By on May 23, 2011

Bertel’s provocative piece on SaabUnited’s complex relationship with Saab and Vladimir Antonov has drawn a predictable response from the Saab faithful, who have rushed to defend their beloved but troubled  brand as well as its mysterious Russian “savior.” The outburst of anger at TTAC, though harsh to the point of almost blaming TTAC for Saab’s sorry state, is nothing new around these parts: TTAC has long angered the die-hard fans of many auto brands by calling for (or simply covering) the demise of brands that have outlived their usefulness to the market. Even the most basic understanding of TTAC’s history explains away the now-popular (in certain corners) theory that this site has a personal vendetta for Saab. On the other hand, perhaps we’ve been too focused on day-to-day developments to properly make the case for why Saab, sadly, needs to die. Luckily the reasons for Saab’s inevitable demise are not difficult to understand…


Perhaps the first issue to cover in an overview of Saab’s troubled state is the “GM era,” a 20-year period which Saab fans and detractors alike can agree was not the brand’s best. But, while GM is cast as the villain in most accounts of Saab’s recent history, the numbers actually prove that GM’s stewardship was able to turn around some troubling downward momentum in Saab’s global sales volume. As this extended global sales chart for Saab’s entire history (through 2007) proves, GM actually returned Saab to within spitting distance of its all-time sales volume record of 123,112 units, set back in 1987 after arresting its 1987-1993 sales free-fall.

Even more damning are the global sales numbers from 2009 and 2010, when Saab was going through its traumatic divorce from GM and troubled rescue attempt, which included a flirtation with the supercar maker Koenigsegg, as well as the sale of old IP to China’s BAIC and the ultimate sale to Spyker. In 2009, Saab sold 39,827 retail units. Last year Saab produced 32,048 units and sold 31,696, a full 100k units off of its GM-era plateau, when the brand was losing $5,000 per car.

Of course, volume doesn’t tell the whole story. Though GM arguably saved Saab by purchasing 50 percent of its equity back in 1989, Saab’s sojourn in the GM family was not a happy one, in ways that can’t be explained with a sales chart. Though Saab maintained ostensibly independent operations while a GM subsidiary, the transition to shared platforms and mechanicals spelled an end to Saab’s identity as a truly independent manufacturer (a process that had begun pre-GM, with the joint development with Fiat of the “Type Four” platform). I’ll leave a discussion of Saab’s loss of identity under GM for another moment, but needless to say that Saab’s inability to break through its 130k annual unit sales plateau speaks to GM’s willingness to dump the brand. And the fact that this occurred with “nary a tear” from that infamous lover of doomed brands and cool cars, Bob Lutz (who was saddened by the demise of Saturn and Pontiac), says plenty about the kinds of cars Saab was making under GM.

But the problem with Saab, ultimately, is not that it “makes bad cars.” That a vocal number of fans are deeply passionate about Saab vehicles, whether built under Spyker, GM or an independent Saab, indicates that Saab’s are not inherently unlovable or fundamentally flawed vehicles. Unfortunately, automotive history is only too well-stocked with defunct brands and manufacturers who went out of business despite selling cars that could capture the love and loyalty of a vocal minority. The reality, however, is that (though exerting a deeply emotional pull) cars are a business. That GM lost over $5k per Saab built between 2001 and 2009 indicates how flawed a business proposition Saab has been for so long (especially considering that GM brought volume back to the brand’s all-time high while using shared platforms).

Thanks to the deeply emotional connection Saab buyers feel towards the brand, one might even make the argument that Saab is worth investing in and overhauling, despite its long record of losing money and failing to achieve a sustainable business model. Though some might argue that Saab lost enough brand identity in the GM era to make such a proposition laughable on its face, it’s worth looking at the possibility (it certainly is to Messrs. Muller and Antonov).

And luckily we have a worthwhile comparison in Jaguar/Land Rover, another marginal European luxury brand that was sold at nearly the same time by Ford. Though Jaguar is a lower-volume luxury brand than Saab, its turnaround will cost its new owners no less than $8.2b, according to the Financial Times. Without even getting too caught up in the differences between JLR and Saab’s business models, what’s clear is that seriously turning around even a low-volume brand requires the backing of a large parent company and a huge amount of investment. If TTAC has been dismissive of Saab’s recent strategy of securing $30 million here, $30 million there, and a few hundred million in government debt, it’s because of precisely this fact. If a turnaround doesn’t begin with serious funding and a committed backer, it’s doomed to fail.

There’s a (possibly apocryphal) story about Henry Kaiser’s post-WWII announcement that he would spend $100 million ($1.25 billion in inflation-adjusted 2011 dollars) to build a car company to challenge the Detroit titans. At the time (1945), GM’s CEO Alfred P. Sloan supposedly quipped “give the gentleman one chip.” One shudders to think what Mr Sloan would think of Saab’s recent adventures in cash-scrounging (not to mention its odds of survival) were he still alive today.

