I was going to go with Saturn next, but a tweet from Diego on Metacool got me motivated to play with SAAB. He says, SAAB should get back into rallying, which lends support to my understanding of this brand.
Technology, cool, edgy, unique. Born from jets. Svenska Aeroplan Aktie Bolaget is Swedish Airplane Company in Swedish. Somewhere it all fell apart and they ended up another mediocre GM-mobile that had no style, no technology, and poor quality.
The organization behind an edgy car has to be edgy. This is called brand integration (the outside and the inside have to align). To create edgy things, people have to take risks and push the envelope. Edge is by definition NOT THE MAINSTREAM. Okay, I’m ranting… but it’s amazing to me how something edgy can get so rounded off to fit into a corporate model, that it’s no longer viable.
The interdependent organization archetype is a great model for SAAB because it could bring together an array of people and companies from many centers of excellence to work on the coolest automotive technology in the world. There would need to be lots of experimentation (and failure) going on to find out what new ideas work and what theories don’t hold water. You just can’t pull this kind of behavior off, if you are trying to please heads of engineering and design at the top of a corporate pyramid.
Key traits of the new SAAB organization:
1. Ad hoc reciprocal structure- each car should be viewed as a project, with full design-build responsibilities. The designs should connect to the heritage of SAAB (e.g. efficient drag coefficient) but the technology should represent the best of what’s possible in the current market. These teams should work under temporary agreements with other companies to bring resources necessary for manufacturing.
2. Each model is an experiment- transparency while prototyping (instead of secrecy) promotes involvement from others and improves quality. Check out Martin Eberhard’s post on how blogs helped at Tesla Motors. Instead of a long line of reductionist designs, hidden in secrecy while the companies round off the edges to save money, the clean slate approach gives the model team a chance to be truly innovative. An open process pushes everyone to solve the complex tensions between viability, feasibility, and desirability. The prototypes should be rallying all over the world to show off and test the new ideas.
3. Entrepreneurial leaders- leadership in today’s auto market is coming from disruptors like Tesla and Fiskar Automotive. These are entrepreneurial ventures with something to prove and lots of backing to get there. Each model should be considered and investment and live up to a market based promise of innovation. Leadership teams should have to start over again with each model to prove this new idea is worth making (and buying).