Guest Columns
Guest Column - What's Old Could Be New Again
Tuesday, 31 August 2010 22:27

This article from the Webmaster also appears in issue #307 of Nines

It didn’t take long for the automobile press to start hammering Saab Chairman Victor Muller about the viability of his business plan after he bought/saved the company. He responded on a number of occasions that “Saab doesn’t need any new customers; it only needs to get its old customers back.” Of course, he was probably speaking a bit of hyperbole – I mean, I’m sure he’d be happy with a few hundred thousand new customers. What chairman wouldn’t be?

It’s a fact though that there are many present and former Saab owners who started shopping Mercedes, BMW, Audi and Volvo because they saw a little too much “GM DNA” in the modern Saabs, and they had lost faith that Saab was “the most intelligent car ever built.” Perhaps a good first step toward convincing Saab’s old customers (as well as new ones) that the company is now ready once again to “move their minds,” would be to revive a marketing tactic previously used to lure car buyers to the Saab brand in decades past.

In 1981, my brother and I were growing pre-teens, and the back seat of our family’s little red 1973 VW Beetle was getting a bit short on leg space. I’m sure my dad was also getting a little sick of the car belching oil out of the dipstick hole on particularly cold New Hampshire mornings. He had resorted to packing the engine compartment with insulation and a contractor’s work lamp overnight to help stave off the car’s morning sickness. It was time to get a new, bigger, car.

The Beetle had been paid off for a couple years, and my parents had continued to sock away the monthly payment to get a head start on their next automobile. As this was not something they had been able to do in the past, they started thinking perhaps with a bit of up-front cash lowering the monthly payments they might be able to afford something a little more upscale, more luxurious for their next automobile.

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Guest Column - Jan-Willem Vester, One of Us
Monday, 07 December 2009 22:38

Trying to present a large, multinational firm in the best possible public light at all times is an art form. Overcoming poor public perception whilst trying to deliver bad news is a delicate balancing act. It takes superb knowledge of your audience, class, finesse and a little bit of humour at times to do the job well to avoid losing your credibility and getting shelled by the press and public alike.

Jan-Willem Vester was a true master at the art of automotive diplomacy. He worked alongside Jay Spenchian at Cadillac and when Mr. Spenchian came over to Saab in 2005, he eventually brought Jan-Willem with him. Manager of Saab Corporate Communications from 2006 until early this year, he was the public face of Saab and frequently, the man on the hot seat throughout the GM-Saab divorce. But he was much more than just the guy in charge of the news at Saab.

I met Jan-Willem at SOC in 2006 in Lake George, NY. This was the first time that Saab-GM had come out in full support of an SOC since 1998, and GM had promised to send the entire Saab Heritage Collection out of Sterling Heights so that Saabistas of every stripe could have a stare at what a better than brand new 99 Turbo, Sonnet, SPG or 9000 looks like. As the collection was being offloaded, I was standing off to the side, staring wide-eyed at the freshly restored Swedish metal as it hit the pavement. After the 99 Turbo came off the truck, a rather dusty Scarabe Green C900 convertible came down the ramp. I gave Dick Ballsley, the then-curator of the Heritage Collection a nudge. “Hey, Dick! There’s one that missed the wash rack.” Dick adjusted his glasses and smiled. “Not one of ours. That belongs to the new head of PR, Jan-Willem Vester.” Whoa. A Saab guy actually holding a key position at Saab-GM?

Later on that evening, I was at dinner and a very tall, well spoken fellow with a slight accent asked if he might sit next to me. Pulling up a chair, I asked him to make himself at home. The fellow asked me a lot of questions…….who I was, what I drove, why Saabs and not, say BMWs? I answered all of his questions and finally asked him who he was. He smiled and introduced himself. All I could stammer out was “You own the convertible!” His eyes twinkled and he told me all about his Saab, where it came from and how much fun it was to drive. He also told me about his 1984 900 GLi back in the Netherlands. It was clear that Jan-Willem not only knew as much about Saabs as your next Saabista, but he clearly had a passion for the marque. He understood where Saab came from, but he also knew where Saab was (or should be) heading.

We met up again in Troy in 2007. This time, we got to meet his lovely wife, Mariska, and their two children. And the convertible made another appearance at the People’s Choice area at the show on Friday afternoon. Jan-Willem had shined the car to perfection and it sat amidst the other C900s proudly. Jan-Willem told us about the latest addition to the family, a recent model 9-5 Aero wagon, all the better to keep his daughter safe on her way back and forth to school.

Jan-Willem came out to Massachusetts for SOC08 at Devens, just a few weeks after having surgery to remove a brain tumour. Nothing, it appeared, was going to stop him from meeting his old Saab friends and making new ones. As I was unlocking the doors to the convention centre early Saturday morning, I saw a very tall jogger burning up the trail. Walking outside, I saw that it was Jan-Willem. Nothing, it appeared, was going to stand in the way of his other passion, jogging. In point of fact, not long after the SOC, Jan-Willem entered the Chicago Marathon and finished with a very respectable time.

We were all upset when GM purged over 1200 people in March of 2009, one of them Jan-Willem, who had worked for GM for 16 years. I spoke to him the day I found out about the purge. Even though the news was bad, Jan-Willem was still upbeat, still hoping for the best possible outcome for Saab.

The tumour resurfaced about five months ago. We were all hopeful for another good outcome, but alas, it was not to be. Jan-Willem Vester, husband, father, friend, diplomat par excellence, passed away Sunday night after a courageous battle with cancer.

People should remember Jan-Willem for his work with Saab, his bright smile, his way with words. But he should also be remembered as a Saab person. Jan-Willem may have worked for GM, but he was truly one of us.

Godspeed, Jan-Willem.

Respectfully submitted by Linnea Krajewski,
Secretary, Saab Owners’ Club of North America