August 02, 2009

Not Just Another Saab Story

I'm not really into cars. Unlike many of my friends and colleagues, who can tell you off the top of their heads what such-and-such a person drives, I barely notice. Of course, a particularly smart car might turn my head, but most of what's out there on the road leaves me cold.

For many years, I didn't drive at all. As a student here in Dublin, and later working in Hong Kong, I hardly needed to. And when I did, my early transport was atop a Honda 50 (barely even a motorbike, but, I've just learned from Wikipedia, it is 'the best-selling powered vehicle of all time') and then astride a slightly more impressive model from the same manufacturer with greater engine size but little by way of memorable features (to me at least).

The purchase of my first car was prompted by the arrival of my first-born child and the sudden need to organise a weekly supermarket shop and occasional family outings. It was, I think, a Daihatsu Charade, but I'm open to correction. It was red. Or maybe silver. It definitely had a hatchback (or was that the car of a friend that we borrowed once or twice around that time?). When you consider that my first-born turns fourteen today, you can appreciate that this really wasn't such a long time ago and my grasp of car-detail is more than a little loose.

I do know we drove a Mitsubishi Spacewagon on our return to Ireland, but that choice was made by my father and brother, who put their heads together to decide what model of car suited the returning emigrants best, then drove me to a Japanese Import dealer to make the purchase. What a car that was! Air-conditioning when Irish models required you to crack open a window during our notoriously hot summers, and curtains you could draw to plunge a sleepy child into not-so-brightness. Actually, I did grow rather fond of it.

Then I drove a company car for a couple of years. A Honda Civic, I think it was (although again I half-expect a more eagle-eyed colleague to put me right). No, it was definitely a Honda. Just like the motorbikes. Aah, the power of half-remembered dreams.

My couldn't car-less attitude to what I drove would probably have continued indefinitely if I hadn't set up Islandbridge some five years ago. My wife Christine, who's not exactly a slave to brands herself, told me that I now needed to give some serious thought to the car I would drive. As a brand-maker, she said, people would naturally look to see which brand of car I'd chosen. But people hardly pay that much attention, I thought, until she told me how her former colleagues used to stand near the windows of their office and comment on the cars driven by the various visitors and sales reps arriving for meetings. A thumbs up or down could put the hapless driver on the front or back foot. Whether I liked it or not, she said, my car would be seen as a reflection of my standing in the business world. I briefly pictured myself perched on my Honda 50, and saw her point.

But which car to choose? I knew immediately I didn't want a BMW, Mercedes or the like but struggled to distinguish a car that I could truly warm to. Of course, another Honda wouldn't disgrace me but I was unconvinced. My romantic streak briefly toyed with the idea of importing a car from the US, a Mustang perhaps, something made for the open highway, and born out the American love-affair with the car. But that seemed too complicated. Then someone suggested a Saab, and I felt a tickle of appeal.

Something about the discreet, good manners of the brand appealed to me. Smart and stylish but not too up itself. I vaguely recalled a heritage in building airplanes. For some reason, that made sense. I liked the notion of aircraft engineers readying my engine for takeoff. I went to the garage to see for myself, and found myself quite charmed. I sat looking at the aeronautical instrument panel, ran my hands across the seating and interior fittings that were reminiscent of a flight cabin, heard the sigh of the engine when it shut down, and fell a little in love. Of course, I was also excited by the new-car smell and the sense that, for the first-time, I wouldn't be driving a hand-me-down.

And so I chose a Saab. In the five years since, it seems to me I've made the right choice. Colleagues comment approvingly of my brand, as though I've passed some unofficial test. For them the choice seems quite brand-savvy. Not too flash, not too obvious, not too self-absorbed; no, a suitable choice of someone in the business of brand-building. All the while, I've continued to be amazed at how much attention is paid to the car someone drives.

I've also found myself growing very fond of the Saab, so much so that when the time came to renew I went again and bought one.

And yet, I privately struggled to explain my affection for the brand, particularly as the car itself is broadly indistinguishable from a whole range of others just like it in its class. For example, I often find myself striding confidently towards someone else's car (and brand) in a crowded carpark.

But then, thanks to my colleague Philip O'Riada, I was pointed to the very excellent Why The Saab Inspires Intense Feelings, which goes some way to putting into words the depth of attachment I've formed to the brand. And allows me to retrofit my choice of the brand in the first place.

You need only spend a minute or two with me to know that I know nothing at all about cars. So don't take my word for it; check out why author Sam Knight describes a car that has always "overflowed with feeling".

And read why this is one Saab story with a happy ending.

Over To You: Have you made an accidental match with a brand, then found yourself falling in love?

1 comment:

Ryan E said...

A very good choice with the Saab.

What model did you buy might I ask and do you have any photos of you in front of it? :)



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