To say Saab has taken a severe beating in the last few months is a gross understatement. Many consumers already think the brand was killed years ago. But sometimes when problems seem insurmountable, when everyone else gives up hope and turns their back and moves on, something incredible happens. Many of you know I love the sports analogies here, and I’m pulling out an old but classic one here again that has a personal connection.
On January 3, 1993, I went with my dad and sister to watch the Buffalo Bills play at home against the Houston Oilers. It was a cold grey day, and while I normally loved going the games even if we were losing, the Oilers were absolutely crushing us and even the biggest Bills fans were covering their eyes in horror, unable to watch the massacre. As halftime neared the score was 28-3, and the stadium began to clear out. No one wanted to stick around and watch the pummeling continue. As a young kid, I wasn’t really in the mood to sit in the cold, even though it meant it was a good diversion from my homework and eat concession style pizza. My Dad of course, was in no way going to leave the game until the very end though, so we stayed.
Meanwhile in the locker room, a very resolute coaching staff sounded a lot like the commenters and armchair quarterbacks we have at SU. Defensive Coordinator Walt Corey yelled at the defense.
“I was hollering the same things the fans were hollering at me when we left the field…I can’t repeat the words, but the more I talked, the louder I got. The thing that bothered me was their approach. To me, they looked timid. They looked like they were going to get in the right spots, but they weren’t going to make anything happen afterward. This is an attitude game. Sometimes you start playing and you’re afraid to make things happen or afraid to make a mistake.”
Nose Tackle Jeff Wright recalled “With every word that came out of Walt’s mouth, he reached a new temperature level, until he finally just exploded. He had every right to say the things that he said. We were embarrassing him, we were embarrassing ourselves, we were embarrassing Buffalo Bills fans.”
In many ways, the way Saab was managed in the last year resembled the first half of that game. So many mistakes occurred, so many missteps and too much complacency. There wasn’t enough recalibration when the situation warranted it, and just like the defensive coordinator told his players, the company seemed to be going in the right direction but they weren’t following through, weren’t making corrections fast enough, and weren’t keeping an eye on the score well enough to be prepared for the situation that befell them this spring.
The head coach Marv Levy, a legendary figure in all of sports told his team, “You’ve got thirty more minutes. Maybe it’s the last thirty minutes of your season. When your season’s over, you’re going to have to live with yourselves and look yourselves in the eyes. You’d damn well better have reason to feel good about yourselves, regardless of how this game turns out.”
After they left the lockerroom, it still took a little time for the players to get their bearings. Quarterback Frank Reich threw a tipped pass that was returned for a touchdown. Just when no one thought it could get even worse, the score was now 35-3. No other team in NFL history had ever come back from that great a deficit. But then Buffalo got lucky with the return kick. They somehow managed to pull themselves together and make a 50 yard push for a touchdown. Out of sheer determination or desperation, they made onside kick then touchdown, one after the other. The bills won the game, won the division championships which led them to the super bowl (which we won’t talk about ;)) and many of the players from that game are now in the NFL Hall of Fame. To this day, it’s the greatest comeback in NFL history. I encourage everyone to watch the film at NFL.com for a complete retelling of what is one of the best sports stories of all time.
So here we are, at the bottom just like the bills were at halftime. This is the point where Saab either turns itself around or throws in the towel. No matter how many engineers leave or hits Saab may take, the facts remain: the company has one of the strongest lineups in their history, selling at prices that make them the most competitive in their segment. They have a strong IP portfolio with too many technological inventions to mention in the pipeline. They have a history, brand, customer base, and dealer network that gives them a global presence that nearly no automotive startup could just buy.
Saab has a choice to make. They either come out of this guns blazing, with a newfound intensity and leanness, ready to pounce and go after every customer willing to stand with the company, or they can throw in the towel. Once Victor delivers, the workers who were loyal to Saab will no doubt have to work tirelessly to turn the ship around and get back to building and promoting their uniquely Swedish wares. The dead weight they carried that were a liability to them and bled money and resources in their first year of independence will need to either change their tune or retire from the company. I don’t mean to sound harsh here, but I’m just as serious as the Bills’ coaching staff– once Muller gets his deal through, he has full license to demand swift and thorough changes within the whole company to make sure Saab pulls through.
When some commenters remark that their trust in Saab management has turned from trust and confidence to hope and prayer, I have to step back and remind everyone just who is at the helm. Victor Muller’s motto for Spyker has never been given a stronger test than now. Nulla tenaci invia est via, for the tenacious, no road is impassible. Let’s just say now that I’d rather stay on this road and follow Muller’s lead than bet against him. If history is an indicator, he’ll convince whoever he’s negotiating with that Saab will not only pull through but bring an incredible return on a modest investment in such trying economic times. If (when) Muller completes the deal, we at SU are ready to take up the cause and make absolutely sure that this company can get back on track. After that Bills game, I learned that sometimes even if it’s popular to leave when the show seems like it’s over, it’s not a good idea to bet against a proven formula for success. Even though there are so many doubters, I still billieve. Let’s show the world the greatest comeback in automotive history.