Saturday, February 21, 2009

Saab was different

What has happened to Saab over the last twenty years is a lesson in authenticity, or lack of it, in this case.

I had the good fortune to work on Saab for a few years back in the early 90s. None of us really knew it at the time, but Saab's glory days were already well and truly behind it. Though GM had bought in, the initial 51% ownership gave Saab enough control to stay Saab.
So we chose to ignore that GM influence. Okay, so they were taking an Opel platform and putting it into the new Saab. It seemed a smart business move. Didn't hurt at all.
The big brand work we did back then (which never saw the light of day - that's another story) was themed 'Saab is different'. Because it just plain was. Different in where it came from, how it sounded, looked, felt - and yes, where you put your key in to the ignition. The Saab drivers were 'rugged individualists' as one of the senior writers would say, the non-joiners, the contrarians. They saw themselves in the car.
Well, it turned out those first GM operating efficiencies were kudzu sprouts. Before long, the car became a mishmosh of parts, and, in one case, entire other vehicles.
The essence of Saab was completely lost. It was no longer authentic. It was no longer different. The brand was as much of a facade as the sheets of metal they were wrapping around someone else's technology.
The auto business is brutal even in the best of times. Saab would have struggled even if it had remained on story - and to be fair would have likely gone out of business if it weren't for GM's investments.
It's just a good reminder to me - stay true, stay true.

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