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Marketing guru: I can save Saab
GM Corp; Screenshot: PBS/Frontline

Marketing guru: I can save Saab

Published: 28 Dec 2009 14:57 GMT+01:00
Updated: 28 Dec 2009 21:01 GMT+01:00

A French-born, US-based marketing expert who has often criticized American carmakers claims he can turn around troubled Swedish automaker Saab Automobile.

“I want Saab. Give me Saab and I will save it and make it prosper again,” writes G. Clotaire Rapaille, who has served as a marketing advisor to several large automakers, in a letter sent December 26th to thousands of subscribers.

“This is a fantastic brand and we should not let it die.”

When contacted by The Local, Rapaille said he was "very serious" about his offer, and explained that while he hadn't made direct contact with Saab, General Motors (GM), or the Swedish government about his proposal, he expected to hear from them at some point.

"They will try to contact me, I'm sure," he told The Local.

"When someone is drowning and they are given a hand, they don’t argue with it, they just take it. They have no other choice."

According to Rapaille, Saab has a “tribe of loyal followers” and represents the “core value” of Swedish culture.

“This is the image of Sweden in the world; this is an element of the Swedish contribution to the world. We cannot let it die,” he writes.

He goes on to accuse Saab’s US-based owner GM of having “killed” Saab by treating it as a generic car.

“The time of management by engineers is over,” he argues, believing instead that marketers and anthropologists are better equipped to know what people want and why they want it.

Rapaille claims he can lead efforts to turn Saab around because of his expertise in auto industry branding and marketing around the globe.

“Besides that, I love cars,” he adds.

In return for taking charge of the beleaguered Swedish brand, which GM said last week it plans to wind down starting in 2010 after failing to find a suitable buyer, Rapaille said he wants a salary of one dollar per year as well as 25 percent of the Saab shares optioned at the current price.

In addition he demands “total power to take the company where it has to go” and the “total support” of the Swedish government.

To start, Rapaille called for a emergency meeting to be convened at Saab headquarters in Trollhättan in western Sweden to develop a “brand resurrection” plan.

Speaking with The Local, Rapaille downplayed his lack of experience running a car company, admitting the closest thing he has is nearly three decades experience of running his own multinational consulting firm.

He was also sparse on details about his plans to save Saab, but emphasized instead the power of his marketing insights.

"The point is I know how to sell Saabs and can get people to buy Saabs," he explained.

"I have the notoriety and the power to rally people around the world and to attract the best people to defend Saab and make sure the brand doesn’t die."

Rapaille again slammed GM's "engineer mentality" as the reason for the poor performance of the Saab brand over the last two decades.

In his eyes, Saabs built under GM's stewardship increasingly lacked the essence of what made Saab a brand so treasured by its admirers.

"It’s time to tell the engineers and financial people on the board to get out and go fishing and let people who know how to run the show take over," he said, arguing that engineers "don't understand people".

"It’s time for a paradigm shift...the engineering mentality has failed," he continued.

Rapaille also said he's received hundreds of supportive responses to his proposal from Saab enthusiasts and fellow branding experts from around the world.

"Saab is filled with an incredible amount of emotional capital. I’ve been amazed by the reaction I’ve received. It’s so powerful," he said

"Saab people love the brand and don’t want to let it die."

He also criticized the way the Swedish government has handled the attempted sale of Saab.

"I don’t know if the Swedish government really cares about Saab, I don't think they really do," he said.

But according to Rapaille, the support of the government isn't important to getting his plan a hearing with Saab and GM leadership.

"I’m not interested in talking to the government. The pressure needs to come from the people who love Saab and want to see it kept alive," he said.

Saab spokesperson Gunilla Gustavs said she had no knowledge of Rapaille’s offer.

“I don’t know anything about it,” she told The Local.

“A number of parties have shown an interest in Saab since early December. But GM are the ones who know about the different offers and out of principle we don’t comment on who has shown an interest.”

David Landes (david.landes@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

15:14 December 28, 2009 by Renfeh Hguh
self promoting tosser!
15:23 December 28, 2009 by Scotsaab
He's apparently not the only one!
18:45 December 28, 2009 by peropaco
I saw give him a shot to the tittle.
20:46 December 28, 2009 by alammie
Saab Community Fights Back with

iwontbuyfromgm.com website

The purpose of the site is for people to declare to GM that if Saab is closed down, rather than sold, then those people signed up will not consider the purchase of another GM vehicle in the future. It is to let GM know that people are watching what happens here. If they wish to keep these people as even prospective customers, they should do the right thing and sell Saab rather than close it down.
20:50 December 28, 2009 by Saguaro
Read this, the guy is a total con artist. Frontline included him in one of their programs.

