We humans have a distinct need to belong to a group, be that a political party, a set of religious or ideological values or in a less imposing case, the love of a certain car brand.
Here in Australia, car fans are generally stereotyped into the ‘Ford’, ‘Holden’ or ‘Other’ camps. So it’s with that thought in mind that we take a look quick look at the life of Steven Wade (a.k.a. Swade) who has been credited with helping save Swedish brand Saab from extinction.
If the Swedes ever thought back in the 1940s when Saab was formed that a man residing in Tasmania was going to be their saviour, they might have taken a more keen interest in Australia. Alas, the story of Saab’s demise and revitalisation over the past 18 months has been a fascinating tale not only for car fanatics but for anyone who believes in People-Power.
At the recent New York motor show, CarAdvice had the opportunity to catch up with Saab’s biggest fan to find out how one can go from being a blogger to a company saviour and social media expert.
Saab fans worldwide would recognise Swade from the early days when he started TrollhattanSaab in 2005, which was then turned into SaabUnited as part of the efforts to save Saab after GM decided the Swedish brand no longer fitted its philosophy.
Following the demise of talks between Koenigsegg and GM to buy Saab in late 2009, the old General decided it was all just a little too hard and announced that it would put Saab into liquidation. Through Swade’s contacts and efforts, SaabUnited in union with Saab clubs worldwide helped gather an army of over 10,000 people and 6000 cars in 60 locations around the globe to protest the decision and persuade GM to enter into negotiations with Spyker (current owners). His efforts helped launch a successful campaign that ended up with Saab swapping owners, restarting production and even relaunching back in Australia.
We asked Swade just how much time it required to maintain pressure on GM and bring up to date coverage of Saab’s sale to Spyker.
“During the busiest times following the sale of Saab from General Motors to Spyker Cars NV, I was waking up at 6am and working pretty much continuously on following and documenting events until I went to bed (often after midnight). That routine went on for around 2 months up to the point of closing the sale, which I attended in person, in Stockholm on February 23, 2010.”
The commitment to running a car blog is one that is all too familiar to me, but one can’t imagine that amount of time making you all that popular with loved ones?
“My wife calls herself a blogwidow, which is unfortunately pretty true. She understood the importance of the mission during the sale process, though. She could see I was being effective and that the effort was achieving some real results. I also had a full time job, which I managed to do effectively, though perhaps not with my full attention and commitment.”
Swade was lucky to have developed a beneficial relationship with Saab dating back to the early days of Trollhatten Saab in 2005 and had been previously invited to attend the company’s 60th anniversary in 2007. Nonetheless, the close relationship formed between head of Spyker (now head of Saab), Victor Muller, and Swade helped keep communications open to Saab fans worldwide.
“We spoke on the phone nearly every day and his first call after signing the papers to buy Saab on January 26, 2010, was to me (it was at 5:09am on January 27 in Australia) to express his appreciation to the supporters of the brand.”
Swade has owned a number of Saabs in the past, including a couple of Saab 900 Turbos, Saab 99 Turbos and a Saab 9-3 Viggen. These cars can be credited with possessing him to spend enormous amounts of time to save a foreign car company (for free). He currently drives a 1999 Saab 9-3 Monte Carlo in Australia and is looking for a Saab 99 Turbo in Sweden.
Most companies are now well aware of the impact of social media on their business (just ask Vodafail) but apart from helping to incite a revolution in Egypt, the case of Saab is the first time a car company has been brought back to life through the efforts of the internet. Saab hasn’t taken all this hard work for granted either, naming an award after the site (SaabUnited) in 2010.
However the Swedish company went one step further than expected: why not give Saab’s biggest fan a job? The man who spoke so loudly in keeping the dream alive is now the voice of the company to the internet. We asked Swade how he went about becoming Saab’s social media guru:
“We (Victor Muller and Swade) first spoke about Saab having a bigger social media presence at the L.A. Auto Show in November 2010. Saab had advertised a position, which I applied for, though my discussions with them ended up bypassing the formal process to some degree. Of course, once the job was offered it was a no-brainer to take it. There is some element of risk to the position as it’s a new thing for a car company to get so engaged in, but I would have regretted it forever if I hadn’t taken it and am now loving it.”
As part of his new position, Swade now runs InsideSaab, a website conceived to showcase the ins and outs of Saab’s operations and events worldwide. The main goal is to bring the company a lot closer to the enthusiast community. A dream job for a Saab fan?
“Absolutely. There’s a lot of travel involved and it means some more sacrifice for the family at the moment, but hopefully we’ll come to some better arrangements once the position is better established. Until then, though, my office is just above the factory floor and all of Saab’s departments – design, safety, technical, etc – are all on the one property. I have a full-scale car company at my doorstep so there will be plenty to learn about and share on the Inside Saab website for some time to come.”
The lesson learnt here for other car companies? Don’t take fans for granted. It’s all too easy to get too obsessed with being politically correct and writing-off fan emails and dismissing the voice of passionate car lovers worldwide but as Swade has shown, having people-power on your side can be a lifesaver. Now that things are getting back to normal at Saab, we asked what role social media will continue to play in Saab’s future?
“The social media landscape is always changing and there are probably things we’ll be doing 18 months from now that may not even be invented yet. For now, though, we have several social channels that we’re developing. The blog is a hub for that, with content pushed out to readers in several different ways, depending on how people are comfortable in receiving it. We also have a very active Facebook community and we’re engaging them with competitions and other campaigns.”
People do (and will continue to) use social channels to talk about their hobbies/purchases etc. Companies have to be in that space and at least offer people the opportunity to engage, without being disruptive in the process.
And if he had to own one car that wasn’t a Saab, what would it be?
“Saabs have dominated my automotive landscape since I first drove a 9000 Turbo back in the early 1990s and I can’t see myself not owning one. If someone held a gun to my head and forced me to admit other automotive interests, I’d confess to a penchant for Alfa Romeo and Porsche. I’ve owned a couple of 16-valve Alfa 33s over the years and they’re great fun for little money. I’ve never owned a Porsche, but a friend has a 964 and I can tell from his perma-grin that it must be fun (and I’ve driven it, so I know why he smiles so much).”
Always wanted to start a fan site for your favourite car brand? That should serve as some inspiration.
Check out the links below for more information:
Read: 2011 Saab 9-5 Review
*Photos courtesy of Saab and Boston.com