New Saab Ads Go Nowhere

David Kiley

Saab Cars USA could well be on its way to being the Peugeot of the 21st century, at least when it comes to the U.S. market. In other words: So irrelevant that there's no point in keeping up the charade of marketing. New ads, featuring the phrase, "Distinctively designed. Independently Inspired," does nothing to convey the allure of this brand.

In one spot, "Lost," which is an apt title, a man is lost in his own office amind a vast cubicle farm. A woman tries on a dress in a store only to find five other women trying on the same dress. Okay, we get it. People who buy Saabs swim against the current, walk to a different drummer, blah, blah, blah. The point is that any brand struggling to find an audience could have shot these same scenes and inserted their brand. Peugeot used to trumpet this same idea in the two years before it exited the U.S. market.

Saab Cars is owned by General Motors. To beef up the Saab product line, GM has added the 9-2, a repackaged version of the Subaru WRX (GM owns a piece of Subaru), and later this year the company will introduce the Saab 9-7 SUV, a repackaged Chevy Trailblazer that apparently comes with a gift certificate for Ikea furniture to lend this truck some Swedish bonafides. A 9-6 SUV, based on Subaru's forthcoming Tribeca SUV is coming in 2006.

It's sad to see Saab go through all these machinations. GM bought into Saab more than a decade ago after Ford bought Jaguar. And it hasn't known what to do with the brand since--except lose money.

Saab is an interesting brand. The cars are fast, sturdy and safe. They have some design character when the Swedes are actually allowed to start with a clean sheet of paper. But like Jaguar, Saab is probably to stay small and niche, like an art film. The trouble is that small and niche doesn't make money for GM. To be fair, it didn't make money for Saab before GM bought the brand.

U.S. sales last year were 38, 159. That's barely enough to justify the stationery costs at GM for carrying it as a division. If Saab is going to be kept afloat by putting its badging on slightly changed Subarus and Chevys...excuse me...but what's the point. And what does this brand stand for now. How "distinctively designed" are these cars if they are re-warmed Subarus and Chevys.

Like Denzel Washington said in the film, Philadelphia, said. "Explain this to me like I was four years old."

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