Snowbound in a Saab – Lance Cole

Lance Cole is a writer living in England and has penned several books on automobiles and aviation. Saab enthusiasts would know him best for the book Saab 99 and 900: The Complete Story, which is an excellent and essential volume and available for sale at the SU Bookshop.

Click here to read all of Lance’s previous contributions at Trollhattan Saab.

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Snowbound in a Saab

Lance Cole takes to the road for a blast into the past and a musing upon Saab’s fight to survive

The man that runs Saabs United – Mr Wade – cannot be getting much sleep lately. He is not alone, for any Saab enthusiast must feel tortured by the apparent bipolar antics of the Saab sale and its seller.

Contrary to perceived wisdom, not everything General Motors (GM) does or has done in its history is as silly as its current demeanour. Messrs Mitchell, Earl and Cole (not me!) were leaders in design, engineering and brand-ability. GM has made some great cars – under various names.

The American design iconography of GM usually gets all the plaudits. But GM’s Opel design bureau in Germany has turned out some fantastic cars under some talented design chiefs. Are you familiar with the Opel Manta mk1, the Lotus Carlton/Omega, the 1980s ‘aero-weapon’ designs of Gordon Brown? (And no, that’s not the UK’s Prime Minister but the brilliant GM head of design who fell off a cliff in Germany’s Hartz mountains in the late 1980s). Remember the Equs? Recall Wayne Cherry’s designs and the ‘droop snoot’ Firenza cars of the ’70s?

Don’t forget either that Sixten Sason’s one-time apprentice, a certain Mr Bjorn Envall (he of Saab, and Scandinavian Design), was a lead figure at Adam Opel design in the 1970s before he returned to the fold.

In fact there were many aerodynamic and stylistic synergies between Saab and Opel, and it is odd that these did not flourish under GM’s control in the late 1990s.

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SnowySaab900.jpg All this occurred to me as I sat in an untypically British -18 degrees snow drift, high up in the hills of England’s West Country. I was waiting for the youths of today ( I am an old fart of 40 +) to stop spinning their wheels and to stop blocking our Saab’s progress.
Image was sourced from Flickr and is not related to the events described.

Young Brits you see, have no idea how to drive in snow. Watch BBC Worldwide or Sky to see footage of everyone revving madly, wheels spinning wildly as they try to drive on the snow before they hit brakes hard and wonder why they crash.

Swedes in front drive Saabs learn how to drive in snow and ice at their father’s or mother’s knee. As do Canadians and some Americans: Germans in rear drive BMWs are not so hot in snow though…

Anyway, the thoughts continue…..

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Yep, GM has behaved…. how can I put it….. strangely over this Saab affair – but then it always did behave this way towards Saab. That is because GM has forgotten its customer / marketing base and no longer employs directors who KNOW WHAT CUSTOMERS WANT – yes that is a shout!

This is how GM lost its mojo. Make-no-mistake as you spit GM’s name from your lips, GM was once a world leader in car design, car styling, car marketing and car selling. And it quite possibly will be again, because only good design and good customer skills can save GM. If GM will return to greatness then it will do it through design, by producing cars people actually want – cars they yearn for.

So why the hell can’t they do it for Saab? Or let someone else do it for Saab?
I wrote, before Christmas, that Saab was in a spin and that the ground was heading upwards. I was criticised at the time for being negative. What some failed to recognise then was that I was deliberately negative. A reality check, if you like. Sadly, the scenarios involving the cloud’s silver lining that ran through some comments has yet to arrive, but it might. I hope it does.

The problem is that we now have GM naming an actual, for real, ‘wind down’ partner. In cold hard commercial terms of playing corporate hardball, this is a move designed to show the bidders who is in charge, to keep Obama and his imperative to Ed Whitacre to save GM and make it pay, happy. Oh, and to show the lethargic Swedish government and the EU that they had better inject some passion fast, or Saab is as dead as a dodo – despite the heroic efforts of Saab’s management and staff.

Yet the reputational and brand contamination of appointing and announcing a ‘wind down’ agent in the middle of a sales process with cash (yes real cash) bids on the table is very odd. Not least as it immediately devalues the brand in all sorts of ways, vastly reducing customer confidence.

And the irony of GM now writing letters to American Saab owners offering them ‘loyalty payments’ of $1000 dollars off a new GM car – including Saabs – is not lost.

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