20:51 December 28, 2009 by Bob Jacobson
Rapaille's approach notwithstanding -- it's not lagom! -- he scores a point. Individuals insensitive to trends affecting auto sales and what it takes to build a brand have run the SAAB enterprise into the ground (and not just SAAB, many other enterprises, also.)

Almost everywhere outside of Scandinavia, SAAB's former reputation for quality and technological competence has been rendered valueless by the virtual disappearance of the brand. And even at home in Sweden. Rapaille's odd letter is a public wake-up call, whatever you think of the man.

It's time for some serious rethinking by the Swedes' whose livelihood is at stake and by the Swedish nation whose global reputation as a savvy exporter is in question, more so than by the sale of, say, Absolut (although that hurt in certain circles, too).
21:24 December 28, 2009 by Bob Jacobson
SAAB's latest TV ad, "Change Perspective," expresses a bright spirit that has been missing in Trollhättan (and surely in Detroit). Except that once again, the ad champions the designer and engineer as the source of all good ideas and never mentions the customer. Creativity, not utility, is its main event. "Change Perspective" Sigh.

Feeling the pain, the source of this inspiration, Stockholm's Lowe Brindfors ad agency, is laying off staff even during the holidays: SAAB Ad Agency to Axe Staff

One result of all of this situation is that Trollhätten municipality is about to go on the government doll to the tune of 542 million kronar -- about $75 million -- and that's just a first installment. Another result is that 8,000 local jobs will be affected. The situation is serious, no longer a fit topic for humor or sarcasm: Emergency Plan for Saab's Hometown Trollhättan

Perhaps once its shock has abated, Trollhåtten can consult with reborn Malmö and develop a modern multi-business economy grounded in sustainability and knowledge generation. But for now...it's sad.
22:42 December 28, 2009 by Staffs
This twit says the time of the company being run by engineers is over.

That's the problem, the fact that it hasn't been run by engineers, if it had of been run by engineers instead of bean counters (that have no appreciation of engineering) then Saab would have offered a great product at the right price.

Bean counters should be banned from any management responsibility, bean counting should be the sole preserve of engineers.
23:07 December 28, 2009 by Irishmanabroad
Staffs, I agree.

This article should never have been posted! This man obviously knows nothing of the SAAB brand. It was built on Engineering innovations and it was the marketing people who tried to take the "brand" and sell it on that while not giving the Engineers the necessary funds to innovate.

I have a number of friends in the Engine dept at SAAB and when GM were crying out for a bio-fuel capable engine a few years ago when bio-fuels were seen as the silver bullet, the Engineers took their hands from behind their back with their heads dipped, unable to meet their masters eyes and said "here is a little skunk project we have been working on that you didn't know about sir" and saved GM a packet!
00:29 December 29, 2009 by Flying Scotsman
Another pipe dream from a typical French idiot!

Why do we even bother reporting this clowns antics, it just gives the people false hope who are losing their jobs.

To The Local, things must be really bad when you need to resort to this mans utter blabbering tripe and report it. Why did your editor even consider passing this as readable news, I would have expected seeing something like this in the Daily Sport, next to the section where a London bus has been found on the moon.

Come on, pull it off, you can do better than this.
01:23 December 29, 2009 by tennent
Saab's destiny was sealed already when GM decided to keep Opel. It may cost GM more to close it than to sell it, but in the long term, Opel may capture market share otherwise going to a revived Saab.

They are not going to negotiate with anyone now. Remember, the GM Board is fairly geriatric, and most members prefer a quiet time over the holidays. The age of the directors may also explain why the negotiations with the German Government took so long and involved totally reversed propositions - it so disgusted Europe Manager Carl-Peter Forster that he resigned, and poor Mrs Merkel wasn't amused, either.

So goodbye, Saab.

Don't hope that the geriatric GM management will forget they are keeping Opel - their new Europe Manager, Nick Reilly is only 59, just four years older than Forster, and he would remind them.

One question remains - will a slightly old-fashioned Chinese-built 9-3 or 9-5 be the best value on the Swedish car market in 2012? With a free tool chest and bag of nuts & bolts if need be?
02:31 December 29, 2009 by jethrine
"They will try to contact me, I'm sure," he told The Local.

