As I’ve surveyed the past, present and future of SAAB auto, I’ve come to a pretty solid conclusion. It seems to me, despite the opposition, that SAAB has more of a future with NEVS than it ever could have had with GM, Spyker or any other automotive parent company who wished to keep SAAB as it was. Here’s why.
In the years leading up to its bankruptcy, the SAAB brand seemed confused, unable to find its place in the auto market. Its cars weren’t as luxurious as the premium competition, such as Mercedes-Benz and Audi; their performance was decent but nothing significantly more spectacular than a Honda Civic SI; and GM’s influence cheapened the SAAB experience some by removing most ties to its Scandinavian roots. All of these shortcomings were confirmed by a relatively low resale value. It’s not that SAAB cars were garbage; far from it. They just struggled to maintain their presence amid the competition.
As I see it, the folks at SAAB had many good aspirations; but I don’t think it was advantageous being “helped” by a company poised for bankruptcy and an $11 billion government bailout.
Nearing the end, it seems the main consumer base SAAB had left consisted of those who had become loyal customers in the past. This loyalty is valuable, but it doesn’t grow a business.
This definitely effects the reception of the word SAAB. But now is the opportunity for a reinvention of the brand. NEVS’ aim of using the SAAB name to tap into the electric car market may be a disappointment to some, but it’s probably the best decision for the brand. The decline of the SAAB brand up until its bankruptcy shows that it seems to have, for the most part, lost its position in the internal combustion market some time ago.
Meanwhile in China…
NEVS stated, “China is the market with the most ambitious plans for changing its vehicle fleet into electric vehicles. This includes the development of infrastructure to facilitate the charging of these vehicles.” Despite officially becoming the global leader in oil imports (yes, surpassing the United States), China’s interest in EVs is evidently greater than it is here in the U.S. This is probably due to the economic explosion China is currently experiencing. This widespread prosperity would certainly create greater enthusiasm toward a market that holds promise for freedom from fossil fuels.
This opens up a promising door for SAAB.
And the more I think about it, it’s best that the griffin logo couldn’t continue with the SAAB name. This would only be associated with failure. Kai Johan Jiang, primary owner of NEVS and the man responsible for the purchase of SAAB is even quoted as saying, “It may actually be a good thing to drop the Griffin logo. I am happy not to have it.” His reason was that the griffin was added late in SAAB’s history, at the formation of Scania and Saab in the 1960s.
“Then, why not”, you ask, “Simply leave the entire SAAB name to die and found a new company altogether?” Because pitfalls notwithstanding, the value of a rich history and notable pioneering achievements associated with the name make for a good launch pad in a new direction. It’s difficult enough to launch a new line of electric vehicles at a time when they are not considerably well-received, being higher-priced and less convenient than their gasoline counterparts. Having a brand that maintained a loyal following even through rough times may prove to be quite the leg up in such an industry. It’s definitely safer for known brands to go this route than unknown brands. GM, Honda and Toyota among others have had a measure of success with this approach.
This is why it’s so essential to give SAAB more of a visual identity than just its name. It needs to forge solid placement in an industry to which it is foreign. The name, through good marketing strategy, can once more remind of SAAB’s successes as well as its confident goals going forward. But keeping the old without adding new, to a company whose stated goal is to “[Build] a new company and a new image”, to me is a strategy that could use some adjustment. SAAB needs to provide a new invitation to its brand.
I have considerable personal interest in the brand. I think SAAB cars are excellent, and it’s intriguing to see so many recent ups and downs and changes in ownership and direction for a company that began so long ago. In addition, analyzing the ins and outs of brands is a huge part of what we do; and since SAAB’s been the subject of a lot of news in the past few years, I thought I’d share this analysis with you as well.