A high price for Saab’s US security

We’ve been trying to compile a list of remaining Saab dealers. I’m pretty pleased that we have managed to get over the 50% mark, though I have a feeling it’s going to be a hard task to complete.
Let me put on record now my frustration at the new SaabUSA not being willing/able to provide a list of remaining dealers. What could possibly be wrong with letting your customers know where they’ll be able to purchase/service their cars in the future? It doesn’t need to be the final list, especially where service outlets are concerned, but some communication would be so welcome right now.
Whilst we’re talking service outlets, it appears that whilst there will be 137 dealers left, there will be likely be more that 137 outlets where authorised service can be provided. I’ve personally heard of one dealership that is likely losing sales authority but will be continuing to provide authorised service. That’ll be another list.
What I’d like to turn this site to for this post is the list of dealers who won’t be selling Saabs anymore. Some of them possibly won’t care about this fact too much. They’ve got big businesses that Saab was most likely a very small part of.
But there’s going to be a few on that list for whom Saab was everything. For many (if not all) of them Saab has been the center of a family business for several generations.
Losing these Saab dealers hurts.
You’ve possibly read the comments by Kevin Brewer and Ron Collins already. Here are some excerpts.
From Kevin Brewer at Brewer’s Saab:

We have been a exclusive Saab dealer for 41 years. We are a family owned and operated dealer that has been with Saab through thick and thin and this is how we are repaid. No notice, no nothing, we learned from an email of an Automotive news article that they were axing 81 dealers and the next day we get a letter saying we were not chosen to continue with the new company….no real reason. We will no longer be a Saab dealer effective November 30, 2009. That’s barely two weeks away!!!

See. That hurts.
Ron Collins, from Trio Motors in Michigan:

It is with much sadness to have to make this announcement. After being the oldest continuosly family owned SAAB dealer in the United States, with 51 years of service, SCNA has informed us that they are not renewing Trio Motors franchise agreement…… Trio Motors, like Brewster SAAB, is a small dealership with sales that average about 125 cars a year. After 51 years of service and dedication to SAAB, I think we at least deserve an explanation…… We have learned from experience, and input from our customers, that they would rather come to Trio Motors, where they are treated like people or family instead of going to the larger dealerships and be treated like a number. Personal attention is what the people like and they get that from the smaller home town dealers. Why would SCNA want to end that?

One guy we haven’t heard from is Tim Haddle from Kunkle Motors in Pennsylvania. They’ve been selling Saabs for 52 years and like Brewers and Trio, are now off the list.
Saabs are sold here in Hobart by a Holden dealership called Motors. Years ago, though, they were sold by a dealership called Kingsway, and they were an outstanding organisation.
Kingsway had an old-ish looking dealership in a great location and Hobart was a Saab town. There are still heaps of Saabs here and many of them old ones. The owners of Kingsway sold the business in the late 1990s. They got an offer that was most likely too good to refuse.
A big dealership group from northern Tasmania bought it, mainly for the real estate. They renovated the premises and filled it with Volkswagen Beetles, with Saabs stuck in the back corner. I visited there once and was charmed by a textbook salesman with stories about excellent Swiss engineering. I didn’t have the heart to tell him.
My mechanic, Steve E, was the lead mechanic at Kingsway. When he left them they had 1,100 service clients on their books. That’s pretty significant for a population of around 240,000 people. Steve moved on to a new place of business and took 1,000 of those clients with him.
The current sales group, Motors, have had some guys who have tried hard with Saab but a combination of limited product and exhausted faith by management has seen Saab once again tucked away. They’re now lost amongst a forest of Holdens and barely visible from the street.
If you go Trollhattan during Saab Festival, you get a good appreciation for how important history is to this brand. History might be the one major thing that separates the European (and many American) brands from the Japanese and Koreans.
For Saab, history shows how the little guy can win sometimes. How size doesn’t necessarily mean smarts. It shows how details, practicality and the ability to adapt built a customer loyalty that still baffles many in the automotive industry.
Time in the market means something to this brand. At least as far as I know it.
I understand that Saab needs a strong dealer base. They need dealers who are capable of making money, being happy and showing the brand off to its fullest potential. They need a scale that the new Saab can handle without many of the backoffice functions that GM have provided in the past.
Business is business. If you want to make an omelette, you’ve got to break a few eggs. I know that.
But guys like the ones mentioned above and others like them have carried the torch for Saab in the US for years. In some cases, generations. These people, just like the Saab 93, Sonett, 99 and 900 owners who crowd Trollhattan during a Festival….. these people are the fabric that makes up Saab’s history.
Some of them serve small communities. Saab can now count those communities as lost.
I don’t know what it costs Saab to keep a small dealership operational. I wish I knew more about the dealership industry. But these people are here to make money and if Saab are serious about the cars they’re bringing to market, surely these entrenched dealerships with loyal customer bases would be able to make money – for themselves and for Saab.
I’m not going to encourage you all to write to anyone, hold up signs or complain. I don’t know these people personally enough to do that and I think the people at Saab have got enough on their plate right now.
My enduring hope, however, is that Saab can reconsider some of these decisions and preserve some of these dealerships where the love of Saab cars still matters.
And at the very least I hope that Saab can support these shops by maintaining a wider spread of authorised service outlets. To cut of these people’s avenues for new car sales is one thing. To deliberately throw away decades of accumulated knowledge is another all together.
Toto…. I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.

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