Rapaille knows this because he is actually "Doc" Emmett Brown from Back to the Future. He has traveled ahead in time and seen the solution to Saab's troubles. He was also messing around in the past to make Saab win all those rally races in the 50s and 60s, none of that was natural. Too bad he didn't go to the 70s to make the 99 a better product. Or maybe that was the true marketing genius.... the 900 would not have seemed so good if the 99 was not so bad. Anyone seen a DeLorean around Trollhattan recently?

Relax, it is all under control.

Jethrine in USA
06:32 December 29, 2009 by spy
What a crap story - not one ounce of fact! TL treats its readers like complete idiots.

There is a market for Sweden's News in English but it needs to be done properly and not in a homemade and pathetic manner.
11:42 December 29, 2009 by Hagen
It is a shame about SAAB having to closebecause they are very good cars but GM had a choice, Opel or SAAB and Germany has more muscle than Sweden so Opel is saved and SAAB goes to the wall.

In the coming years, the demand for new cars will be growing very fast, China and India have huge populations all wanting to get mobile, so the future is looking very bright, too bad for SAAB though !
12:02 December 30, 2009 by tennent
Seems the guy tries to be a reincarnation of Rosser Reeves.

But the Saab USP was engineering, and he wants it replaced by bullshit.

I remember - from the 70s - how one of my mates went to a luncheon-lecture at the Swedish Marketing Association (Marknadsföreningen) and came backto tell me the

speaker had said Ford sold a lot more Mustangs than Falcons in the US,

and a lot more Falcons than Mustangs in France because nobody in France

knew what a mustang was, while falcons were common birds there.

Was that guy Mr Rapaille?

If you believed the above explanation re. Ford sales, you would have no idea

about the social differences between individualistic, exhibitionistic USA and

family-oriented, bourgeois France.

I'm sure the guy, whoever it was, got paid...so much for marketing gurus...
12:53 December 30, 2009 by morchad
Wow we're all quick on the draw to shoot down when someone comes up with something different.
00:10 December 31, 2009 by Mr. Puppy
Everything and everyone dies. Grandma dies. So does Saab. This guy isn't going to save it. He said himself he isn't doing anything proactive to save it - he's waiting for them to contact him. Maybe Grandma Saab is ready to die and isn't going to push the nurse button when she flatlines. Let grandma die in peace.
01:59 December 31, 2009 by kristenart
Rapaille A "self Promoter"? Perhaps. But so were Henry Ford, Lee Iacocca, and P.T Barnum.

I Love Saab. Bought the first Saab Turbo- LOVED it- and swore I would NEVER buy a SAAB after GM bought it. Why? I grew up in GM Michigan. Many friends were execs, and engineers at the top of Ford, Oldsmobile (my boyhood friends Great Grandfather founded Olds(, and Chevy, and I even knew Henry Ford II, and drove his Mustang during the summers. I hated the cars GM made- and never bought one. Bottom line - SAAB needs Swedish thinking, Swedish engineering, Swedish craftsmanship. NOT American, French, Dutch via Russia, or God forbid, Chinese. I envision a SAAB that sets the future trend of auto design, innovation, and environmental efficiency. WHEN the creative, visionary Swedes create the automobiles I know they can, I will buy ONLY SAAB!

03:00 December 31, 2009 by mieoux
I love the US but even I have to say the clock ran out on American car companies ten years ago and the triplets - GM, Ford and Chrysler have been in a tough unlaudable climb since. SAAB will be better off not being part of GM since of the three US car companies most likely only Ford (if even that) will be left standing ten years from now. Don't get pissed off at GM, GM has no money and is not likely to make a lot of it any time soon. Why doesn't the Swedish government bail-out SAAB? Give them a giant low cost loan - after all GM, the suitor they were chasing after, would have been in the cemetery by November '08 had they not received massive infusions of virtually free cash from the US government.

As for "creative visionary Swedes" - those don't exist, you will find plenty of technical excellence but a creative and visionary Swede is like Santa whose existence is only in the mind of the person who thinks they exist.
15:04 January 4, 2010 by Rebel
G. Clotaire Rapaille is as creative as they come. To me he appears to be a neo-Freudian in the same category as Edward Bernays (the founder of modern-day public relations). Perhaps he could save teh company. It is unlikely that Swedes have the creativity or skills in saving Saab -- and one can only shudder at the prospects of the government trying to do anything that would help the situation.

Mediocrity -- synonomous with "lagom".
20:41 January 4, 2010 by Raul el australiano
Well, I am also an anthropologist who love cars who would like to manage Saab for 5 crowns a year plus 25% in shares... What a clown!

If Rapaille is serious as he says... why doesn´t he put the money on the table?
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