Blog: If you're quirky and you know it, Abba Saab
Dave Leggett | 2 April 2007
What core things do brands say? Name a brand and then play word association - it's fun, especially after a few drinks. Automotive brands are some of the strongest around. Countries have a strong international perception that is a little like a brand, too.
If I say ‘Sweden’ you’d maybe respond with IKEA, the fine city of Stockholm, pine floors, meat balls, tinned herring, snow, reindeer, long winter nights, polite people, ABBA, snow, liberal sexual attitudes, leggy blondes, horribly expensive booze and perhaps, just possibly, Volvo, Scania or Saab.
To turn that last part on its head, those automotive brands that originate from Sweden clearly embody a certain sense of Swedishness. It’s the history, the heritage. Boxy Volvos with their industrial yet clean design and high safety ratings couldn’t really have come from anywhere else. Volvo Car has successfully taken the best of that historical ‘baggage’ and modernised the image. It can do sportier stuff now and not be laughed at, but it’s fair to say the baby has not gone out with the bathwater. A Volvo is still a ‘sensible’ car for grown-ups.
There is a little of that Swedish robustness in a Saab today, but Saabs were always a little racier than Volvos. There were the fighter-plane connections of course, with overtly aerodynamic designs stretching back to the 96, along with the use of class-leading turbochargers. Yes, Saabs go.
And if you drive a Saab rather than a BMW or Mercedes, you are obviously a little bit of a maverick, someone who wants to stand out from the conventional choice in the executive car park. Saabs are a bit quirky, you see. And they are as Swedish as ABBA.
BMW can make cars in the US because they are still blessed with BMW values and most BMWs are made in Germany. It has the brand strength to get away with that, but BMW knows that it’s a balancing act. Only a minority of cars will ever be made outside of Germany.
Chevrolet, on the other hand, is doing well for GM as a global value brand. Chevrolet customers – outside North America - look at the sticker price on what used to be a Daewoo and aren’t overly concerned about where the cars are made.
Chevrolets, in this sense, are a commodity product.
But a Saab isn’t and there’s just a danger that GM is sending the baby out with the bathwater in deciding to make most Saabs in Germany. The accountants may have good reasons for what has been decided, but if I were a manager at GM Europe, I’d be moving heaven and earth to reshuffle the deck so that Trollhattan will be making more Saabs than Russelsheim.
I wonder what Saab’s dealers make of it all and whether GM has listened to them?
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