When Saab’s North American sales for November were reported last week, a discussion ensued in comments that became one of the longest threads Saabs United has ever seen outside of the time when Saab were being threatened with closure.
Emotions were expressed. A lot of opinions were shared. People contributed great suggestions and ideas as to how Saab dealers in North America can reconnect with potential buyers.
I sat out of the discussion but watched with interest. I think a lot of people had very valid ideas and I really hope that some people with decision making powers were watching as the discussion developed. I know a lot of other stakeholders were watching.
After a lot of consideration, and a fair bit of consultation, I’d like to add my two cents to the discussion.
Warning – this is another long one.
Saab were sold to Spyker in February 2010. The sale set in motion a protracted process whereby Saab would have to separate their operations from those of General Motors. These included virtual separations by way of IT and customer support systems, as well as a physical separation to a separate location for their US offices.
Low sales were initially blamed on low stocks. It took a while for Saab to deliver vehicles to the United States and it was expected that once stocks improved, sales would follow.
That hasn’t happened.
Whilst Saab sales in the US did spike in a statistical sense back in September, with 1,127 vehicles sold, numbers have decreased in the months following and there were only 397 Saabs sold in the US in November.
Saab are struggling in the US. Dealers are struggling and a small number have either closed their doors or declined to continue their relationship with Saab.
In this post, I’d like to analyse the US situation a little more and address some of what I see as being the core problems faced there.
I’d like to begin by noting something that I think we should all acknowledge – we are all coming from a point where we have incomplete and imperfect information. I don’t know the exact processes that Saab have to go through to achieve something, nor do I know what budgets they have for various programs.
I’m probably going to step on some toes in this article, but the ideas expressed herein are offered with the best of intentions for the Saab company. Whilst I have decent background knowledge and good contacts after covering this stuff for almost six years, I freely acknowledge that some of my points will be flawed due to imperfect information.
Some of the points that follow are general in nature. Some of them are directed at the US market in particular.
Some people have suggested that Saab should be pitching themselves below BMW, Audi and other European marques. They say Saab should be placed just above the better competitors from Asia, as an upmarket alternative to Toyota, Honda (Acura) or Subaru.
I disagree with this, and what’s more, I don’t think Saab can possibly afford to price themselves or play in that segment of the market.