What Saab can learn from a 4 year old cocker spaniel

I do this personal stuff from time to time…..

It’s Saturday evening here in Trollhattan and it’s been a wonderful day. I spent the afternoon with the family of one of my Saab colleagues in Vanersborg, where there is a festival on this weekend. The sky was bright blue, the sun shining. Their kids were having fun and laughing, we had good food and good conversation. What more could you want?

Well, this morning, hours before that wonderful afternoon, I had a special moment that started my day off just perfectly. It all happened during a Skype call with my wife back in Australia.

I should preface this story by stating that I love my wife very much and the fact that this little highlight from the morning involves my dog rather than her, shouldn’t cast any shadows across our relationship in any way whatsoever 🙂

It was evening back at home and I could hear our cocker spaniel (Charli, a girl) barking at the back door. She’d just eaten her dinner and wanted to come inside. I asked Trish if she could let her in so that I could say ‘Hi’ to her on Skype. I know what many of you are thinking, but the pet owners out there know that I’m not crazy.

Trish set the computer down on the sofa and went to the door. I sat waiting with no small amount of anticipation because the camera on the computer was pointing right at the spot where Charli always runs to when she first comes inside. Sure enough, 20 seconds later there’s a blurry black fluffball with a wagging tail at the other end of the sofa.

Whenever I’ve said hello to Charli on Skype in the past, she has recognised my voice without understanding where it’s coming from. More often than not, she immediately runs to the front door to see where I am. My boundless belief that I have the most intelligent dog in the world is dented momentarily, though it tends to return soon after – a process that I’m sure anyone with either pets or children is familiar with.

This time, however, whilst she looked towards the door, she didn’t run. I said hello again and she actually looked at the computer. Excited by this progress, I began some of that stupid talk that pet owners (and in a slightly different way, the parents of infants) tend to do and she kept on looking at the laptop at the other end of the sofa. Eventually, she even walked towards the computer and to my delight, a giant dog-nose filled my Skype video panel as she sniffed at it.

The penny had finally dropped!! My dog had just grown in intelligence once again!

It caused me some small amount of disappointment when she proceeded to walk around the back of the computer to see if I was hiding behind it. My hopes of her being the first canine Rhodes Scholar were dashed once more.

But the penny had indeed dropped. She had recognised me, even though all that was there in the room was a synthesized voice and a blurry small video image that she couldn’t really see. Somewhere in that tiny head of hers, some puppy-synapses had flashed and she’d finally recognised something that she knew all along.

Right now, though you’re mildly entertained, you’re probably wondering to yourself what the heck has all this got to do with Saab?

Saab has overcome some big obstacles in the past few years, especially in the last few months. It’s an unfortunate situation to be in, but we recognise that we’ve dropped off the radar for some people. The sale process from GM, whilst a positive story in itself, brought about 12 months or more of negative headlines in the automotive press that lumped us in with Pontiac, Hummer and Saturn (which were all closed down) as brands that GM had rid itself of. The fact that we were still alive was rarely mentioned.

It’s not up to the press to do our publicity, however. That’s our job.

We might have an incredibly loyal owner and enthusiast group, but we need to win people over from both inside and outside of the Saab community. A few nights ago, Saab’s new head in the United States mentioned that everyone’s got a fond story about Saab. He said Sometimes when people talk about Saab as a great brand, they’re talking about what a great brand it *was*. We need to change that.

And so we do.

We need to communicate more. We need to communicate clearly. We need to talk about who we are, what we stand for, and more than anything else, we need to talk about and demonstrate a belief in our products.

Saab has had two major ownership changes in the last 11 years and whilst our parent company might have come from somewhere else in that time, the home base has always been in Sweden. The cars are still designed and built according to the same Swedish philosophy of safety, environmental responsibility and driver-focused engagement and design.

Those attributes have won over many people in the past and they can do so again, as long as people can see our products and hear our voice.

If we can talk clearly enough and get our new range of vehicles out there into the public arena, the penny will eventually drop for those looking for a quality product that offers a point of difference. They might be former Saab owners who are already familiar with our DNA. They might be searchers. We have to be focused and persistent, fighting for each and every customer. We have to continue talking to them until they recognise our voice and see where we’re coming from.

We don’t need to reach every car buyer in the world. But we DO have to make sure we reach all the potential Saab buyers.

You may also like


  1. Just saw my first new 9-5 Sedan in the wild this evening prowling the streets of Charlotte, NC, USA.  It did my heart good to see it.  I hope to see many more Saabs here in the form of the 9-5 Sedan, 9-4X and 9-5 SportCombi in the coming year.

