Vale Curvin O’Rielly

I know Jason has already notified the Saab community here on SU about Curvin’s passing.

I hope it’s OK that I also share some of my memories of the great ad man. – SW

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It’s with a very heavy heart that I pass on some news that landed in my inbox overnight – the passing of Curvin O’Rielly on Friday night, US time, after a brief but tenacious battle with cancer.

Curvin worked in the original Mad Men era of advertising in the US. He only recently started a blog called Ace of Admen, and you can read a few of his advertising stories there. Sadly, he never got the opportunity to share more of these stories online. They were inevitably entertaining and there were always lessons to be learned.

I first met Curvin in 2010, at the Swedish Car Day event hosted by Charles River Saab in Boston. He was fresh off an appearance at the 2010 Saab Owners Convention, where he wowed the crowd with his thoughts on Saab’s advertising.

Saab was still a newly-independent company at the time. There was still a lot of enthusiasm and positivity surrounding the company, although there were concerns starting to emerge, especially in the United States. The Saab 9-5 had been launched just a few months prior, but only as an Aero, at what was considered to be a very high price, and without an all-important sunroof being available.

Added to that was a print advertising campaign that got everyone talking, but for all the wrong reasons. The ad was called She is not for you. The ad caused more than just a ripple of concern in the Saab community and I can remember having a long, occasionally emotional conversation about it with one of the Saab USA guys in Boston that weekend I was there.

In his appearance at the Saab Owners Convention in 2010, just a few weeks earlier, Curvin presented his treatise on what Saab’s advertising should be. He had a good well of experience to draw on, too, as he had worked on Saab’s advertising accounts back when the legendary ‘Uncle’ Bob Sinclair took over the reigns at Saab USA in the late 1970s.

The most intelligent car ever built was his baby. That campaign, along with improved product from Sweden during the 1980s, ushered in the golden era to come at Saab later that decade.

I can’t say much about his SOC2010 presentation except to say that he knocked people’s socks off. Anyone I spoke to about the event talked about the presentation.

The best thing I can do is point you to some of the slides from that presentation at Uncle Bob’s Rules.

That site was set up by Chip Lamb, Curvin and his colleague, Willy Hopkins, as part of what became a quiet, ongoing campaign to take on Saab’s advertising work. It wasn’t successful, of course, but it was insightful and you can see why the motivational text from the presentation got people so fired up, especially at a time like 2010 where Saab’s US advertising was seen to be lacking so much substance.

Curvin was pleased to be able to share more detail about his proposal with Victor Muller and Jan-Ake Jonsson at SOC. His offer to them was to set up a small, boutique advertising agency using his expertise and some hand-picked people to work solely on Saab’s US advertising. His offer was politely declined but he persisted and spent some time in Boston taking me and a few others through the campaign as well.

Would it have changed things for Saab? I don’t know.

Saab’s core problem in the US was a poor initial Saab 9-5 offering, delays to the 9-4x and of course, the finance problems back in Sweden. I don’t know if a different ad campaign in the US, where margins are so small, would have helped. In any case, it’d merely be an academic exercise to debate that today.

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I next met Curvin at the New York Auto Show in April, 2011. It was my first (and as things turned out, my last) motor show as a Saab employee and Saab were showing the PhoeniX concept car in the United States for the first time. Curvin sat in the car and absolutely loved it.

I wrote on Inside Saab at the time that he offered both his credit card and his checkbook, but wasn’t allowed to take PhoeniX home. It was a generous offer, especially when you consider that PhoeniX had done what concept cars do sometimes – it played up, closing its electronic doors leaving him stuck inside the car for 5 minutes or so while we scrambled to find the remote control and open the doors again.

A few days later I had a wonderful lunch with Curvin at a real New York diner and that’s how I’ll remember Curvin the most. He was an ad man, a Saab fan and a generous guy. To me, he’ll always be a New Yorker. He loved the city and we had a great time in that short time together in The Big Apple.

Curvin O’Rielly was one of the most contemporary and connected of citizens, one who knew his stuff, wasn’t afraid to tell you his story but was also kind enough to listen and learn from yours as well.

I’m ever so pleased that I got to meet him, am saddened immensely by has passing and can only wish that I got to know him more.

