Saab: The Last Hurrah

Bye Bye SAAB … this was NEVER going to fly. Perceptive comment by RX8 in Automotive News following intimation that Saab was finally bankrupt. When Victor Muller, Dutch owner of Spyker, bravely faced the Fleet Street group of motoring correspondents nearly two years ago, following his $400million rescue plan, I’m afraid old hacks looked at one another saying, “We have been down this road before.” We may have wanted him to succeed. Not many makes of car have created such affection. Everybody admired its pluck, the quirky nature of its cars especially in the 1960s when Erik Carlsson won the RAC and Monte Carlo Rallies.

The bold Erik Carlsson won the 1963 Monte Carlo Rally.
Saab Automobile AB filed for bankruptcy with the district court in Vaenersborg, Sweden, according to Dutch owner, Swedish Automobile NV. General Motors refused to support the investment and loan proposals from Zhejiang Youngman Lotus Automobile. "After having received the recent position of GM on the contemplated transaction with Saab Automobile, Youngman informed Saab Automobile that the funding to continue and complete the reorganization of Saab Automobile could not be concluded." This meant that the millions Zhejiang Youngman Lotus Automobile was proposing to invest were withdrawn, and the Board of Saab Automobile decided that without it the company was insolvent.

Saab never really had a chance. In the end General Motors torpedoed the deal because it had too much property, intellectual and tangible, at stake to let it be appropriated by the Chinese. See an earlier blog on how China is scouting for complete factories and redundant designs to set up a car industry of its own, rather than rely on incomers to reap profit from the biggest potential market in the world.

Sound GM car but no Saab charisma. The 2011 9-3.
Saab was also failed by what Automotive News once called General Motors’ musical chairmen. GM’s policy of rotating senior executives round its subsidiaries resulted in short-term solutions that didn’t work. BMW and Audi prosper because single-minded leaders stick to their task; Saab had no strong-minded Piëch looking beyond the next model, keeping accountants happy by dipping into the common parts bin. There had been vision for Saab in the 1940s and 1950s. By the 1990s Saab had no idea where it was going; it tried to be big on safety like Volvo, it tried to be green with bio-fuel, it was big on turbocharging thanks to Scania and it had clever engineers taking ingenious initiatives like the variable-compression engine that rocked the cylinder block on a kind of hinge. It tried to be trendy to no avail.

Historic relic from Saab museum. Saab heritage.
Researching the Saab 50-year book in 1997 I met some of the Americans tasked with turning Saab into a premium brand. They had sound plans but they all knew they were not there for long. GM careerists were pulled back into the global hierarchy, leaving bean-counters in control, which doomed Trollhättan in the end.

Saab Phoenix not rising from the ashes.