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What Happened To Saab

March 3rd, 2009 · 4 Comments

By Garland Pollard

Saab 95s 1959We have been thinking not only of what happened to Saab, but then what to do about Saab. We haven’t gotten far, we admit.

And then we found this great response in the alternative weekly The Hook in Charlottesville, Virginia. It was a response to Courtney Stuart’s article on the future of the Saab, Hummer and Saturn brands in the Charlottesville, Virginia area. It’s from a reader named Rapunzel. Amazing that a chick named Rapunzel can sum up the problems with General Motors in just a few words:

I currently own a 1991 SAAB 9000 turbo with nee 350,000 miles and am more than willing to drive it anywhere without worries of problems and it remains a daily driver ….

What GM did to SAAB was short of criminal, they de-contented these cars to a HUGE degree and turned SAAB into marketing name with no substance. I got this message from the SAAB 95, which was based on a German Opel(GM) chassis with less content.

A friends owns a GM_Opel based 900 with the GM V6, the engine had to be replaced due to a timing belt failure at the dealer and this GM engine continues to be a problem to this day while the rest of the 900 has been fine. Then we had the SAAB 92, which was nothing more than a SAAB nameplate on a Subaru. When GM took over SAAB, they fired most of their highly experienced engineers and designers and installed GM ideology. This turned SAAB into a GM marketing shell of a company with no substance. You could not GIVE ME a GM based SAAB for free, these are horrid cars today. It is the same reason why GM is in such economic problems, they did to SAAB what they did to themselves which put them to the brink of going belly up.

We could add a few more things:

  • The advertising for the cars looked at the aviation heritage of the brand. The reality was that the car brand had been divorced from the aviation brand; the advertising was simply a trick, and no one bought it.
  • Some cars were no longer made in Sweden; they were essentially badge engineering. Now, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with badge engineering between a Buick and Pontiac. That is the tradition of GM. But Saab cars were so different, you couldn’t create a Saab just through styling.
  • There was something unseemly about GM buying Saab in the first place. Frankly, the reason why they bought Saab was because they were embarrassed that upper middle class buyers took a skunner to General Motors cars. It was embarrassing, and Saab was the antidote to the wounded pride. Then, after it bought an admittedly ailing Saab, General Motors could destroy what Saab was. This would, in effect, prove to General Motors management that the Saab approach was wrong. Their incompetence and arrogance got in the way, and both companies were destroyed.
  • The Saab key on center console was a unique aspect of owning the car. It is nice that they continued odd placement of the key, but it is not what makes a Saab a Saab. Doing things merely for appearance’s sake is a risky thing for a brand, especially when your brand is all about authenticity. It was all a trick. Cars don’t need tricks.
  • We are fans of Bob Lutz, but he has been wrong on many things, including the fact that Saabs do not need to be made in Sweden.
  • The Saab brand was about approach; what sort of car does a family need, and how do you make it durable, practical and solid? That was totally forgotten; they started marketing Saabs as fashion accessories and luxury items. The Saab was an anti-luxury car for people who hated conspicuous consumption.

What to do?

We haven’t a clue right now; perhaps the Saab can go the way of the Studebaker Avanti, and become a hyper-niche car brand kept alive as a trophy. Or maybe the Swedish government needs to step in.

We hope someone will at least pick up the pieces of the company and re-craft a new Saab in the spirit of the old.

More branding stories of interest:

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Pontiac By The Door, Says Byron Hurd
Managing GM's Brand Equity
Get Me a 2010 Pontiac Trans Am
Top Company Museums To Visit This Summer
Willys Kaiser Jeep Lives On, Sort Of

Tags: Cars

4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 dig sandy // Mar 4, 2009 at 1:20 pm

    I own an ’01 Saab 95, and love it! I am saddened by what’s happening to Saab, but am hopeful now that GM will no longer have it under its umbrella. I agree the Swedish govt. should get involved to bring it home to Scandinavia, and NOT allow it to be sold to some cheap Chinese auto company who would have NO IDEA how to deal with Saab (or know its heritage). It would quickly die under such a deal, surely. Stockholm, are you listening?!

  • 2 UsedColgatefor35yrs // Apr 19, 2009 at 9:58 pm

    Sob for SAAB. I owned several of them with most being pre-GM. Without question, GM ruined SAAB. My last one was a 1999 which fell apart by 61K miles. The warranty history on the car was the worst of ANY brand vehicle I have ever owned and I’ve been driving since 1966! One of the first things GM did was to purge SAAB of its Swedes. Bad mistake. Then they cut the labor hours per car by almost half. Another mistake. Then they forced everyone to have leather seats (can’t stand them.) Another mistake. Then they got rid of all hatchback models. Big mistake. And so it went.

  • 3 Joe // Jan 26, 2010 at 2:55 pm

    I would not say SAABs are “horrid” today, I have a 2002 model 93 and its a great car, drives great, etc. worst issue was an ingnition key issue unresolved for months and they got a replacement all the way from Sweden, but still didn’t fix it – until I found a local SAAB mechanic who knew what the issue was and got resolved. Also a few isolated dashboard LCD issues. But it has turbo power like a rocket, and is quiet and feels great. So now I am wondering what to do since SAAB has no home, and the Spyker deal worries me they only want the 95 technology out of it.

  • 4 Brendan Moore // Mar 1, 2011 at 12:03 am

    It is interesting that one of the priorities of the still-new senior management at Saab is to regain their former brand equity – it’s part of their turnaround strategy.

    http://www.cedarpointconsulting.com/recover/articles/can-saab-be-turned-around

    It ain’t gonna be easy, though. Indeed, every part of their strategic plan concerning a turnaround is going to be difficult.

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