfortunately, since it’s acquisition by Luxury Motors two years or so ago, it is often occupied by non-Saabs.

  11. Well Jeff,
    There is no detailed description for the function chain of the ADMM(auto dimming mirror module)
    However,The function chain of reverse light illumination goes something like this(we will assume it’s an auto)
    Reverse gear selected
    The UEC(under bonnet electrical centre)provides the transmission range switch with power.
    The range switch tells the TCM(transmission control module)hey i’m in reverse,turn the reverse lights on please.
    The TCM sends this information out on the P Bus(powertrain Bus)
    The info circulates the P bus and is used by all other computers on that bus(engine ecu T8 uses it to increse engine revs to offset engine load)When the info gets to the ICM(Infotainment control module)which is the stereo head unit and the most important control module in the car as it is the GATEWAY for all 3 bus systems,it gets converted to a slower speed and gets sent out on the I bus
    (instrument bus) again it gets circulated through all I bus connected control modules and used and sent on.
    When the info(reverse gear selected )gets to the REC(rear electrical centre) the REC provides power to both reverse lights and on they go.
    Now before the REC turns on the reverse lights it looks at a few other inputs.(This is where there is no description,you just need to understand why it might need certain packets of info)
    The ADMM is part of the reverse light wiring diagram,it sends info into the REC directly,so i thought about it for a moment and then i thought i would test the ADMM,and guess what,the mirror would not dim , i called the owner of the car and asked some more info (something the service consultant should have done) and guess what, his car had been vandalised and had the windscreen smashed,which was repaired at another shop,and wouldn’t you know, since then his reverse light and auto dimming mirror had not worked.
    I removed the mirror and plugged in a new one and fixed it.

    So i presume that the REC looks at whether the ADMM is turned on to auto and if it is,when reverse is selected it will not dimm the mirror due to the reflection from the reverse light operation.

    So as you reverse up your drive and the reverse light reflects off your garage door or wall,your mirror doesn’t dim and you reverse into the wall.


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