SAAB Car Company – Saying Goodbye

Saying goodbye to SAAB cars. I viewed the TopGear UK (season 18/Ep 5) show this weekend at my brother’s request, and found that Jeremy Clarkson and James May had some nice and not so nice things to say about the loss of SAAB (Swedish) car company late last year.  Since I still drive a 2001 9-3 SE turbo 4-door hatchback (117,000 miles), this episode review is also a summary of my thoughts on losing my brand and the history I have with my car.

First off, I was surprised to see the TG UK guys mentioning the SAAB cars at all, since it has been about 5 years since they have included any SAAB cars for review or inclusion in their show.

Their review segment provided a look back into the history of SAABs that included some interesting and odd findings:

black vintage saab top gear uk 2012

1. After WWII the SAAB company found that the need for their airplanes was greatly diminished and put a wing designer to work designing a car for consumer purposes. The result? A profile of a car that looked like the profile of a wing.

Top Gear James May Driving a Vintage Saab

2. Some of the earliest SAAB cars had issues with small 2 stroke motors that required the gas & brake pedal to be used at the same time since these (lawn mower) engines mixed the gas and oil together, lubricating and fueling the engine all at once. When driving down a hill there was still a need to lubricate the engine, hence the gas/brake pedal use together. This resulted in some issues with brake failure as James demonstrates in the photo above.

3. They also cite that in later years GM had several budget talks with SAAB engineers about making their cars the same as another brand/car/platform with just the badges/grille/tail lights different (like how GM is trying to cheapen/kill Buick right now by inserting Chevys like the Sonic as the Verano) and SAAB continued to defy them until their last days by making vastly better cars in safety, design and usability. I am glad that someone told the arses at GM that this strategy never works, it only cannibalizes your market by making expensive cars that look just like the cheap ones. On the other hand, SAAB was massively in debt because of their decisions and that did lead to their end.

saab history cars ads

Image from Flickr

4. Top Gear also showed the old SAAB jets in almost every advertisement possible. The only ads I remember were the quirky hand drawn animated ones that starred my car. I thought the “Born from Jets” line was a more recent one, but in reality it was a very tired and worn out marketing line that has no actual relevance to the cars. The only similarity between the cars and the planes is that they were both made from steel. It is too bad they never came up with an ad for “the smartest people on the road” featuring the geek-eliete with their vintage framed glasses and european scarves that are so popular these days.

Jeremy & James also went into detail about some of the best hits of the SAAB years.

1. They demonstrate quite literally that if you drop a SAAB on its head (upside down from 8 ft off the ground) it is much more surviveable than a similar BMW dropped from that height. Nuff said.

2. They also point out that in their opinion, SAAB drivers are some of the most educated people driving. Not car education, just generally well-educated folks. They keep referring to architects as the target market, but the people I have known to drive SAABs have been doctors. At least that is who introduced me to SAAB cars, and I have been driving one ever since.

My take on things:

Even though I bought my SAAB used in 2004 (for $14,000), I will agree with the TG guys that these SAAB designers/engineers have always been quirky and brilliant at the same time. I had previously owned 2 almost-identical ruby red 2 door Buick Regals and this black-midnight-egg car seemed so much more sophisticated, luxurious, sporty and european. Because it was.

1. I found the origami folding cup holder both hilarious and very functional in a small space, although when the coffee mug gets stuck and you yank upward to release it, the mug hits the rear view mirror and splatters coffee all over the dash.

2. I decided that I really like a Turbo charged engine for both efficiency and power. There was always a small turbo lag, but then it kicks you in the seat and take off whether you have the sport button on or not. All this, and I get 25 mpg average and previously I was getting around 18 mpg with a much slower car.

3. I found out that heated leather seats are a necessity in Chicago. No matter that they are a dark grey/black and require layering towels on them in the summer after sitting in the sun for hours so you don’t burn your bum.

saab car full of stuff

This is what moving looks like with the hatch full.

4. I don’t know how I ever lived before I had flip down seats and a 4 door hatchback for carrying things. I have impressed so many loading dock guys when I transform the car like origami and they remark “what kind of a car is this?” while loading furniture/TV/boxes in the back. It also made moving to three different locations a lot easier. Did I mention it hauls like an SUV and gets 25 MPG?

5. I am quite proud that with the SAAB sport button on, I can usually beat my husband’s Integra GSR in a drag race. This may be because he has to waste time shifting gears manually and I don’t. (I understand that isn’t the proper theory but he doesn’t shift quickly)

But it hasn’t been all wine, roses and warm heated seats with the SAAB.

Some of the funniest moments have been when it fails.