  2. Funny about dogs and TV screens/monitors. We have 2 dogs. One doesn’t notice anything, the other Rottweiler/shepherd mix who we lost recently loved to watch videos for cats which showed birds flying around. She constantly went behind the TV and into the next room looking for the birds that flew off the edge of the screen.

    1. Our dog doesn’t notice anything on TV, Ted.  And yet a friend’s Cavalier King Charles spaniel used to bark at the TV every time there was a dog on the screen.  Another friend’s Jack Russell used to lick his own reflection in the mirror!

      1. I’m going through the exact same experience in my long-distance relationship with our Black Russian Terrier, Dzbanek. When I talk to him over Skype, he’ll first look around the house to see where the hell I am. Having not found me, he’ll then investigate the computer. He’s not really into video, but he does obey all commands over Skype. 🙂

        Back on topic yet needless to say, Dzbanek exclusively travels in Saab cars.


  3. Good one, Steven. You know I am very much into dogs, as I have seen a guidedog bring independance back to my ex wife after she became blind. After her receiving this gift, she was off travelling all over the world. We had to say goodbye to the first ever guide she had 3 weeks ago, you commented on a facebook message.

    And why does this bring me to SAAB? Well, a guidedog is trained to either be at the feet of the owner, or inbetween the front and rear seats. This means that the front footwell needs to be big enough to accomodate a rather big Labrador/Golden cross. It is however forbidden to have a guidedog close to any airbags fitted inside of a car

    Guess what? In Saabs due to the way in which these cars are built, there is ample space for them to be at their owner’s feet, safely under the possible track of an airbag, and with a passenger footwell strong enough to make it a safe place in case of an accident. Travelling in the boot of my 900 is a treat for him, as I always fold the rear seat down.

    I will be posting some pics one of these days. Whenever I drive a different car, it has become standard to do the “guidedog test”. Saabs always prove to be the right thing!

  4. Swade, you are spot on about Saab needing to clearly communicate what they are about today and how that relates to the Saab heritage.  To reach the desired audience, that has to go beyond blogs, of course, but I know you and others at Saab know that and I look forward to see how you all address this issue.

    As for your dog not comprehending your image in the Sype window, it may just be that a dog’s senses of smell and hearing are much more highly tuned than their sense of sight (or so I have read).  While she hears your voice, the fact that she cannot sense you in the room via her keen sense of smell, leaves her convinced you cannot be close by.  At least this time she connected the sound of your voice as coming from the general direction of the laptop!  🙂

  5. Nice story Swade.  It reminds me of a Cavalier King Charles spaniel that my brother and his wife owned.  I stayed with them for a year in the early nineties in the UK.  My brother said that for years after the dog would go to the door of my room when he said “Where’s Mark”.

    As to the Saab DNA thread, I quite agree. During the GM era Saab’s image became blurred and it’s DNA got far too diluted, especially during that period of 100% GM ownership.  I think that in the past 10 years people have only had a rather foggy idea of what Saab, and owning a Saab car was about.  Perhaps too late GM realized it’s mistake and tried to install some real Saab ingredients back into the 9-4X and the 9-5, but when you have taken so many backward steps it’s difficult to start moving forward again.  There is a long way to go to change peoples perception of Saab.  I hope that will begin with the 9-3’s replacement?

    Tim Colbeck recently talked about trying to move away from the old ‘quirky’ image of describing Saab cars and the people who bought them.  I must admit I have never considered myself quirky.  “Intelligently different” is much better both for me and the cars!  Saab used to say that it didn’t compete with other brands, it offered intelligent alternatives.  That was a concept that I could embrace.  I can remember reading a comparison test in the mid eighties between a BMW 5 series and a Saab 16 S Aero (SPG).  You probably couldn’t find two more different cars and yet the Saab managed to appeal to quite a few people who might have bought a BMW.  I think they bought the Saab because it was ‘different’ and intelligently so.
    Making somewhat ordinary cars and then trying to disguise them so they seem a little bit more inspired or different, is a road going nowhere.  Unfortunately that was where GM was heading with Saab.  That’s going to take a little while to fix, but Saab will get there I’m sure.

  6. Excellent and astute as ever Swade.

    Being a dog owner and saab driver, I understand and agree (but then I would).

    Your old site, SU ran an article about the 95 SC roadshow.  Can you pass on to Saab that if they want people to buy the new 95 SC on the island of Ireland, it would be good to let us see it and sit in it, and maybe even drive it?


    1. Hi Simon,

      I’m currently hoping there will be at least one roadshow later this year in another region, but I’ll add Ireland to the list when it comes up for discussion again.