Thursday, January 5, 2012

Reviving a Badey Saab

My tiny brain has extra large spam folders for irrelevant stuff. 99% of what I see makes it to this exalted space. News items related to dieting, fitness, investment, dogs and cars are given ‘Accelerated Access’ to choice sub-folders in my mental trash can. I rarely pause to think about any of these subjects.

But on Christmas Eve, I guess the spirit of generosity suffused my innards. So for the first time ever, instead of automatically ‘Marking to Spam’, I actually spent time on an article about a vaguely familiar automobile brand. The trigger for it was the stark headline: ‘End of the road for Saab’.

Now for those who know their hatchbacks, Saab is no small fry. It’s as iconic as our Ambassador. It was the first ever four-wheeler to make safety belts a standard feature. Having sold over 3 million cars, the 64-year-old Swedish brand enjoys the reputation of being unassuming, smart, efficient, consistent, dependable and affordable.

‘So why are experts writing its obituary?’ was the question playing on my mind. A cursory glance of the sales figures revealed the sob story. In 2010, the company managed to sell just 30,000 cars. That’s one tenth of what Hyundai sells in India!

Does that mean the scrapheap is the final destination for Saab? I am of the view that if Mahindra or any Indian Group were to make a bid for it, they can turn things around. The reason for my optimism lies in one simple fact: Saab is an Urdu word with terrific connotations in South Asia.

It’s a term of endearment that crops up often in conversations. Bhai Saab, Major Saab, Laat Saab and Memsaab are commonly used appellations. To millions of Hindustanis, the expression ‘Saala main toh Saab ban gaya’ means reaching a stratospheric social status - almost on par with a knighthood.

Therefore, milking the linguistic potential of Saab is clearly the roadmap forward for the struggling brand. Imagine the sensation the car will create if we launch customizable models for celebrities that lets a Mister Bachchan announce his name as Bachchan Saab and a certain Sachin flaunt his awesomeness with Tendulkar Saab. We could even have surname models like 'Khan Saab', 'Chopra Saab', 'Kapoor Saab' and 'Ganguly Saab'. The possibilities are endless. With some deft ethnic marketing, me thinks SAAB could just race away with some much needed market share in hamra Bharat. Wonder if anyone can hear me honking.