Brand vs Product

I just wanted to share a few observations with you about brands and products.

I have a friend in England who owns a Jaguar XFR. He’s a guy who gets right into the companies behind the cars that he buys and accordingly, he’s right into everything Jaguar at the moment (he would have had a 9-5, by the way, but no-one would give him a price for one, so that will have to come later).

Earlier today, he sent me the following via email:

In the first 6 months of the year, in the UK, the Jaguar XF outsold Audi A6 – all variants – and BMW 5 series – all variants. Whilst there are no doubt special reasons for this –model changes, etc. it does appear to show that people will buy a car off any car company, large or small, if the product is good.

The Jaguar brand started from a loftier perch than Saab, but did have to endure some products that were below customers expectations under Ford’s ownership. Of course, there’s also the age-old maxim of having to own 2 Jaguars (one to drive whilst the other is being repaired).

The point, however, is that Jaguar’s brand and reputation were preserved well enough through the years that all it needed to succeed was good product, which it now has in spades (incredibly good product, from what I hear).

Another brand reported to have excellent new product, albeit relatively new to Australia in its updated form, is Skoda. The Czech company actually dates back to the late 1800s but it’s fair to say that it’s never been an aspirational brand, not here in Australia, at least. It’d be more accurate to say they were seen as something akin to Lada, which were generally seen on the streets in running order but in what seemed to be a visible state of decay.

Now under the wing of the Volkswagen group of companies, Skoda has re-launched here in Australia and its new cars are attracting praise from just about everyone who drives them.

I read a few reviews of the Skoda Superb wagon earlier today, and you would swear black and blue that it is the God-given answer to every prayer ever prayed by a parent who didn’t want to own a minivan.

Here’s Go Auto

What we’re saying, then, is that if you have low-$40s to splash out on a big wagon, you mustn’t overlook the Superb…..

…..we reckon the surprise package is the base petrol unit, because it is unbelievably sweet and smooth and quiet. Yes, the 103TDI is all these things too – for a diesel – but the refinement meter soars meteorically in the 118TSI. An extra bonus is its lighter nose that seems to improve on the Superb’s already alert steering and agile handling characteristics.

All Superb wagons have nine airbags, ESC stability and traction control, front fog lights with a cornering action, dual-zone climate control air-conditioning, integrated roof bars, tyre pressure monitors, heated front seats, auto-on lights, rain-sensing wipers, and an umbrella socket in one of the side rear doors, as well as the usual cruise control, electric windows, remote central locking, CD/MP3 audio, tilt/reach steering wheel adjuster, driver’s seat-height raiser and a multi-function trip computer.

And this is a reasonably big car that tops out in price where the new Saab 9-5 will most likely begin.

So why am I trying to turn you all in Skoda converts? Well, I’m not, actually. My point is this….

Despite having what are reputed to be new products with great engines, well equipped, aggressively promoted and well received by the Australian motoring press, Skoda haven’t become a great sales success here in Australia.

With a six-vehicle range of family oriented vehicles spread over three different models, Skoda were still outsold in Australia last month by Mini, which practically speaking have three styles of the same thing with only two useable seats. Skoda were significantly outsold by a much more expensive and niche LandRover as well.

Skoda’s big and more expensive brother, Volkswagen, outsold it by a ratio of 26 to 1 during June.

So, whilst good product is certainly key in this market, it helps a lot if that product is associated with a good, recognisable and well regarded brand. If not, there’s a good chance that people just won’t give it a second look.

The Saab brand has been double-damaged in recent years.

First, by GM restricting it to products that the market, and the scribes, deemed to be less than acceptable. Sure they sold a bunch, but they did so thanks to large incentives that crashed the resale values of the cars.

Second, by the attempted closing of the brand and eventual sale – a saga that stopped at the ‘closing’ point for many potential consumers.

Saab’s recent efforts in advertising have been a great start and they do have a great new product to offer in the Saab 9-5 and the Saab 9-4x that’s coming. I believe there’s enough brand equity remaining to take advantage of that, but as the above stories with Jaguar and Skoda will tell you, the combination has to be just right and as we all know, Saab won’t likely have a third chance.

Crunch day snippets – feat the SSC Saab Ad.