Coggs rides again! Raising funds for cancer research

Last year, in my final days at Saabs United, I wrote about Jim Coggeshall (Coggs), his fight with cancer and his quest to raise funds for cancer research with the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Massachusetts.

His method of fundraising is via his bicycle and the Pan Mass Challenge. If you’ve been watching the Tour de France this year, like I have, then you’ll be well acquainted with how hard it is for a professional cyclist to ride around 200 kilometers in a day. Really, though, those guys are a bunch of wusses.

The Pan Mass Challenge is a 200 MILE single-day bike ride and let’s just say that Jim’s old enough to play Dad to most of the guys in the TdF. Take that, you precious little Le Tour giblets!

The Pan Mass Challenge attracts thousands of participants each year and the event raised $35million in funds in 2011 alone. The costs for administering the effort are covered by businesses, so every cent raised from private donations goes directly towards research at the Dana Farber Center.

Jim CoggsJim is a five-times Saab owner and three-times cancer survivor. His current stable of cars comprises two Saab 9-5 SportCombis (2001 and 2006), a Saab Sonett III, a classic 900 Convertible and a 9-3 Viggen Convertible in red. Jim participates in Saab events all over the north-east United States and recently had 20 or so cars at his place for what I’ll call a SaaB-B-Q.

This guy is a first class Saab nut.

And speaking of nuts, Jim’s a recent survivor of testicular cancer. As he’s fond of saying –

“I gave my left nut to cancer. What can you give?”

That was 18 months ago. Just this morning, Jim was at Dana Farber getting a checkup and he came out with a clean bill of health. That’s 18 months, cancer free!!!

So if you have any doubts about the genuineness of this appeal, don’t.

Last year, Saabs United and it’s readers contributed over $1,000 of Jim’s $9,000 contribution to the effort. What an outstanding result! It’s an outcome I hope SU can beat this year.

To help us all out, Dan De Vlieger over at State of Nine has agreed to offer a $100 voucher to be raffled amongst contributors. You get one chance in the draw for every $10 you contribute to the cause. $50 in means 5 chances at the prize. All you have to do is make sure you record your name on Jim’s contribution page so that he can allocate the right number of chances for you.

Thanks to Dan at State of Nine for his contribution. Dan’s a class act.

So how do you contribute?

Simply head over to Jim’s PMC entry page and you can make a contribution there. You can also read Jim’s story in his own words.

I know SU people have given a lot in the last 12 months. You’ve given from both your time and your finance and I’m somewhat hesitant to ask you to put your hands in your pockets once again.

This is a fantastic cause, however. Cancer hast most likely touched every person reading this page in one way or another. It took my Dad 27 years ago at the age of just 52. Thankfully, Jim’s family has been spared that pain in respect to him and his work on behalf of the Saab community, and in respect of this event, deserves your consideration.

I’ll finish with another very poignant quote from Jim, last year:

A lot of my Saab friends offered words of encouragment during my battle which were helpful on a personal level. But all the verbal sentiment in the world will not cure a single cancer sufferer. It takes research and reaserch takes money. Consider that 40 years ago somebody with my form of cancer had a 5 year survival rate of just 20%. Today, thanks to research at places like the Dana Farber it’s over 98%. I want everybody to have a similar chance of recovery but that is still not the case with many forms of the disease.

Thanks again to Dan at State of Nine for his support, and thanks in advance for your support, too.

Click here to donate to Jim’s ride in the Pan Mass Challenge

Repost: SU Hi-Po Challenge #7, 8, 9 and 10

From Jeff: We got a few emails from members and I’ve been reading a lot of comments from people on the site that reminded me of the points I brought up in my proposal for a hybrid performance Saab way back in Winter 2011. Times have changed, but the concept still makes a lot of sense to me. Looking back at my proposal and looking at it under the lens that recent events provides, I certainly think the proposal needs some tweaking. While NEVS will most likely be building a pure EV to start, I really hope that they also build a halo concept model akin to the Porsche 918 hybrid I mention in the proposal or even better the Jaguar CX75 Concept, if just to show off all the groundbreaking tech that Saab engineers are working with and spread development costs out. As you may know, they’ll be selling a limited production of those for a monumental sum per car, but most have reportedly been spoken for (for nearly $1 million USD each). Saab needs a statement vehicle, and I think a limited production version of the proposal I’m describing – even only 10-20 – would go a long way for its image, perhaps not as flashy as the Jag but no less technologically innovative.

