Automotive News quiz Kurt Schirm – SCNA Dealer Council head

Whilst I’ve had email dealing with Kurt Schirm for some time now, we first met in person just a few months ago at the LA Auto Show. Like all the dealers I met there, Kurt’s passion for the brand was obvious and he was a wonderful guy to talk to about Saab and the future.

Automotive News have just published an interview with Kurt and I think you’ll see that passion come out in his heartfelt descriptions of life under GM, the sale process, and the outlook for the future. Kurt gives some sage words of wisdom about how it feels at the coalface when it comes to selling Saabs and the message that needs to be promoted in 2011.

Example:

What can Saab do to help dealers sell more cars?

I think it’s really just staying focused on creating the brand, relaunching and re-educating. In a lot of instances, educating for the first time the U.S. consumer base about the brand, really digging into the history and heritage.

I think that’s one of the things that makes European cars special and makes them worth the premium. You know, there is a heritage and history to each of the brands that makes them worth more than the sum of the sheet metal and components.

Saab has a very rich history, especially for a company as small as Saab, [such as] the level of engineering, the number of innovations that they’ve brought to the industry, the number of patents, the number of industry firsts. It’s really an impressive story. And the way they think about engineering, it’s always to bring things to the simplest common denominator so they don’t overcomplicate design when it doesn’t need to be.

We need to pound that message as to what Saab is, what the brand means, and what products we have in our current portfolio that are the embodiment of that heritage. We need a very well thought out efficient method of communicating that.

I think Kurt’s right on the money here. I’ve always been a solid believer in Saab’s heritage playing a part in building their future. The first thing that got me interested in Saab was my first ride in a Saab 9000. The second thing that got me interested in Saab was the incredibly engaging story of where they came from and why they did things differently to other car companies.

Saab need to promote their product first and foremost, but they’ve got a lot of other great stories to tell, as well, and I hope they dig deep and bring them all to the proverbial table.

Recommended reading.

Thanks to Gerhard for the tip!

Tomas TL1000R
Guest
Tomas TL1000R
5 years 7 months ago

Did you know that Saab invented the ejection seat and forgot to patent it. That is just amacing I think.

They just fixed the problem and that´s that………..patent……..Why…….now we can reduce the numbers of killed pilots and thats good. I think it was J-21 or its predecessor with propeller.

OddJob
Guest
OddJob
5 years 7 months ago

…and in addition to that they also invented the world’s first airbag system to protect the pilots knees when he was ejected (also in the J21).
In fact, not only Saab cars but also Saab airplanes have had quite innovative designs. Such as the early use of the (small front) canard wing on Viggen and Gripen, that improves manouevrabilty, low-speed characteristics and reduce take-off/landing stretches.

74stingray
Guest
74stingray
5 years 7 months ago

🙂 As someone who has worked on ACES II (and some Martin-Baker) ejection seats for all of my adult life, I did not even know that!

I knew the Germans during WWII had the first operational one… but never knew SAAB produced one as well.

On a day in which I was somber overf the status of SU, the Steelers and other things… this brightened my day! Thanks!

No wonder my love of Saab came so easily 😉

Tomas TL1000R
Guest
Tomas TL1000R
5 years 7 months ago

74stingray check this out.

I looked at the source ones again and they actually says that “amongs the first plane J21” but the old man says(Erik Bratt) “typical Saab, typical Swedish, we made catapult and didn´t think about patent. We didn´t know it would be a world artikel” About 8 minutes in the program, in Swedish.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZMo9U6t2eps&playnext=1&list=PL6C654A9C36C59260

saabdude
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saabdude
5 years 7 months ago

“I think it’s really just staying focused on creating the brand, relaunching and re-educating. In a lot of instances,…”

How true.

I had ANOTHER person tell me last week that SAAB were out of business.

This happens about twice a month…sometimes more frequently. Arrgghh! 🙁

hughw
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hughw
5 years 7 months ago

Here’s an article on the Saab Club of NA site that really says it all about why Saab appeals to a lot us. The engineering guide may have been the bible that Curvin used for some of his ads.
http://www.saabclub.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=178:whats-old-could-be-new-again&catid=23:guests&Itemid=78

GerritN
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GerritN
5 years 7 months ago

That engineering features booklet is so cool! Bring it back!

OddJob
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OddJob
5 years 7 months ago

The Engineering features booklet could well be guidebook on how to keep a bit of heritage in future Saabs. Here’s what it says about Green instrument illumination which I know have been discussed here occasionally:
‘The lighting is green- a colour which has been proven to be best when driving against oncoming traffic and thus using daylight vision in darkness. Red light is definitely inadvicable – itwould conflict with warning lights in traffic and on the instrument panel.’
(from page 18 in the linked pdf) Lots of other techno/philosophical material that also holds true today.

Curvin O'Rielly
Guest
Curvin O'Rielly
5 years 7 months ago
hughw… Which ads are you referring to? The ads I did in 1978? Or the AdLobs I showed at last year’s SOC? If you’re talking about the ads from 1978, here’s a little history. When Bob Sinclair arrived at Saab, he faced a mountain of trouble. Sales were stalled. There was zero momentum. Dealers were threatening that they’d bail out. There was low awareness. And he faced some deeply-entrenched competition. He hired a new agency, Ally & Gargano in New York, an agency he knew from when he worked at Volvo. Carl Ally, one of advertising’s most esteemed figures, was… Read more »
hughw
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hughw
5 years 7 months ago

Curvin, I was referring to the ’78 ads. I ended up with a 900 turbo in 82 because of them. Great ads. And I knew Ally and Gargano by reputation as we’re architects and responsible for George Lois’s offices back in the eighties, he of the “think small” VW ads.

