The Saab deal’s death today marked the third attempted brand sale by GM to go down in flames since exiting bankruptcy. Whether the decision not to sell Opel was a good one remains to be seen (big time!), but at Saturn’s Spring Hill, Tennessee plant, which goes on standby this week, there’s less ambiguity about the situation. Meanwhile, Wild-Ass Rumors that Brilliance will rescue the Saturn brand have been chased by MSM scaremongering about a Chinese-owned GM, lending special irony to the fact that GM’s only brand-divestment success is the $150m Hummer-to-Tengzhong deal which is still pending approval by the Chinese government. Volvo nearly found a home in the Middle Kingdom with Geely, but things are crumbling and new bids are expected. Which means all of Detroit’s orphaned brands are still up in the air, at best. Long-term worries about the strength of the US market may be to blame, although the advanced state of the Hummer deal works against that theory (as Hummer’s viability lives and dies in the US market). Maybe the Chinese mandate for auto sector consolidation has potential Chinese buyers focusing on shoring up their domestic status. Or maybe the Chinese realize that brand equity must be earned, not bought. That appears to be the lesson to be learned from the rise of Hyundai and Kia. Fueled by mainstream design a true compact-to-luxury product range, and a relentless focus on product, they may well herald a decline in the importance of brand strategy. For an industry that practically invented the idea of selling a product without actually mentioning the product, this could be an interesting adjustment.
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