Thoughts on future Saab distribution

I posted earlier today on a possible decision by GM to pull the pin on Saab dealerships in Canada on December 31st, 2009.
Some people have possibly mistaken this post to read as Saab pulling out of Canada. That’s not what’s been said. If I’m reading my emails correctly, then this is GM saying that their cutting-of-the-ties with Saab by December 31 includes dealer distribution (in Canada at least, we’ll have to wait and see when it comes to other countries).
What remains unclear is whether or not that means GM franchisees are disallowed access to Saab under new ownership, or whether Saab will have to establish completely new channels for distribution in that market – and all of that is dependent on confirmation of the email I received.
I got the news from a third party who’d spoken to a dealer and whilst I hold that third party in very high esteem, you have to confirm these things at the source.
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This whole situation does give rise for a discussion on what Saab could possibly do in the future to do things better.
There are some great dealers out there and there are some average ones, too. I may be an idealist, but if I were buying a new car, I’d like my dealer to be more knowledgeable and more pumped about the brand than I am. That’s not often the case.
In some ways, I can’t blame them. The Saab range has been an old range for some time now, and it’s been a while since Saab stood out from the pack like they did 20+ years ago. SaabUSA had 60 months of continuous growth in the 1980s and I’d imagine their sales staff and dealerships would have been quite pumped and enthusiastic selling what was a leading car range at that time.
Hopefully Saab’s new, upcoming models will bring back some of that mojo.
But what of the distribution channels themselves? Could this be an opportunity for Saab to look at how they do things and make some moves to do things better.
I’ve had some more discussion with the original source of the GM-Saab-Canada story (who I’ll keep anonymous at this time) and he had some good thoughts about the whole issue:

……this could be an opportunity. There are better ways to sell cars than the current North American system. The trend in some parts of Europe is for small boutique dealers and authorized independent service facilities.
That means that an independent that is willing to invest in tools and factory training can sell original parts and perform warranty service with full factory support.
As many people have mentioned before, one of the big issues with Saab in North America is that dealers are few and far between. It’s one thing to drive an hour or more to purchase a car, but it’s impractical to take most of the day off to get your car serviced. It takes me over two hours to drive to the dealership and back, and I live close to downtown.
I know for a fact that I drove past half a dozen high quality independents that would love to sell me original parts and service my car. They could compete with each other based on the quality of their service and of their coffee.
I hope that someone at Saab is looking into this. As you wrote before, Saab should go Open Source. Opening the service network would be a great first step. I shouldn’t have to drive to a huge auto mall on the outskirts of the nearest large city to get my car serviced.

Starting a new dealer network from scratch would be way too expensive for a small company like Saab.
But if they can tap existing channels and help some of these existing entites get Saab off the ground with a more exclusive and local presence, then why not?
It’s got to be better than being hidden in the back corner behind the Caddies/Holdens/Opels in some of the combined showrooms today.
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I wish I could sell. I’d be the most engaged and pumped dealer out there.

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