It’s March 30th, 2010. Exactly 18 months from today.
Whilst the rest of the world is still recovering from President Palin’s invasion of the Winter Olympics in Vancouver*, LL Bean carparks across America resonate to the sound of twin exhausts as SaabUSA conduct demonstration days there (but only on rainy days) at the behest of their new CEO, a previously underacknowledged blogger.
OK, that’s not a likely scenario. The Canadians will hold the Alaskerican advance at Whistler. But I’ll be 40 years old that day and I’d like to envision something.
September 2008 may well be remembered as Black September or something similarly bleak. The credit crunch that blew out to a crisis bigger than the GDP of most countries. The vote that squashed the potential solution. GM might do better if they try and ride a unicorn to the end of a rainbow in order to access some cash.
And September car sales? They’ll probably make August look like a picnic. In August, US Saab sales fell 50% compared to the prior year. In July it was 37% and in June it was 57%. For the whole year so far, Saab sales are down by 33%.
In the last few years, the management at Saab USA have canned two premium elements of Saab’s existence in the US: the European Delivery Program as well as the Aero Academy driving school.
They persist with outdated and boneheaded options packages that deny the consumer a chance to get what they really want at a reasonable price.
The brand’s image is defined more by the lack of advertising than by any messages contained within the meagre number of ads that are actually aired.
Dealerships are closing at a rate that’s unheard of and those that remain will mostly be combined Cadillac-Saab showrooms that’ll bring little marketing benefit to either brand.
For 2009, they’re releasing a 2.0T XWD model without the e-LSD option that would make it truly remarkable and in these lease-averse times, they’re pricing their cars well and truly out of the reach of their natural market, happy to appear desperate when Edmunds once again reports (in any given month) that Saab spent more on incentives than any other car maker.
And for some strange reason I can live with all this. I’ll give you two reasons:
1) My confidence that the management there will have moved on to other things by March 30, 2010**, and
2) As always, it’s the product, stupid!
One can dream……
It’s March 30th, 2010.
I’m recently home after travelling to Vancouver to watch the Winter Olympics, which went off without a hitch and were thoroughly entertaining. Long live elite sport! The trials of driving around Vancouver back in 2008 were a thing of the past with all the infrastructure work that so pained our travels a few years ago proving to be totally worthwhile.
It’s my 40th birthday and as I rise and go about my normal daily routine, I get an email from Alex in New England telling me he’s booked his European Delivery trip to pick up his new Saab 9-5. The car’s now built in Germany but they ship it to Trollhattan for delivery in order to maintain that authentic feeling. Alex is still a little undecided on whether to make a side trip to Hirsch in Switzerland. Their work is now permitted for fitment to US vehicles, but it’s still fairly expensive. Darn US dollar.
Alex is still very excited, though, and for good reason. The new Saab 9-5 that debuted just a year earlier at the Geneva Motor Show has been voted International Car of the Year. I drove it at the product launch in Sweden 8 months ago, just after the Saab Festival, and it really was a stunner.
I smile as I gaze over my monitor and look at the photo of a Cadillac sign being removed from a car dealership in Leipzig. Someone happened to be nearby when it happened and they snapped the photo for me, knowing how much it would mean to me to see the wreath and crest experiment in Europe finally cease.
That decision meant that funds were freed up to fast track the development of the Saab 9-1 compact car, a production version of which should be showing in Paris in six months time, with another 12 months before it goes on sale. The new GM CEO, Carl-Peter Forster, confirmed the model just days ago.
And that’s the real reason I’m smiling.
Life begins at 40, apparently. Well, not quite. We’ve still got a reasonable mortgage to pay off, but by the time the 9-1 comes around we should be well positioned to purchase our first ever brand new car and the 9-1 is the one that I want.
As I mentioned, the new 9-5 is an absolute stunner, but it’s too expensive for me and I’m more partial to smaller cars, anyway. The 9-5 has been an outstanding success, though. I got word just a few weeks ago that it’s now outselling the 9-3 in Germany, which is now on track to become Saab’s second largest market on the strength of some price re-positioning with the 9-3 and the sheer brilliance of the 9-5.
The 9-4x is selling in solid numbers there and in all other markets where it’s offered. It turned out to be a fair entry into the crossover market, but the rush away from larger vehicles in the US as frugality came to the fore back in 2009 really dented it’s chances of making a major impression. Hopefully it’ll do better there next year when the diesel model comes out and they replace that straight six base engine with a DI turbocharged four.
Yes, the US is still Saab’s largest market. When Steve Shannon moved on to another role back at Buick last May, some new blood came in and reassessed things. Progress has still been slow there due to the recession continuing, but things are looking up. Whilst the Aero Academy never returned, other measures have been taken to rebuild the premium nature of the brand in the US.
It all started when they gutted the Customer Service division previously controlled at a central GM office somewhere in Michigan. That office repeatedly proved beyond doubt that they were idiots in search of a village and the new crew, trained exclusively by Saab staff so as to deliver a consistent message and actually care for the customer, has done wonders at a grass roots level to begin the job of restoring faith amongst the brand community. Saab’s own internet forums (yes, they finally embraced the internet) are abuzz with positive experience stories.
Since then, they’ve tossed the Born from Jets slogan and McCann Erickson have produced some great advertising, which has actually been seen by consumers as Saab finally took a decision to show their wares in major markets.
The final piece of the puzzle will be the new Saab 9-3, which will be built in Trollhattan from later this year. 2008 buyers weren’t that happy when Saab dropped the price of the 9-3 late in 2009, but everyone else acknowledged that this was a necessary step. The new 9-3 will be slightly smaller than the outgoing model, and will once again cement the 9-3 as Saab’s undisputed volume seller.
Ah well, that’s my morning email out of the way. Time to head into Trollhattan Saab HQ for another day at the office. One of my contacts at Saab Oz messaged me twice last night about the big Australian 9-5 launch I’m attending tomorrow. Apparently Mr Ian Thorpe is demanding only blue M&M’s in his dressing room to remind him of his swimming days.
* this isn’t a political blog, but I couldn’t resist at least one reference. It’ll stop now.
** I have nothing against the current management of SaabUSA personally. They’re all great guys. But I can’t identify a single positive thing that’s come out of those offices in the last 18 months.