Curvin O'Rielly
Guest
Curvin O'Rielly
5 years 7 months ago

You bought a great car!

“Think small,” “Lemon” and the rest of VW’s early ads were actually created by Helmut Krone, if I’m not mistaken, along with Julian Koenig, George Lois’s copywriter partner when the agency was known as Papert, Koenig, Lois. George took credit for everything, which caused Julian endless pain.

hughw
Guest
hughw
5 years 7 months ago

George also took credit for the venetian blinds all being adjusted at the same angle ,because he went though the whole office every morning and did it himself.

Curvin O'Rielly
Guest
Curvin O'Rielly
5 years 7 months ago
As I’ve said over and over, it’s probably a strategic mistake for Saab to keep saying it’s still around. First, it’s old news. Second, car buyers don’t care. What they care about is getting a good deal on a car that meets their needs. The sooner Saab starts talking aggressively about the brand story and the multiple features that makes Saabs so appealing, the better off the company will be. A little history proves the point. In 1976, Saab’s US market share was .07%. In 2009, its US market share was .08%. During the years 1978 to 1987, when Saab… Read more »
GerritN
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GerritN
5 years 7 months ago

Hi Curvin,
Are you sure your numbers are correct. I thought that there are about 8 million cars sold per year in the US. This number has been roughly the same (+-10% to 20%) since 1970 although it peaked to 10 million in the eighties. The market shares that you are stating (0.1% max) computes to less than 8000 cars. Isn’t that a bit on the low side?

Curvin O'Rielly
Guest
Curvin O'Rielly
5 years 7 months ago

GerritN…
My market share data numbers come from Ward’s Automotive. It’s total vehicle sales, which includes pickups. I’ve got some charts from last year’s SOC presentation that you might find interesting, but I’m semi-illiterate when it comes to computers. They’re PowerPoint charts that I converted to jpg screen shots. I’m flummoxed at the moment, however, because I don’t know how to attach them to this message.

GerritN
Guest
GerritN
5 years 7 months ago

Thanks for the plots, Curvin.
I don’t think that sticking pictures in our comments works anymore, so here are the links to your plots:


What I take away from those numbers is that selling 100,000 Saabs worldwide would be sustainable, 16,000 of those sold in the US.
Statistics are always interesting. Unfortunately they only work for big numbers and over longer periods of time, otherwise flukes can be killers.

Curvin O'Rielly
Guest
Curvin O'Rielly
5 years 7 months ago
GerritN… From the Saab case history in Amil Gargano’s recent book, “Ally & Gargano: The life and death of the agency that created perhaps the most successful advertising of the last half of the 20th century”: “After 23 years in the US car market, Saab sales in 1979 were 14,979 units. “After three years, in 1982, the weakest year for the auto industry since 1963, Saab had its best year ever. “In the nine years of our relationship, unit sales trebled to 44,364. “We helped Saab achieve an unprecedented 60 consecutive, record-breaking months of sales ending May 1987. “The US… Read more »
Alex
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Alex
5 years 7 months ago
As much as I think heritage is important and one of the key items that sets the euro luxury segment apart from companies like Lexus, I think, at least here in America, this message has been gotten for good or bad with the whole “Born from Jets” campaign. People understand Saab came from something and has a purpose but they don’t really know how that purpose translates into current products. The talk IMO should be less about the past and past innovations and more about what makes them unique now with some actual substance. They need to highlight unique or… Read more »
Bravada from GMI
Guest
5 years 7 months ago
Actually, I wanted to post something to the very same effect. I do appreciate Saab’s fine and substantial heritage. This is what really makes one fascinated with the brand once one gets attracted to it by the immense peculiar allure of one of the car models. But when you are about to sell a product to a non-convert, you have to tell them why the product is great, not that you did great in the past. The kiss of death many journalist give to Saab is to start expounding on Saab’s glorious past, even glossing it over, and then stab… Read more »
Kikaluka
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Kikaluka
5 years 7 months ago

Totaly agree. If you have 5 inches more legroom than your German competitors, tell it. If your XWD is better, say it. If you are 10% cheaper, …….. And if you can be the first brand to add Head Up Display as a standard to every car you sell, do it.

Saab. Independent minds.

Thylmuc
Guest
Thylmuc
5 years 7 months ago

Funny enough, a while ago I suggested that Saab publish such a booklet containing more technical information for those who really want to know, somewhat out of frustration that Saab’s broschures are lacking such stuff since more than ten years. I didn’t know that such booklets had already existed!

More than showing superiority in certain fields, such booklet would display the will to provide people with data and details allowing them to make more educated decissions.

gryphon95
Guest
gryphon95
5 years 7 months ago
Kurt is a great spokesperson for the brand and for the dealers. I’ve met him, and I can’t think of any person who is more of a SAAB guy than him. He is a wealth of SAAB knowledge, and he speaks with passion and authenticity. Also, he runs an amazing team at International Motors. The sales, service, and parts teams are the best of any SAAB or non-SAAB dealership I’ve ever worked with. When the time comes for my time with the new 9-5 to come to an end, I know I’ll be back in his dealership for a new… Read more »
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