SAAB and the commoditization of automobiles

The SAAB brand is fighting for its life.  After being pronounced dead last week, there is a glimmer of hope this morning.  I think it’s important that SAAB survive.  Not just because thousands of jobs depend on it but because we need brands like SAAB to push back against the commoditization of the automobile industry.

There are lots of reasons to let SAAB go.  It hasn’t made money in years.  It doesn’t sell enough cars to compete in the global auto industry.  GM has starved it for product.  It lost its uniqueness years ago.  It was really never “iconic,” just “quirky.”  The list goes on and on, and many of the reasons are very sound.

I hope that GM will allow Spyker to buy SAAB.  An independent company like Spyker could enable SAAB to reclaim its position as a niche brand with a unique product and a loyal enthusiast base.  We need a brand like SAAB to prove that interesting, well engineered products still have a place in the industry and can be successful.

In its effort to make SAAB appeal more broadly and therefore justify volume levels that would make it “viable,”  GM turned it into just another undifferentiated near-luxury entrant.  The world does not need another undifferentiated automotive brand and from that perspective I understand why people think SAAB should go away. SAAB would be yet another automotive brand that was once distinctive, chased volume using the MDIBTYD volume forecasting methodology and ultimately failed because it lost sight of the core values that actually made the brand “viable” in the first place.

This past weekend I watched ad after ad for auto manufacturers tell me about their respective end-of-year sales event and the extraordinary pricing that is available.  A sea of undifferentiated brands selling themselves on price.  I understand the need to have a good December and am supportive of promotion as one of the marketer’s essential tools, but if all we do is sell on price we run the risk of turning our products into commodities.

SAAB is important because it was once one of the industry’s most distinctive brands.  SAAB stood for something.  Good marketers know that when you consider “positioning” a brand it’s critical to know what you “are” but equally important to know what you are not.  SAAB was not for everyone, when it attempted to broaden its appeal it began to founder.  We need a brand like SAAB to survive and demonstrate that being different is OK, otherwise we’ll have an industry where only the big survive, the products are more alike than different and price will always be the deciding factor.

I hope SAAB makes it and becomes interesting and different again. Without brands like SAAB we’re a less interesting industry and another step closer to commodity status.

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2 Responses to “SAAB and the commoditization of automobiles”

  1. Cameron says:

    Katherine, thanks so much.

  2. Where have I been? I just discovered your blog on Yahoo. Fantastic article! Thanks for taking the energy to share this.

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