Saab sale – a PR dream, or a PR nightmare

I know that we’ve written emails to Ed Whitacre and previously, we’ve sent emails to Maud Olofsson via the Swedish government website…… but I can’t help but think that the need remains to keep them in the spotlight.
I don’t know if more emails would help at this late stage. The time to make them think is almost over and they’re in ‘doing’ mode now. But still….
Hence, I just wanted to say to GM and to the Swedish government that this Saab sale represents both an opportunity and a threat for them. The Saab company and community is pretty small by most car company standards, but it’s a bit like an iceberg. If they think that the Saab community is represented solely by dismal 2009 sales, then they’re sorely mistaken.
This deal and its success could be a public relations (PR) opportunity or a PR nightmare for both GM and the Swedish government.
To General Motors
You have owned a part-share in Saab for a whole twenty years now. You’ve had full ownership for 10 years.
Your stewardship of Saab is already a PR nightmare of epic proportions, which is why we’re in this situation. You failed completely in your investment and understanding of the brand and your attempts to corporatise into some sort of GM system should be listed in the dictionary under ‘fail’.


Listening to your conference call the other day, after the decision was announced to wind Saab down effective January 1, I almost punched my shiny new Mac keyboard to bits when I listened to one of your executives say that you’ve tried your hardest to make Saab successful.
That was your best effort? One whole new genuine model (9-3), the Saab 9-7x and the complete cluster#$@! that was the 9-2x?
Maybe I’m being a bit harsh there. I could try my hardest to be the world Ironman champion, but at 39 years of age and with about 30 kgs too many under my belt, even my best efforts would leave me looking like exactly what I am – an overweight and unfit man out of his depth. When you took on a niche brand, your best efforts were never going to amount to a hill of beans unless you understood ‘niche’. With a name like General Motors, there wasn’t much chance of that.
And here’s the rub – everyone you rely on knows it.
They write for the magazines you covet good coverage from. They do your advertising. Even some of the ones who don’t know it now – your customers – will know it when they read the magazines and listen to the stories about how a loved brand was let down and killed off by its corporate parent (who by all objective measures, were actually far less profitable when they received a bailout than the corporate child they abandoned).
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
You won’t gain much kudos for selling Saab. You’ll probably get none at all, actually. But what you’ll avoid is creating short-term resentment by those that know about the situation, as well as medium term resentment from people you’re going to want to market to in the future.
(The long term resentment is reserved for Saab enthusiasts, who will never, ever forgive you and will never by so much as an interior clip from you again. That won’t ever change).
Think about it. In a few years from now you’re going to want to start trying to market Cadillac again in Europe. How many of those dealership groups you will court to do your bidding for the crest-and-shield will be people you threatened to burn because of Saab?
How many of those customers that’ll want to market to in Europe will ever consider a Cadillac because of the debacle you’ve caused this year with Opel and with Saab. At least if you do the right thing with Saab you’ll eliminate that part of the equation.
GM……. Saab may seem small and insignificant on one plane, but they’re a loved brand. Saab have a sullied reputation right now, but as they rise again, people will say to each other “thank goodness GM didn’t scrap them. At least they gave them a chance”.
As the 9-5 and 9-4x get produced and reviewed by the motoring press, you get to tag along and attach yourselves to the complimentary writeups.
Want some love from Western Europe? Then do something right!
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To the Swedish government
I’m not even sure what role you play in this anymore. It would seem that in Spyker’s revised bid you will be reduced to a bit-player with minimal involvement. Merbanco’s reliance on you is somewhat unclear, but if either party need your assistance in getting the EIB loan (even if it’s not a condition of the agreement, both parties will most likely still apply for it) then here’s your chance to do something.
I’ve heard estimates that the social cost to the Swedish people of a full closure of Saab and the related industries could be somewhere in the order of 15 to 20 billion Swedish crowns. I don’t need to tell you this – you already know.
That 542 million SEK you offered to retrain people is just the beginning – and you know that, too. The real costs will mount but it’s best not to talk about that now. Just talk about a low figure and look good trying to help the unfortunate ones. At Christmas.
The real help you can give is maintain your offer of loan guarantees and make sure that GM know it. I’m sure there are other things you can do as well.
When is someone in the Swedish government going to grow a pair?
Every other government in Europe and around the world has acted to assist its major industries this year because it’s been a time of need and because those industries are important.
You’ve taken some ideological stance, which is all fine and dandy in principle, but you’ve taken it to an extreme and in the process, you’re hurting your own.
All your fist shaking, hand-holding and hand-wringing might look OK right now, but if those jobs disappear in western Sweden then they disappear for a long, long time. This is not a magic act. Some of those trained specialist engineers will find other jobs straight away. Some will leave either the region, or the country. Your tax base will be lower. The businesses in the are will suffer.
If the Scandic Swania in Trollhattan has to close because of Saab closing then someone’s has to answer for it!
If Saab close and all those consequences come to being, then don’t think that a principle and a couple of computer courses for the unemployed will get you re-elected. The left will eat your lunch and shoot your pensions from their collective back door.
Again, like GM, it doesn’t have to be this way.
——
People. Sometimes you’ve just got to vent.
I’ve been a little coarse here, I know. But these groups need to know that the spotlight is still on them. A deal needs to be done.
They probably think that no-one will notice. But they’re wrong.
Let them know they’re wrong. Email Ed Whitacre. Email Maud Olofsson and Prime Minister Reinfeldt.
Be polite (unlike my rant here).

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