Of course the Saabelievers will probably protest at this juncture that, as a luxury brand, Jaguar/Land Rover would necessarily need more investment than Saab. But not only does this not mean Saab’s relatively tiny resources are up to the task of a major turnaround, and the re-acquisition of 100k units of lost sales, it also points out yet another reason Saab is doomed to fail, namely its position in the market. Clearly not a volume brand any longer (and, with an all-time annual sales record of fewer than 140k units, it’s never properly been one), Saab is also emphatically not a luxury brand. It’s never been aspirational to anyone who aspires to more than being “different,” and thanks to its GM legacy products, neither does it offer any uniquely aspirational vehicles.

The “entry-luxury” market where Saab plays has been a brutal place to do business in recent years, under pressure from Hyundai’s budget-luxury offensive as well as GM’s huge re-investment in its Buick brand. One has only to look at Acura’s recent woes (its US sales fell in half between 2005 and 2009), for a sense of how tough that segment can be for even a well-established brand. And at the point that Saab’s flagship, the 9-5 Aero with 300 HP and AWD costs thousands more than well-established luxury cars with similar performance, like the Audi S4, clearly the brand’s positioning is problematic.

But the problem doesn’t end there: with a Cadillac XTS coming, based on similar Epsilon II mechanicals, the 9-5 will face even more competition from its erstwhile corporate cousins. Other than being slightly heavier and offering blander styling, the 9-4X is largely indistinguishable from a Cadillac SRX. And with Buick importing lithe, understated Opel Insignias to the US as the Regal, you can now buy subtly-distinctive, European-tuned versions of the Epsilon II chassis for nearly $10,000 less than Saab can offer its cheapest 9-3 at. And with Subaru on a roll in the US, Saab’s recent emphasis on all-wheel-drive is likely to be lost in the shuffle as well.

Which brings us to the “what you can do about this” section. By all means, feel free to loudly support the Muller-Antonov attempt to revivify this dead brand walking, but be aware that Antonov’s motives are still largely unknown, while Muller is clearly profiting by stringing Saab along. In any case, if Muller and Antonov could find the backing they would need to seriously turn Saab around, a task that would conservatively cost at least $2-3b (and still not be assured of success), they would have by now. Hoping against hope is a noble pursuit, but one best understood for what it is.

On a more practical level, my suggestion to Saab’s fans who are struggling with the seven stages of grief as they mourn their dying brand is this: don’t get so hung up on brands. After all, Saab’s connection with its history (on the product level) has, after decades of turmoil and foreign ownership, hardly survived in any meaningful way. Instead of holding on to the emotional attachment of owning a vehicle built in Sweden, I’d suggest identifying the elements of Saab-ishness that you like in your automobiles and look for them elsewhere in a market that has no shortage of brands and vehicles. Want a super-quirky, fun-to-drive turbocharged hatch? Go test a Nissan Juke. Want a refined, subtle, European turbocharged front-driver? Look at the Buick Regal (which many journalists at the launch compared to recent turbo Saabs). Want to fit in with the liberal campus crowd? Get a Prius. Need to buy a brand that offers unique mechanicals, a distinctive engine note and an under-the-radar brand? Snag a Subaru.

My point is this: Saab, as a business proposition is not just dying, it’s been as good as dead for decades. No amount of passion or vocal enthusiasm from Saab’s remaining fans can possibly change that. But the good news is that Saab’s values are not lost to the world of new cars. So rather than “shooting the messenger” and attacking TTAC or any other outlet with the guts to write about Saab’s situation with honesty and clarity, perhaps it would be best if Saab fans worked a little bit harder at identifying what about Saabs it was that attracted them to the brand, and seeking those values among the many viable brands and manufacturers still left in the market.

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95 Comments on “Why Saab Is Screwed (And What To Do About It)...”


  • avatar
    TonyJZX

    great piece there

    you may also want to compare and contrast with Volvo, the other more successful handsome cousin

    what have Volvo got that Saab don’t?

    Volvo ironically took $2bn from Geely.

    How has Geely’s approach worked?

    Why did the Chinese govt. approve the sale?

    Why are Volvo’s products different?

    Are Volvo really 1/4 of the net worth of JLR?

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      The funny thing is that the Brits loved Saabs and bashed Volvos 25 years ago. ‘CAR’ magazine had a famous wrap up of all the available models in the back of each issue. It was called, ‘The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.’ Cars were categorized into ‘Interesting,’ ‘Adequate,’ and ‘Boring.’ Poor Volvo had dreadfully ‘Boring’ cars at the time. The 760 was received as a Swedish Malibu. The Volvo 340 was an unfortunate hangover from Volvo’s acquisition of the Dutch joke known as DAF. The Volvo 240 was a doddering antique by the mid ’80s, and CAR summed it up as ‘the second safest car from Sweden,’ the joke being that Saab was the ONLY other car from Sweden. Being #2 meant nothing. My how times change.

