Saab Automobile AB

Riding 60 miles northeast of Gothenburg brings me to Trollhattan, a picturesque town of roughly 50,000 inhabitants and home to Saab Automobile. A nice little river meanders through downtown and the place has the look and feel of a prosperous community. This is what I would expect from a town being the home to a large automobile manufacturer. I mention this because it was the exact opposite when visiting Volkswagen in Wolfsburg, Germany. Instead of finding a well-off, bustling community with a vibrant downtown, I was completely taken aback in finding a very ugly, dreary place which looked like it had been part of the old state-run East Germany.

Headquarters lies several miles from downtown in a sprawling plant complex. Passing huge employee parking areas on the way to the entrance gate I stop and look over the various automobiles. Guess what, most of the cars aren't Saabs.

Before entering the fenced-in facility visitors must check in at the visitor center. I explain who I am and what I do to the receptionist and she proceeds to place phone calls to find who ended up with my letter of introduction to CEO Robert Hendry. After 20 minutes of standing around the tiny visitor area the receptionist gives me both good and bad news. The good news being the letter was traced to corporate communications. The bad news: "they told me to tell you they haven't time for you". Whoa, you can imagine how well that went over with me. I ask to use the phone and proceed to be connected to corporate communications. A woman answers and I explain how disappointing it is to come half way around the world on a bicycle only to be given the brush off. I'm then told the reason why no one has time for me: everyone in the department is at the big international car show in Germany, which starts in several days. Miffed, I say "How come no one contacted me? "we tried to" she answers. Boy, that answer just doesn't go down well with me. Think about it, in my introductory letter I include a fax number, an Email address plus they have my mailing address in California. I check all of the above several times a week and heard absolutely zilch from Saab. I ask the woman (who didn't want to identify herself) who's the one responsible for deciding to leave me "hanging in the wind". It's Olle Axelson, VP-Corporate & Product Information.

I've visited many of the world's biggest makers of cars and trucks. How would I grade my reception?

Here's the grading system:

Chrysler---F (before merger with Daimler-Benz)
Daimler-Benz---A (before merger with Chrysler)
General Motors---F