An open letter to Tom Wilkinson at General Motors

Tom Wilkinson is a GM spokesman and he had this to say in the New York Times today with regards to the Saab gathering in Detroit:

“It’s really great that people have passion for the cars, but it doesn’t change the fact that there are too few customers for the company to be viable. There are dim prospects for boutique brands. We love Saab and we love Saabs, too, but G.M. has to make a hard-nosed business decision.”

Naturally, I beg to differ, Tom.
I’m sure if someone asked you to expand on your statement, you’d rely on fresh new figures that say Saab sold less than 9,000 cars in the US this year, and that the brand was down around 60% worldwide.
But let’s look at the bigger picture, Tom.
Saab sold 93,000 cars in 2008 and around 30,000 more than that in 2007. Those two years were the final two years where your company actually made an effort to market and promote the cars. Not only have you placed it on death row in 2009, but you’ve virtually stopped all efforts at marketing and your decision to put Saab on the block meant that finance companies took away leasing as an option for your US based Saab dealers.
More coal for the fire? OK.
GM’s decisions also meant Saab has been running on a skeletal production schedule for most of this year and your dealers haven’t been able to order cars for most of the year.
Want to increase customer interest and sales?
How about if your company had allowed Saab to have a product range that comprised core models that were younger than 12 years and 6 years respectively in 2009. I’m sure some younger models that were truly in the Saab tradition would have attracted some more (and new) people into showrooms.
For crying out loud, Tom, some customers could be leasing their fourth Saab 9-5 last year and it was essentially the same as the first one they leased back in 1997-98!!!
If Saab has had a lack of customers this year, Tom, it’s not the customers’ fault. It’s not a lack of interest in the brand. It’s a lack of development and timely investment by General Motors. How dare you blame the brand and its customers for your company’s own lack of vision and care?
Saab’s business plan calls for them to return to somewhere around 2007 sales levels in order to be profitable. Of course, the good news is that in the last few years, GM wisened up and put some money into Saab, creating the 9-3x, the new 9-5 and the 9-4x. There are a whole lot of people around the world who think that with a renewed product range and some proper marketing and support, Saab should have little-to-no trouble getting to that sort of sales target in the next couple of years.
Here’s a tip – make another good move and sell Saab to someone who really cares and understands it.
It’ll be a win-win. Saab gets to live (and it definitely deserves to live) or die on its own terms and you get a partnership for the future that could be quite lucrative with several billions of dollars in parts changing hands.
You know it makes sense. Sell Saab!

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