And SAABs fail in the most spectacular ways possible. And when I say spectacular, I mean expensive and weird.

saab won't start

SAAB won’t start – service men pushing it from the car wash

1. For the last 6 months I have had issues starting the car after running errands, stopping at the store and getting my car washed. We initially thought it was a water/rain related problem shorting out the electrical and security systems because after 30 minutes of inactivity it always starts fine (yes it has done this exactly 7 times). This past weekend I had this happen again and found that after locking myself in the car it started fine. Bizzare.

Towing after the fuel pump line crack spewing gas problem

2. I had a fuel pump line crack after some Chicago winter snow hydroplane-ing in the alleys (which don’t get plowed and you just drive through them as fast as possible so you don’t get stuck) which resulted in my 16 gallon tank of gas being spewed out all over I-88 on my way to Aurora, and it was empty within 60 minutes. It is freaky when you smell gas and you turn the car off and see nothing dripping, no puddles, nothing. Then see the gas gauge dropping by the second as you drive. Freaky-Weird-Bizzare.

Saab at service dealer

Somebody at the dealer liked my car enough to park it like this.

3. I had to replace the turbo at 80,000 miles within a month after the 6 year warranty expired. I was on my cell phone in the showroom with customer service yelling that “this is why nobody buys a SAAB twice”. They paid for 1/2 the $3,000 cost.

4. I have also had the odd collection of failures like the LED dashboard displays ($800 each) and the electric antenna (stuck up then, stuck down now) as well as small things like headlights that go out and come back at random, regardless of the age of the bulb, the air conditioning system needing to totally be replaced (both the condenser and the compressor) Another $3,000.

5. The brakes always squeak when I am backing out of parking and the electric side view mirrors broke within a few months of the warranty expiring. The fog lamps have never worked. And the wheel wells are rusting because of the salt on the roads in Chicago.

A little burlwood on the dash makes a girl happy.

All these things have gone wrong so, why am I so reluctant to give up this car?

It is unique, my black egg car looks like nothing else available today, and is the only car that I have ever seen that combines the best of all possible features into one. In this crazy over-diversified car market where there are too many companies and too many models to choose from, I really enjoy a car that gets all of the qualities you want in one vehicle. I am waiting for another car company to see the value in this all-in-one-car strategy because I think they will win a lot of the public’s respect and sales. Here are the strategy highlights:

koeneggsaab

We had hope for a few weeks that it would become a koeneggsaab, but that never happened. I also wondered why Alfa Romeo didn’t buy SAAB since they made quirky cars also and the 9-5 looks a lot like several alfas.

1. Safety (I have never had to test this) Having not had an accident, I would say that great brakes are a plus, airbags a must and a structural frame that can be dropped upside down is a differentiator.

2. Luxury/Comfort (don’t go overboard) But leather heated seats and an upscale interior is a must. A little burlwood on the dashboard makes a girl happy, but no chrome and no carbon fiber or suede. (ick)

3. Sport (for everyday use) Use of Turbo 4 Cylinders has recently caught on with Buick via Opel. I want an e-Assist and a Turbo in the same engine. Possibly a supercharger too.

4. Fuel Efficiency (25-40 mpg) More would be even better.

5. Convertibility (hauling in a hatch, see A7, Panamera) I see so many sedans on the road that could become a 5 door without changing much. Once people have the availability of this feature with a luxury car they won’t ever want to buy anything else.

6. Reliability (ok they could have been better) But over the years I have been driving my SAAB I have had some great long distance trips and most days I get to work just fine, no matter how cold it is outside. Those Swedes knew how to make a car for the cold Chicago winter.

The 9-3 lived outside for the first 5 years I had it.

Someone came to this post with the search term “saab born from jets, killed by assholes“. Congratulations for being the funniest search term I’ve seen this week.

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Pinterest Success in 2012

I have been seeing bloggers refer to “pinning” images on Pinterest for a year or more and just recently I finally got an account started. Pinterest required linking to my FB profile which was a dealbreaker, but I deleted the app and unlinked it afterwards. I was curious as to why Pinterest was different than other mood board sites (polyvore) I had seen that didn’t really impress me. At the same time I have been reading more about how Pinterest drives more traffic to retailer sites than Google Images, how women are the primary audience and why Pinterest traffic has taken off like a space rocket.

My take on the site as a web analyst, a woman and a user of the site may be different than the media’s perceptions. I concentrate on the behaviors and uses of the site and have listed my opinons on their growth/success here:

Some reasons I think Pinterest has been a growing site:

1. Images do say more than a 1000 words – They can make you feel hopeful, creative, inspired and motivated. Great images move people. That is why good photography is both art and marketing at the same time. (think Flickr/Instagram) What happens when you want to see that powerful/inspiring image again? Do you bookmark it? With your other 1,000 bookmarks? Blogging it has been better, but not everyone wants to blog and some people frown on hotlinking in your posts although that is what Pinterest uses. Flickr has been great with it’s searchable favorites image list, but not everyone likes Flickr like I do. Some people just want to link other people’s photos and not upload their own. Facebook is ok if you want to blast your friends with all the images you save/share about your home remodel project and make everything archived by the borg, but I really think image saving/sharing is out of context on your personal branding page. Capturing and sharing this image information has had a tricky history and Pinterest solved a problem we didn’t know we had.

