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, as his full name is, would be considered a marketing genius. When he became President of Saab North America, the brand was down. That was 1979. Just 4 years later, it had multiplied sales and Saab was selling more than 25.000 vehicles a year in the US. 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 poorly equipped and weakly motorized, two-door version of the 900, the entry-level model for the Scandinavian market, that didn't suit him 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 became the greatest Saab success of all time.

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 if there are problems - call me!

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

Other markets adopted the concept and continued it under the term “Take-off Program” (TOF) 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 when you end up in a Saab-Scania sales room.

Today it sounds a bit silly, maybe even embarrassing. Politically correct by no means. But that was the 80s, and the language jargon hits the spirit of the times. Who in 1987 Michael Douglas as the ingenious Gordon Gekko in Wall Street admired who understands.

Sweden against Japan and Germany

Robert J. Sinclair has been responsible for some of the best and most successful campaigns in Saab's history. 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 despondent 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 hang-ups were often martial, because otherwise one would not have been heard and would have been lost in the babble of the V8 and Big Block ...

    Ultimately, however, all commercials and ads in the sub-context or in the “small print” (running text) mean that the offers from Sweden are more peaceful and satisfactory in many ways (ecological, economic, everyday utility, security and sustainability) than purchasing the next US battleship.

    We don't want to forget the displacement with which Saab & Volvo 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 armaments industry is the real beneficiary ...

  • “I like this drive and spirit. Where did he go? "

    This “Drive & Spirit” has never disappeared, it has only been meticulously perfected with continued aggressive meticulousness. With the result that the suggestions of marketing seem even more subtle, unconscious and therefore maybe even “better”. In any case, I don't miss the aggressive marketing spirit at all (what's the point, it's still there). On the one hand, it somehow always reminds me of C. Maschmeyer and sales consorts, on the other hand, the advertising war rhetoric has an uncomfortable, self-revealing proximity to the armaments business of the parent company (the elephant in the Saab / Scania showroom, which I myself spend most of the time overlooked 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 suitable as a historical testimony of the first quality and shows our Saabs as a constantly moving meaning bearer. That's why - don't buy the wrong car (wink smiley!).

  • Herbert - Volvo Vice Marketing Director

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

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

    https://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/17/business/17sinclair.html

  • @ 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 because Sinclair was Vice President of Volvo in the US just before that? (I didn't watch the videos, but if they were from before he switched to Saab ... ??) Credit where credit is due! 🙂

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

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

    ´´I find it very remarkable´ that Mr.Sinclair (almost single-handedly) put an idea into practice in such a way that in the USA the consumer could NOT avoid being led to the SAAB brand´´! It is a long way from the idea to the desired results to be achieved… EVERYONE who introduces a concept which is fundamentally different from the other competitors in the market knows that! “That is why one has to admire the long-term courage of visionaries” because it is very rare to know in advance whether these concepts will be applauded by the end customer !!

    ´´Unfortunately, in sales it is mostly like that´ that there is a head who leads his subjects on leashes "... but this head would like to carry the greatest success before him" (means if the sales department has addresses from call centers or other Internet etc.) have come into being´ this head is not afraid to distribute these addresses as he likes (head 50% / GL's 54% HV's 6%) and these percentages, which are only assumed once, can be higher or lower ... depending on how strong the EGO is ´´ !!

    ´´There are also companies that treat their subjects as one 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

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

    ´´It is over´ - - the myth remains´ - the community keeps Saab alive´´ !!

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  • I like this drive and 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 of the slogans 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 predecessors and role models. Honor where honor is due. And Øre to whom Øre is due ...

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