For a trip down memory lane or perhaps if you didn’t read it the first time, click on past the break. I think this proposal becomes a lot more relevant now that Saab’s assets are in NEVS’s hands.

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Charles River Saab to close at Watertown – move service to Boston Volvo

UPDATE – I’ve re-worded the headline so it’s somewhat less scary. Please note that Charles River Saab’s service personnel will be moving their Saab Service work to Boston Volvo, nearby.

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I only got to know a few dealers well during my time writing about Saab. The one that I probably got to know the best – Charles River Saab – is hosting a farewell open day this weekend to mark the closing of their Watertown business after 55 years.

I got to know Charles River Saab when the Service Manager, Pierre Belperron, invited me to Boston to attend their annual Swedish Car Day event, back in 2010. Whilst Pierre and I had exchanged a few emails prior to me getting there, I really didn’t know what to expect when I landed in Boston. What I encountered there was a dealership and staff that epitomised the heartbeat of a vibrant Saab community.

For nearly everyone at CRS, Saab wasn’t just their business, Saab was a key part of their lives. Many of them had given decades of service to the brand and forged friendships with co-workers and customers that will last a lifetime. Several of them didn’t just own current model Saab cars leased on a convenient staff deal – they owned classic, immaculate Saab cars.

I spent most of my Boston time with Pierre from CRS and Dan from State of Nine and for a guy who lives on the other side of the world, it was a fantastic introduction to the depth and intensity of the north-eastern US Saab scene. You couldn’t meet two more dedicated guys if you tried. What made it all the more amazing for me was seeing the commute that Pierre would travel each day to get to work (he lives in a neighbouring state), sometimes arriving in the wee hours in order to clear snow from the CRS lot before any of the other staff arrived during the winter. Dedication personified.

And of course, what made my time with Pierre and the folks at CRS all the more memorable is the fact that they’re not just dedicated Saab people, they were all absolutely excellent people in themselves. Warm, friendly, genuine, intelligent, capable, interesting and very hospitable.

Pierre has for some time been the author behind the Charles River Saab blog. This week, he’s penned an article looking back at the history of the dealership and profiling some of the key people involved with the outfit. It’s recommended reading.

That Saab dealers are closing is a sad, but inevitable fact of the current situation. I guess it brings things home for me a bit more when I hear about it from a dealership that involves some genuine friends of mine, people I’ve spent time with, had dinner with, etc. This is the personal side of what’s happening in the Saab family.

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This Saturday, the doors at Charles River Saab will be wide open to welcome visitors, current and former customers and staff, and anyone else who wants to drop by and say hello.

The open house will run from 5pm to 8pm on Saturday afternoon.

I know that for many Saab fans in the region, this weekend will be taken up by Saabs @ Carlisle. If you’re not heading there, however, I’d encourage you to drop in and say hello/goodbye/thankyou to the folks at Charles River Saab.

NOTE: A contingent of service staff from CRS will be moving to Boston Volvo at 75 North Beacon Street, Brighton, another of the Village Automotive Group’s dealerships

Helping the Saab Museum

I’m proud of the contribution that Saabs United has made to the company over the years. I’m proud to have been a part of establishing that tradition and very pleased to see it carry on in the hands of Tim, Till, the rest of the SU team and the readership.

Every member of the SU community has a part to play in keeping the spirit of this company alive. Of course, our hope is that the administrators find a suitable buyer to keep the company itself alive. It’s important not just as a matter continuing a heritage that we’re all proud of, but also in continuing to provide an automotive alternative that we all love. I’ve lost count of the number of people who have written to me saying they just can’t imagine buying another type of car. For some of us – for better or for worse – there are few, if any, viable alternatives to Saab when it comes to interesting and engaging motoring.

Saabs United is currently running what I think is a pretty important fund-raiser to purchase and preserve the last Saab 9-3 in the Saab Museum. For sixty-plus years, prominent cars from Saab’s history have rolled off the production line and into the Saab Museum. I think we can all agree that there has been no more critical a period in the company’s history than the bankruptcy of December 19. For a Saab fan, it’s almost essential that the final car from this period in the company’s history be preserved in the Saab Museum, like the notable cars that went before it.

