Saab attacks. The spring offensive with Bob Sinclair.

Bob Sinclair! Younger readers will hardly associate anything with the name. The older ones get shining eyes. Bob Sinclair is a Saab legend. A personality who not only brought Saab to peak performance and best results in the US market. Busy, full of ideas and on a mission. Sometimes very uncomfortable for the Swedes.

Saab 9000 against the rest of the world
Saab 9000 against the rest of the world

Today Robert J. Sinclair, his full name, would be described as a marketing genius. When he became president of Saab North America, the brand was down. That was in 1979. Just 4 years later, he had multiplied sales, and Saab sold more than 25.000 vehicles a year in the United States. Sinclair had a vision. He trimmed the brand for luxury and exclusivity. Wood and leather in the Saab, powerful turbo engines. He saw Saab at the top and far ahead.

An exclusive European brand. He loved that, and he annoyed the Swedes until they finally delivered what he and the Americans wanted. When Sweden presented him with the lean, weakly motorized, two-door version of the 900, the entry-level model for the Scandinavian market, he didn't like it at all. He wanted to order, he said. But as a turbo, with leather and without a fixed roof. This resulted in the 900 Cabriolet. It was the greatest Saab success ever.

Spring offensive. Saab is attacking!

Sinclair was keen on details. He not only redefined the relationship with the dealers. Saab drivers were also surprised after buying a new car. Customers received a letter from the President of Saab North America with one of the legendary key fobs that could be returned to Saab headquarters if lost. And from there they would have found their way back to the owner.

Then, two weeks apart, a package with a book about the brand and the question of whether everything was OK. Letter 3 followed some time later. It contained Sinclair's business card. If there is something wrong with your Saab or there are problems - call me!

Sinclair was not afraid to pick up the phone himself. Complaints were processed and problems solved. Hello, this is the President of Saab North America, what can I do for you? So it was in the land of the formerly unlimited possibilities and with Saab. Successful customer loyalty in the 80s.

Other markets adopted the concept and continued it under the term “Take-off Program” (TOF) until well into the 90s. For the 1989 model year, Bob Sinclair attacked again. With sophisticated war rhetoric, he wanted to prevent customers from buying the wrong car. Which is only possible if you land in a Saab-Scania sales room.

Today it sounds a bit silly, maybe even embarrassing. Definitely not politically correct. But that was the 80s, and language jargon hits the spirit of the time. Who 1987 Michael Douglas as a brilliant Gordon Gekko in Wall Street admired who understands.

Sweden against Japan and Germany

Some of the best and most successful campaigns in Saab's history are the work of Robert J. Sinclair. In 1991 he left the Swedes, but kept interfering from retirement. Had it been up to him, the brand would have been positioned higher and more luxuriously. An attitude that contrasted with GM and the sometimes discouraged managers in Trollhättan - but which would probably have guaranteed survival.

The visionary and general Robert J. Sinclair died on May 10, 2009. He is unforgettable. We are paying homage to the film in which he commits the organization to his campaign. It blows to fight the Japanese car brands that gave Saab enormous headaches in the 80s - and beyond. And of course against the Germans, who were increasingly on the road to success with Mercedes, BMW and also Audi.

8 thoughts on "Saab attacks. The spring offensive with Bob Sinclair."

  • @ Emil Elch,

    They ignore the fact that the Swedes (first Volvo and later Saab) looked like lifeboats on the US market and that buyers were used to battleships ...

    With the exception of British and German luxury sedans, almost all manufacturers faced the challenge of self-confidently promoting their relatively small cars, which were weak in terms of displacement and cylinders, as miracles in terms of driving.

    The hangers were often martial, because otherwise you would not have been able to find any hearing and would have been drowned out by the babble of V8 and Big Block ...

    Ultimately, however, all commercials and ads in the sub-context or in the "small print" (continuous text) amount to the fact that the offers from Sweden are in many ways (ecological, economic, everyday usefulness, security and sustainability) more peaceful and satisfying than the purchase of the next US battleship.

    We do not want to forget the displacement with which Saab & Volvo have conquered a market in which a V8 with 5,4 liters Small Block was called. A lot has been done very well in marketing.

    I cannot see that the Swedish defense industry is the real beneficiary ...