Big day here in the real world, today.
Things will be quiet.
I’ve received a PDF copy of the new Saab ad that features photos from the Saab Support Convoys. Many thinks to Lowe Brindfors for supplying it.
Many thanks also to Elkparts, who are hosting it on their servers for you to download.
Click here to get your copy.
Saab SSC Ad - Believing
Auto Prophet recalls some details from a radio interview with Victor Muller.
My own interview with VM has been postponed until the evening (here) or the morning (there). Here’s hoping we can get it together this time.
VM on Inside Line, stressing a few things.
Interesting that they will looks to choose a partner for the much desired small Saab. I nominate Lotus, as long as that’s not too expensive.
Toyota’s worst nightmare could be on the cusp of becoming a reality.
Man lists all twelve of his Jaguar E-Types on Ebay.
The catch?
You have to buy all of them at once.
If you’re wondering why there’s so much Alfa Romeo concept work going on at Geneva this year, it’s because 2010 marks Alfa Romeo’s 100th birthday.
The 2uettottanta concept by Pininfarina
And the Pandion concept, with ‘doors’ open, by Bertone:
Cuore Sportivo!
OK, on to the big day……

Sunday Night Snippets

There are a few important developments that I need to cover here….


Saab have recently brought home what could be the last of the operations outside of Trollhattan, when several marketing, admin and PR people moved from their Pixbo facility at Mölnlycke, near Gothenburg.

Around 100 employees had their last day at Pixbo last Friday.


Saab have recently received a grant to promote entrepreneurial thinking and projects amongst employees.

A translation from TTELA:

How do you create a spirit of entrepreneurship and at the same time an effective organization?

Saab Automobile, The City of Trollhättan, Lear Corporation and ANA Trolhättan (the local Saab dealer in Trollhättan) seek answers to this question in a competence development project (called Entré), which on February 25 received 17 million kronor in EU aid and will reach 4,000 employees.

With Saab having cut the moorings from GM, business development and innovation is a foundation need in order to survive. There has been talks of a special Saab spirit that has been reinforced in the very shaky journey the company has made over the past year – a crisis of consciousness that can embed a new creativity and ingenuity.

A project aimed at getting the very creative process of undertaking the project entrance as just been granted 17 million through the Swedish ESF Council with funding from the European Social Fund. With the three companies involved and Trollhättan city’s own resources there is a total project budget of 31 million kronor – Saab accounts for the lion’s share and is also the workplace where the project will have the greatest impact.

The project is to enhance entrepreneurship among all employees within an organization – or intrapreneurship, which it is usually called when we talk bout entrepreneurial thinking and innovation within an existing company.

– The project includes for example training in models and structures on how to harness ideas and thinking on these issues, “says Kari Jansson, Saab’s training manager.

Among other things, the project includes an entrepreneurial school and provide leadership training in entrepreneurship. Furthermore, it will have an exchange with an entrepreneurial university in LIUC Castellanza outside of Milan in Italy.

The project, which will be able to touch many departments at Saab, is also addressing Enterprise Lean, a model that works more efficiently in order to remove non value adding processes and process steps.

The project leader Anders Isaksson, from the Saab competence management department, talks about the project as part of the wider work to turn Saab into a dynamic, entrepreneurial company, after a more passive culture as part of the GM organization.

– This may be a small part, but an important tool towards that goal.


And finally, a quick from the BBC.

This one goes out to all the naysayers who reckon you can’t be profitable being small.

Jaguar Land Rover turned in a profit of £55m in the last three months of 2009 after a loss of £60m in the previous quarter.

The company’s owner, India’s Tata Motors, said the bounce back was thanks to stronger market conditions.

It added that its range of new models had helped its performance.

Of course, they will need to be more profitable than that to develop new models, as will Saab, but it’s an encouraging message nonetheless.

Thanks to Dave for the link.

I drove a Jaguar XF and……

Entries of this nature were made back in the Trollhattan Saab days under the title I drove a XXXX and here’s why I’d still buy a Saab. We haven’t done one for a while, but WooDz has recently had some time behind the wheel of Jaguar’s highly regarded new XF model.
I’ve abbreviated the title because rather than give a summary for his Saab preferences, WooDz spells out some concerns that I share for modern cars. The new Saab 9-5 will be the first Saab to incorporate all this new technology, so it’ll be interesting to see how it effects the driving experience.
My thanks to WooDz for the writeup!