This fund raiser is unprecedented in Saab circles for its ambition, scope and the importance of its mission. We can’t save the company itself as a one-off effort (that will require consistent sales for a re-started Saab) but I believe that we can – and should – do this.

Consequently, I just want to add my voice to the appeal. If you’ve contributed to this fund already, then thanks very much. If you’re planning to contribute, I’d urge you to let Tim or Till know your commitment and the timing of it. If you’re still on the fence, I’d appeal to you to consider what you can give.

If you’ve never visited the Saab Museum, I can assure you that it’s well worth the time and trouble it might cost you to get there. It’s a wondrous place for a Saab fan, a reminder of everything this company has achieved, much of it against the odds over a number of decades. It’ll remind you as to what we all gave so much of our time for and make you appreciate the drive home even more. That building houses some of the most wonderful memories of my life and some great friends, too.

Imagine visiting there and knowing that you contributed to one of it’s more significant exhibits.

Please click here to make your contribution and help preserve the last Saab 9-3.

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I’d like to raise another point while I’m here. In fairness, I should have discussed this with Peter Backstrom before posting as it might be a non-issue, but I’ll put it out there anyway.

Is there some scheme, some way that we Saab enthusiasts can contribute regularly to the upkeep of the museum? A trust or a friends-of-the-museum type setup? I know that I’d be willing to contribute to such a trust with a regular annual contribution and I’m sure that others would, too.

IntSaab 2012 is coming up soon. It would be a great opportunity to promote such an arrangement and get clubs involved in preserving something that is surely in their interests to keep alive, and strong.

If something is already established, that’s great. If not, I hope it’s something the new owners of the museum would consider. The Saab Museum has been saved once already. I hope it’s never in a position where it has to be saved again.

A small ray of hope for Saab, thanks to Brightwell

Cross-posted from Swadeology

For months now, we’ve heard GM spokesman James Cain come out and say things like this:

TT: Why did you not agree to meet them?

– We stand by our policy not to sell technology licenses to a new owner for Saab.

TT: Not in any way?

– No.

TT: Typically in business, everything has a price tag.

– Not in this case, says James Cain.

So…… They stand by this policy and from earlier in the original article at e24, they responded to Brightwell’s requests for discussions with a big, fat “not interested”.

Not according to Brightwell’s President, Alphan Manas.

We have to rely on a Googletrans from Manas’ own blog here, but it sounds very much like they reached some agreement with GM in relation to the 9-4x before GM demanded a $73million “tooling fee”. This was apparently an unexpected development and it’s quite possible that tactics like this are part of the reason that Brightwell dropped out of the race to acquire Saab.

Of course, it’s not the first time GM has done something like this, either. Back in December 2009, GM halted negotiations with Spyker – quite suddenly – and announced that Saab was to be liquidated. Later they backflipped once more and ended up selling the company.

What does all this mean?

Not a lot, really. The changing of terms in business deals is commonplace and GM are as prone to it as anyone else. The fact that a Saab fan might find it distasteful doesn’t alter the fact that it happens (nor that PR people would ‘forget’ such things in public statements).

Perhaps the ‘tooling fee’ is a blessing in disguise for a Saab fan. If I’ve interpreted what Manas has written on his website correctly (a significant “if”, but I think I have), it means that GM might actually be willing to negotiate with a possible purchaser of Saab Automobile under the right circumstances. I’m sure they’ll charge a massive fee for such access, but it’s a glimmer of hope if ever I saw one. The 9-4x deserves to be produced for longer, and as a Saab, too.

Again, I have to stress that I’m relying on a web translation of Manas’ blog. I tried to get in touch with Manas via Twitter last week but got no response. The translation is all I’ve got to go by at the moment. If you know Turkish perhaps you can clarify things a little for everyone.

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Thanks to Gregg for the tip.

What I’d like to hear from a prospective buyer of Saab

I used to work for Saab and I’m already missing the company and the people terribly. Like many of them, I’d love to work for Saab again if the conditions were right. But like many of them, I’d also need to know that the conditions were right.