  • “I like this drive & spirit. Where did he go? ”

    This “drive & spirit” has never disappeared, it has only been perfected with meticulous meticulousness. With the result that the suggestions of marketing seem even more subtle, unconscious and maybe just “better”. I definitely do not miss the aggressive marketing spirit (which is why it is still there). If this somehow always reminds me of C. Maschmeyer and sales consortiums, the advertising war rhetoric also has an uncomfortable, self-revealing closeness to the armaments business of the parent company (the elephant in the Saab / Scania showroom, which I myself most of the time) overlook care).

    In any case, this video does not remind me of what I appreciate about the current Saab driving. Which in turn also shows how Saab driving can be decoupled from the economic growth and sales pressure of a time when the vehicles still had to be brought to men and women as part of a sales-oriented and arms-producing company.

    In this sense, the video is a historical first-class testimony and identifies our Saabs as constantly moving carriers of meaning. That's why - don't buy the wrong car (wink smiley!).

  • Herbert - Volvo Vice President of Marketing

    Yes, that sounds very likely. Just checked again - he was Vice-Head of MARKETING at Volvo USA until 1978 and then President of Saab USA from 1979. Very good career step! Mutually! 🙂

    I have to watch the Volvo videos on occasion, thanks for the tip!

  • @ Ebasil,

    that would fit perfectly and explains it. I didn't know it came from Volvo. I have to take a close look at the vita and compare it with old advertisements and model years.

    As I said, the style is strikingly similar. In both Swedes, someone with a lot of energy, wit and commitment positioned themselves against the competition.

    Volvo from the 1960s and later Saab with new and better models. Those were wonderful decades in the US advertising industry. The partly aggressive campaigns would not have been possible in D if only because comparative advertising was prohibited. Too bad, because it is an insightful pleasure, seasoned with a little pinch of Swedish malicious joy. The ads and spots of that time are great.

  • Focused and straightforward. He doesn't even blink when he looks at the camera.

  • Herbert - Vovo Commercials

    Could it be that Sinclair was Volvo Vice President in the United States just before that? (I didn't watch the videos, but if they are from before moving to Saab…. ??) Honor who deserves credit! 🙂

  • ´´Saab´s strategy as marketing concept´ ... Omni-directional implemented by ´Mr. Sinclair´ for the USA market´´

    ´´My thoughts about this great report´ arise from the background ... that I have been working in sales for over 30 years ... and in this position´ was allowed to work for various German flagship companies´´ !!

    ´´I find it very remarkable´ that Mr.Sinclair (practically single-handedly) put an idea into practice in such a way´ that in the USA consumers could´t avoid being led to the SAAB brand´´! ´´Of course it is a long way from the idea to the desired results to be achieved ... EVERYONE who introduces a concept that differs fundamentally from the other competitors knows that! ´´Therefore one has to admire the long-term courage of visionaries´ because you rarely know in advance whether these concepts will be applauded by the end customer !!

    ´´Unfortunately, in sales it is mostly so´ that there is a head who leads his subjects on a leash´ ... but this head would like to have the most success in front of him´ (means if the sales with addresses are those of call centers or otherwise ( Internet etc.) came about ´ this head is not afraid to distribute these addresses as he likes (head 50% / GL´s 54% HV´s 6%) and these percentages only once accepted can be higher or lower ... depending on how strong the EGO is in the head´´ !!

    ´´There are also companies that treat their subjects as you would like to be treated ... namely in partnership with the same rights and obligations´´ !!

    ´´If Saab had understood it better in the 70s 80s 90s 2000s + 2010s´ to move the interested people into the vehicles for a test drive (would also have been a test drive for 1 days via WE) SAAB would still have GM's support on the market today consist

    "Unfortunately, the SAAB organization was bled to death and independence was sacrificed at some point" in order to obtain financial security that NEVER occurred "!

    "Past is over" - - the myth remains "- the community keeps Saab alive" "!!

  • I like this drive & spirit. Where did he go

    However, it has to be said fairly that Volvo has been running similar campaigns in the USA for many years. Commercials and print. Everything always boiled down to buying the wrong car if it wasn't a Volvo.

    One slogan was “Beat the system by driving a Volvo”

    There are a number of historic commercials on the DuR tube, in which Volvo completely dismantles and disgraces contemporary US competition. Street cruisers rock there until they spark sparks and the exhaust tears off. Large estates with large overhangs crash into each other rocking when parking in front of a supermarket.
    And there is always a Volvo (it is a 145 in front of the supermarket), which copes with the same situation effortlessly and undamaged.

    In short, the Saab campaign has forerunners and role models. Honor to whom honor is due. And Øre to whom Øre is due ...

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