At the weekend I had the pleasure of driving the new Jaguar XF 3.0 Diesel. There were many miles ahead of me, some 800 give or take. So how would the XF hold up over a long period of driving? Could this luxury high-tech limousine tick all the right boxes for me? And does my 10 year old Viggen still have the best seats in the house?
jaguar_xf.jpg The WooDzettes and the XF
The first impression you get from the XF is pure elegance, it’s not a small car and the sculpted edges and wide stance create a presence you don’t easily forget.
Inside the car you are encased in a mixture of wood, leather and metal, driving home the fact that although the XF’s roots come from a Ford Mondeo, make no mistake this is not mutton dressed as lamb. Or is it?
As you look closer you realise that the wood is really plastic and the aluminum touches, for example on the steering wheel, are also plastic. However for some reason you’re still not phased. Maybe it’s because the main overtone still exudes that luxury feel, that the whole dash is covered in fine stitched leather and well; after all, it is a Jaaaaaag.
The XF’s showcase is the engaging of the ignition and as the soft blue dials come to life and the air-vents automatically open like the pop-up headlights of previous generation performance cars it definitely has that ‘wow’ effect. Once the engine starts up you can hardly hear anything from the oil burner that emits just a quiet purr.
On the road that purr doesn’t suddenly turn into a wild cat growl or roar – diesel engines just don’t do that – but they do give huge amounts of torque at very low revs and the XF’s 600nm gives it to you by the lorry load. At no point did this car ever feel under-powered.
jaguar_xf_2.jpg The handling is of the highest calibre and just when you think your speed is a bit too much for that corner, you just turn in a little more and there’s nary a squeak from any of the tyres. I’m sure the Jag can be pushed to its limits but for me that wasn’t the game. I wanted to feel like a king riding back to his castle, making the command decisions as opposed to the decadent romans who were carried for miles on a bed of wobbling cushions.
On that front the XF doesn’t disappoint, it makes you feel special, regardless of whether you’re fully aware of the turning heads as you gracefully pass the wash of inferior carts or you’re soaking up your blissful surroundings cruising at a steady 70mph as you watch the hustle of commuters desperately trying to cut through heavy traffic fighting their way home.
This car should be perfect but it isn’t. I understand that I have probably lead you up a path and it is for a reason – because the XF really is a fine car. It’s fast and it’s even relatively economical, averaging 35mpg from a big 275hp V6. It radiates an aura of power and the handling is absolutely exquisite.
However, this car has a deep rooted problem or two.

Read moreI drove a Jaguar XF and……

Friday Night Snippets – my own bed edition

Northern Tasmania was absolutely stunning, but geez it’s good to be home.
I drive through one stretch of around 30km this morning that was totally covered in fog. You couldn’t see more than about 80 meters ahead.
This poor weather might explain yesterday events. In 2008, there were 40 Tasmanians who died on the state’s roads.
Yesterday, Thursday July 9, there were nine people killed in one day in car accidents.
You can rest easy, your Saab is safe.
These sort of things, like celebrity deaths, tend to happen in threes. First there was Kaylan’s 9000 on fire, then the Saab 900 convertible fire, and for those who haven’t seen it yet, there’s now been a 9-3 SportCombi lost to a fire.
The prime suspect in the cause of the fire is an iPod Nano, possibly planted by a recovering Steve Jobs to stop all this “Saab being the Apple of the car industry” talk.
As pointed out in comments to the article, and by Dave R in an email, it’s a little surprising that the materials inside the car weren’t a little more fire resistant to what may have been a slow starting fire.
Saab have a long history of accident investigation in order to make benefit glorious state of Saab safety, so here’s hoping they take some material samples out of this car for the future.
The Washington Times has a good review of the 2009 Saab 9-3 with XWD.

I want to be in a car that is capable of avoiding a crash, and that gives the edge to the 2009 9-3 sedan with the Cross-Wheel Drive, which also features ABS and ESP. Based on that system alone, the $41,885 is a worthwhile investment, as the 9-3 is offering today what’s likely to be the wave of the future.

I know the Jaguar XF has been lauded since it’s release, but except for the rear view, I’ve got to say I’m not a big fan.
But today, images of the new Jaguar XJ have come out and finally, after years and years, we seem to have a Jaguar sedan that doesn’t look like a Ford.
Is this proof positive that what used to be considered unconventional ownership of a car company, can work?
I’m an old Jag fan, ever since my Dad gave me a book on the back in the early 1980s. I used to sit in class and draw the classic XJ front. I even agreed to purchase an old XJ bac in late 1994, though I backed out of the deal (which was a good move).
Tomorrow I’ll be photographing car parts.
At last, I get a real chance to get enthused abou the Monte. Depending on my mechanic’s schedule, I should hopefully have a very different Monte this time next week!

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