In today’s New York Times, Jamie Kitman tells a sorry tale of the demise of Saab. In an earlier post I asserted that “Subaru is the new Saab”, and unfortunately that’s literally true: the new Saab 9-2 is but a badge-engineered Subaru. Kitman agrees that the WRX is the car that Saab should have been building all along:
"Authenticity issues aside, the turbocharged, all-wheel-drive WRX is, at least, the sort of car that Saab might have built today if it had only received enough financing in the 1990’s. Like the rally-winning Saab 96’s of the 1960’s, the 9-2X wrings maximum advantage from being a light car with a small engine and loads of grip."
In contrast, Kitman describes the new Saab 9-7X (which is really a Chevy truck) as “… the very antithesis of the Saab ethos,” and he’s right. Just because you hang a badge on it and put the ignition in the floor doesn’t mean it’s a Saab, no more than lipstick on a bulldog makes a fashion model. In Popeye’s parlance, things are what they are, and your brand (an odious word) is the sum of the feelings your products evoke. A Chevy with a V-8 just can’t feel like a Saab.
Kitman attributes Saab’s crash to a lack of leadership. I would go beyond him to say that leadership was surely lacking, but management, particularly “brand management,” was in no short supply at GM and Saab. The old Saab was run by rally junkies who wore blue and gold underwear; it was run into the ground by a bunch of pin-striped, brand-managing fun sponges whose only gold is on their wrist.