I was only there for a short time and it was an absolute pleasure. I didn’t have the stress that others had because I had a job to come back to if things went awry. Other employees at Saab had their eggs all in the Saab basket. What’s more, they’d been living on the edge for two or three years by the time the company declared bankruptcy. Some of them have now gone elsewhere, whilst others are still looking. While everyone I know loves the company to bits, I’m pretty sure they’d want to feel some security before taking a decision to return.

If Saab is bought and returns to the automotive market, it will need to change. That much is a given. But change in what ways?

If I could sit down with each of the prospective buyers and have a chat with them, here’s what I’d want to know based on my own personal needs and interests…..

YOUNGMAN

What I’d like to know: Nothing. There’s nothing you can say to convince me that you’d be a good or competent owner for Saab Automobile, or that you’d be even slightly interested in preserving any of the Saab company that I know and love. Thanks for coming.

BRIGHTWELL

What I’d like to know: As you’ve been the most vocal, I’m going to ask you the most questions. All in the interests of getting to know you better, of course.

Who are you, exactly? And what do you plan to do with our car company?

I ask this because so far, you’re making all the right noises, but that’s not so hard to do if you’re just a little bit studious. If you’ve got any notion of the public sentiment around Saab, then you’ll know that talking about production in Sweden and retaining key staff (engineering, design, etc) is key to retaining any brand equity that you might be buying. But what are your plans, really?

What do you know about the car business? Because to me you smell a little like Cerberus, the group that took over Chrysler and nearly run it into the ground a few years ago. If you are indeed a holding company like that, then what are your long term plans for Saab, and who will you install in place at the company to execute those plans?

Who you put in place is important. One thing that came up time and again when I spoke to colleagues at Saab is that we carried on too much like the GM days after we had been sold. It was like very little had changed, except the logistical changes that were forced upon us. None of the key senior staff changed, for example, and that was probably a big mistake.

So what are you going to do, and who are you going to put in place to do it?

And finally, who’s behind you and how deep are your pockets? Can Saab be assured of a period where they can talk about their cars and their brand without having to worry about diversionary stories from the press? Are you going to list Saab on a stock exchange, or maintain life as a privately held company?

Thanks for being interested in Saab. I know some of your people attended the We Are Many, We Are Saab event in Holland a few weeks ago and hopefully you got a taste for the passion that exists for this company. All we need is something/someone to believe in.

MAHINDRA

What I’d like to know: What’s your angle? Are you in or out? Are you interested in building Saab cars, or not? And as with Brightwell, what sort of model would you put in place for managing the company?

You’re an interesting case. A lot of us have stars in our eyes when it comes to you, probably because of the relationship between Tata and Jaguar LandRover. We want to believe that you could do the same for Saab.

But why do you want Saab? There’s a wonderful ownership community and probably even a fair portion of the motoring press that would love to jump behind you if you would only come out and engage the public a little.

OTHERS

See MAHINDRA, above. I understand there are comercial confidentiality requirements, but it’d be great to know who you are and what your interest is in this wonderful brand.

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Swade now writes mostly about cars at Swadeology.

My Saab column in Auto Motor and Sport magazine

Hi all. Swade here.

The latest issue of Auto Motor and Sport magazine has a Saab section in it and I was invited to provide an article for that section. AMS has given me permission to reproduce the article in the original English for those not yet blessed with the Swedish language (like me).

I hope it gives you some food for thought as you embark upon an historic weekend.

Cross-posted from swadeology.com

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I officially became a Saab employee at the beginning of April 2011. In the week before I joined the company, we had a brief factory stoppage due to an unpaid account with our freight company. During my first week with Saab, we had some occasional production, and then a stoppage that continued almost uninterrupted until the company declared bankruptcy on December 19, 2011.

The opportunity to work for Saab was a dream come true after writing about them as an enthusiast for just over six years. The job itself was equal parts joy and frustration but I wouldn’t have traded this opportunity for anything in the world.

As I write this, there is still a window of opportunity for someone to step in and purchase Saab as a whole from the bankruptcy administrators. The alternative is for the company’s assets to be broken up and sold around the world. One option gives some hope for the brand, the other makes certain that we’ve seen the last of this innovative company from Western Sweden.

The sad part about this whole episode is that was all so avoidable. I won’t go into all the details here, but suffice to say that there were a lot of short-term, reactionary decisions made both inside and outside Saab. Decisions that could have been different if the people concerned had a longer-term outlook.

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