2. People are busy and ideas are fleeting – Maybe this is the ADHD generation? I am a GenXer. I have way too much to do, a reasonable income and a very short attention span. I have a hard time keeping track of things that aren’t completely essential and ideas are on that list. In a personal example: With my process of moving around a lot in the last few years, my confidence in the house decorating department was a bit threatened from being a bit out of practice. I have made up for it with a huge file of images saved on my computer from design blogs. It was an old school solution to needing a place to look for ideas from images I already filtered and liked. Did it create solutions for my house? Yep, several rooms in the new house have been redone based on color pallettes from those photos. But in a day I may only see 1-3 photos I like from 50+ interior design blogs. In a year that is a lot to comb through and it isn’t share-able offline nor is it accessible from anywhere. So, Pinterest has recently proved more accessible and more shareable for keeping these images. Plus it is free for now. I could see them evolving into suggesting ad based photos by retailers based on your tags/likes/pins in the future.

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3. Trends/Decisions are easier to analyze when you have all the information from multiple sources in one place. I find it difficult to make buying decisions in this day and age because in most every category there are too many brands, products, colors, choices, prices and options to keep straight. (information overload) Making a pinning board for new shoes you are considering buying takes a lot less time than going to the 5 stores in your area and trying to decide that way or ordering online from Zappos and having to return them all. Plus you can save that pic of that shoe you love but don’t need right now for later. Side by side lists and comparisons make shopping a little easier, but in most cases these wishlists really work on selling to you and others. Someone recommends something, you loooove it, click-click-bought. That isn’t really a bad consumer strategy. I have found that if I ever pass on an item and want to look it up to buy later, it is impossible/gone  with how short the merch time is in stores (online and off) and how styles change so vastly that it may never be seen again. (yet the things you’re never very thrilled with seem to pop up again and again in many different stores). Items/Pictures that are popular on Pinterest may have more staying/selling power due to the large audience or they may be more trendy when people move on to the next micro trend. I am not sure yet because there is a lot of churn in products these days, some people consuming constantly, others stopping completely.

4. Like TED some ideas are worth sharing. I enjoy seeing what my friends have discovered and pinned. It tells me what they are into, what is new, what really good ideas/recipes they want to share and hopefully some of those ideas are good for me too. I have found some interesting clever solutions for household annoyances this way. True, this may just mirror the offline world where women would share tips on household stuff while chatting in the yard, but it makes sense for other subject matter/industries too as long as there aren’t proprietary info in the photos and there is a collective community sharing information. This could be a marketing strategy if you have real solutions your product offers and the story can be told in an image that looks real.

5. The biggest reason? Discovery is a process that a lot of us get a big burst of happy from. It doesn’t matter if it is online discovering photos, reading a magzine, watching a TV show, taking a vacation or creating something like artwork or crafts. Many of us have jobs that are pretty specialized and we do a short list of things for the company and don’t have a lot of variety or creativity in our daily lives. I have found that I need some form of creativity (writing, photography, art, dance, design) in order to be happy and I have a feeling that this may be the case for others too. Even the simulation of creativity by discovering and learning from photos of how to keep wrapping paper on the roll with a sliced toilet paper core haves us that Aha moment and makes us feel happier, smarter & more connected. All this in an easy to use format and without requiring much reading for the ADHD generations.

6. Another reason it may be growing is that Pinterest is very accessible on iPads which can go anywhere in the home when you have time to look at it. (the app is just fair, I prefer the full site in the browser on an iPad) It is a guilty pleasure just like celeb blogs on some level. I think mobile/tablet use is making the site more addictive although probably not the main reason for it’s success. Now that retailers (Etsy) has added pin it button to their listings pages I hope more retailers do this to help promote their products. One thing is clear though, it will take 500+ views and likes before you find someone ready to buy, and you will probably have to have some familiarity/trust built with them first. Most people do a lot of window shopping/dreaming on the site, a lot more than buying. But that is part of marketing, getting the word out in the first place, or as some say, creating the need. A large enough audience may just be able to significantly impact sales too.

7. The more I think about it there are more reasons that this site works well and attracts people so quickly. An element of new sites that often works well is keeping the interface simple and the navigation self explanitory. (especially with people who don’t have a lot of time or patience) In this case the content/images take center stage and the navigation/functionality is uber simple and almost in the background. If/when they would like to expand on it they can build more complexity over time and teach the audience along the path to more features just as/or before they get bored with the current ones. Facebook has done this pretty well and has been able to innovate its way ahead of many other sites.

Any other reasons you think Pinterest is growing so quickly?