Death of a brand: Saab and its loyal customers

Saab has been a pioneer in the automotive sector. It made the first production cars with safety belts, the first headlight washer and wiper facilities, the first impact absorbing bumper, pioneered pollen filters in the air system of its cars and the first CFC-free climate control. Along with the Mercedes S-Class it has had a disproportionate impact on the modern car.

I have a personal attachment to the Saab brand. I can still remember the smell of the interior of a family friend’s Saab 99, the brooding brow over the dashboard that the VDO instruments used to look out from, the heated seats and the ignition key that also locked the gear box.

stig_blomqvist_rally99

Motorsport was the preferred sport of my Dad and my hero didn’t wear a polyester Liverpool shirt, but a set of fireproof overalls. His name is Stig Blomqvist, one of the most talented men ever to get behind the wheel of a car. He has competed successfully in circuit racing and rallying for the past 38 years.

saab_rally_99T

Blomqvist’s vehicle during the late 1970s was a Saab with a distinctive avant-garde paint job that caught my imagination as an 8-year old.

However Saab is now staring oblivion in the face, a financial rescue has been scuppered and the car company is likely to be consigned to the annals of history. At this point Saab reminded me of Apple circa 1996, however one thing Apple had in its darkest hours were fans of the Macintosh platform. I know, I was one of them; and thankfully the company is still around making insanely great products that shows my loyalty was not misplaced.

If I was a potential saviour, not even a business plan by the best brains from Goldman Sachs would persuade me after reading feedback from the loyal members of the New York Saab Owner’s Club by Michael Corkery on the Deal Journal blog on the Wall Street Journal online.

Some of the things that caught my eye:

  1. …there are some guys in the club who are going to say : ‘good riddance they haven’t made a good car in a long time.’
  2. There are some vintage guys in the club who say that Saab hasn’t made a good car since 1999…
  3. Over the last few years club members have started bringing their non-Saab cars to meetings. It speaks to the fact that Saab has gotten away from what made them a fun driving car.
  4. There are some people who work with me and will ask for car advice. But unless they are a car person, I won’t recommend Saab. I don’t want them to come back and yell at me.

I wouldn’t even like to guess what the net promoter score is amongst some of Saab’s long-suffering fans. Saab has lost what it was to its customers. It was no longer authentic, this isn’t about globalisation; its about a company and its brand losing its soul. This happened whilst the company was a completely-owned subsiduary of GM. General Motors is ultimately responsible for management decisions that didn’t just destroy shareholder value and brand value, they nuked it.

The only bit of Saab that remains is in the camaraderie of the club and vintage vehicles. Graham Brown frequently talks about authenticity being the keystone for successful youth marketing, its also true for marketing to the not-so-young.