The curse of being small in the car industry

In case anyone’s wondering if you can make a living off a Saab website, let me tell you that the answer is no. It’s good practice, though.

Saab are a small company, as you’ll all know, but a few stories on the web this week drove home just how small they are.

First of all, Kroum sent me this story from Yahoo Buzz, who have ranked the marques from each of the big three in Detroit in order of search requests via the Yahoo engine:

1. Ford is more than twice as popular as…
2. Saturn, which has a few more lookups than…
3. Dodge, a company that is holding a small search lead over…
4. Chevrolet, GM’s biggest brand, which is about a third more popular than…
5. Jeep, a 4×4 company, which draws a few more queries than…
6. GMC, which also makes trucks and SUVs, unlike…
7. Cadillac, the luxury mainstay, which draws a similar number of searches to…
8. Chrysler, which boasts more queries than…
9. Hummer, but the eco-warrior’s worst enemy does beat…
10. Volvo, a safety-first company that’s slightly more popular than…
11. Pontiac, which may want to bring back the Fiero if they want to stay ahead of…
12. Lincoln, Ford’s luxury arm, which struggles in Search but still fares better than…
13. Mercury, whose smattering of lookups still tops…
14. Buick, which recently parted ways with Tiger Woods, but is more popular than…
15. Saab, the swanky GM brand that is dead last in the Yahoo! Search auto wars.

I can tell you all from my own experience that on a proportional basis, this website gets remarkably less search engine traffic than many websites, with around a 40% of traffic coming from search traffic and another 40% from direct draffic (i.e. regulars). The remaining visitors coming through referrals from other sites.

Website stuff aside, then, one of the curses of beig so small is that it’s hard to get noticed. You can do something first and it will barely rate a mention.

When one of the big players in a marketplace does it, it makes for a front page story on the motoring section of the news.

Australia’s favourite car could be fuelled by a combination of grass clippings and household waste in the future under an ambitious plan by Holden to reduce its reliance on foreign oil.

Holden chairman and managing director Mark Reuss says the company will release a version of its Commodore large car that ran mostly on ethanol by 2010.

It has also started talks with a US company about building a pilot ethanol plant in Australia that turns grass clippings, woodchips and general household waste into ethanol.

Reuss says the E85 (an blended fuel that is 85 per cent ethanol and 15 per cent petrol) Commodores will be available with V6 and V8 engines and will produce more power than the current cars because of the fuel’s higher octane rating.

The full story is here and of course, there’s no mention of Saab BioPower in it – despite the fact that it’s also a GM product and despite the fact that BioPower is already on sale here and Saab owners in Sydney have been running theirs on E85 for some months now.

I would love to have a chance to turn Saab into the mouse that roared. Just once. To get people at the bigger GM players like Holden, Opel and (I’m sure) Chevrolet and Cadillac to pay Saab some respect would be very satisfying.

12 thoughts on “The curse of being small in the car industry

  1. As it always is. Is it not the best companies that are the biggest & most popular; it is the mediocre ruthless who are. Saab has been first with many things, but they never ever get credited for it. Most people are too ignorant and lazy to look up the facts for the themselves…

  2. Marketing marketing marketing.. It´s GM´s own fault. They haven´t taken care of their investments..

  3. Saab has had a lost decade in the U.S. due to GM’s mangled marketing. We need to educate a new generation. For starters, why isn’t Saab the official car of the Winter Olympics?

  4. Swanky, baby… yeah. It would be interesting to see how the rest of the car market fits into the search list. I would imagine that some brands like Jaguar & Land Rover might be below Saab. It’s clear that sales doesn’t correlate with the number of searches as Hummer is searched more than six brands that sell more vehicles than they do many times over.

    Also, you can’t just assume that because a company is searched less that their marketing is less effective. It could be that it is more effective in that customers go directly to the makes website without having to do the search. You would have to see what they people click on after the search “Ford” or “Chevy”. Are they looking for the corporate Website or information from a 3rd party?

    Another point is the “#1 selling truck” idea. It has been Ford, but only because GM fragments their truck sales between Chevy and GMC. If you add up 4th and 6th place, does it rank higher than 1st?

  5. @Karen: Saab isn’t the official car of the Winter Olympics because that would require a HECK of a lot of investment of marketing dollars by GM. If they’re going to spend that kind of money they’ll spend it on a volume seller like Chevrolet or Cadillac, not Saab. Saab would have the lowest return-on-investment, unfortunately.

    On NPR last night (I believe) they were mentioning how in the 90s when Saturn was launched GM touted it as their brand of the future. But they allowed the same models to be sold for too long (sound familiar?) and had lousy marketing (again, sound familiar?). When Americans hear the word “Pontiac” they think of the muscle cars of the past like the GTO. When they hear the word Saturn they think of the early 90s sedans that got long-in-the-tooth. They don’t think of the current products like the Saturn Aura, which won 2007 North American Car of the Year. When you let a product languish so long without replacing it, and starve it of marketing you tend to tarnish its image FOR GOOD. Now they’re talking about selling or killing Saab and Saturn and turning Pontiac into a niche player…

    How are those Cadillacs selling in Europe? Another great waste of money and resources from Rick Wagoner, Bob Lutz, and the current board of directors at GM. Why are these people not included in the 500K+ Americans laid-off last month?

  6. Gripen – I have asked the same question time and again. Why is that in the ASEAN economies, when I company takes some nose dive or go pear-shaped due to some flippant bad board or management decisions, the CEO and his/her core team get replaced but these execs are allowed to fester around having caused the mess in the first place?

  7. Today in Chicago we are getting our first real snowfall of the season and I just couldnt get over how many Saabs, especially 93SS&SCs were out and about. Probably on par with all the other EU cars, sometimes seeming like every other car. Which is strange cuz the Saab dealer here is also the BMW dealer and the amount of advertising he and BMW do is truly sick compared to virtually no Saab ads.

    My point being that website hit counts are somewhat generic when one must consider that Saab is and probably always will be a “somewhat” upscale urban/suburban type car that apparently doesnt appeal to everyone. Oh well…beauty is in the eye of the beerholder!

    Sure like “swanky” (beats the Q word) and Winter Olympics is a good idea, but my personal fav is the days of cop cars in the ski towns. So get that TTiD XWD on the test bench and over here already.

  8. Fred – thanks for the reminder of Saab cop cars in ski towns. I think the heavy snowfall about to nail Michigan is the global will of Saab lovers – to make everyone in Michigan wish they had a Saab on Monday morning.

  9. “I would love to have a chance to turn Saab into the mouse that roared. Just once. To get people at the bigger GM players like Holden, Opel and (I’m sure) Chevrolet and Cadillac to pay Saab some respect would be very satisfying.”

    Wouldnt that be awesome?

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