    • 0 avatar
      Pig_Iron

      I adore SAAB. My dream daily driver is a turbo coupe/hatch; but I don’t see how SAAB can survive as an independent maker in this global climate, even with massive investment. It would take colossal volume maintain product, design & development costs and improve quality/reliability to current standards.

      And if Chinese consumption is leveling off as claimed by some… that’s another huge inevitable blow. Hoping for best, preparing for the worst.

  • avatar
    turbosaab

    To paraphrase Mark Twain, I believe reports of Saab’s death have been greatly exaggerated. There is still plenty of value in the brand and dealer network, not to mention the brainy engineers, I think someone is going to take it and run with it. Any company that can survive almost 2 decades under the mismanaged yoke of General Motors can probably survive anything.

    The whole Bertel vs. Swade kerfuffle strikes me as rather petty, on both sites. I highly respect Bertel as a writer but in this case his intention was clearly to pick a fight. Swade made a mistake in not updating the domain ownership, and would have been much better served by offering a simple “oops, my mistake, I’m sorry, for the record…” rather than posting a TTAC rant. Come on, guys… grow up.

    • 0 avatar
      Pig_Iron

      I hope you’re right, but Suzukis are excellent vehicles and their dealerships are becoming a rarity in North America.

    • 0 avatar
      Silvy_nonsense

      “Any company that can survive almost 2 decades under the mismanaged yoke of General Motors can probably survive anything.”

      Saab survived two decades of GM mismanagement because they had access to GM’s wallet. Unless someone shows up with a few billion pretty soon, Saab won’t be able to survive its own current mismanagement.

      “There is still plenty of value in the brand and dealer network, not to mention the brainy engineers, I think someone is going to take it and run with it.”

      That “someone” is probably a bankruptcy attorney.

    • 0 avatar
      Sigivald

      There is still plenty of value in the brand and dealer network

      With/for whom?

      I haven’t cared about a Saab since GM ruined the 900 in 1993. (I do like Saabs before then quite a bit.)

      Nobody else I know cares about Saab qua Saab either.

      Does Saab even have a dealer network anymore?

      The only way I see them having a chance is if they differentiated themselves (as our host suggests their one value was) by making an actually quirky car ala the 900 or 90 again – but that also can’t do it.

      It’s just not enough.

  • avatar

    No truer words have been posted on fan sites or forums.

    • 0 avatar
      SVX pearlie

      To be brutally honest, SAAB died in 1985, when they brought out the Fiat-based 9000 (shared with Lancia & Alfa) as an alternative to the ancient (tho long-running) 99/900. At that point, SAAB wasn’t really designing & making their own cars.

      Saab’s more recent push into AWD is a side effect of being a FF carmaker trying to push 220+ hp through the wheels which steer. Oh, to laugh. Then recall the torque steer of the original 9000 Turbo. Oh, to cry. Saab is late to the AWD party, unlike similarly Subaru.

      And Subaru is a great comparison company. Considered “quirky” for ages, due to the agricultural AWD connotations and boxer engines, Subie’s always been big on rock-solid reliable build quality – recall the Justy “It’s a Subaru!”. Plus value “Inexpensive, and built to stay that way”. Subaru never wavered from their under-the-skin quirks, nor stopped building reliable cars at value prices.

      Saab, OTOH, tried to go big, like BMW, but failed hard due to WWD – Wrong Wheel Drive for bad driving dynamics, and insufficient sales & capital to make deep investment in a stronger, broader line. Plus, Saab “quirks” were newbie-unfriendly – not being able to find the ignition switch is off-putting to a potential driver.

      As for GM, they did the best they could with the brand. Objectively, the GM Saabs are probably the best and best-selling cars Saab ever built.

      Too bad GM’s push was too little, too late.

      • 0 avatar
        tonyola

        Exactly right. Saab caused its own problems. In the 1980s, the company made the mistake of pushing into BMW and Audi territory with cars that just weren’t capable enough in that market. The 9000 was not a success in the US, Saab’s biggest market. By 1990, Saab was all but dead with a failed half-caste premium line and a standard line that was 23 years old. Worse, there were no new cars in the pipeline. GM had to start from scratch with the 1993 900, and at first they really made an effort to keep the Saab characteristics. Unfortunately, not enough people wanted those characteristics anymore.

      • 0 avatar
        Signal11

        I remember thinking the same thing right before the 9-2X came out – that Subaru makes a better Saab than Saab does. Looking around, everyone I knew who had owned a Saab in it’s heydays (before my time, really) or who would have owned a Saab rolled in a Subaru instead.

        And then the 9-2X rolled out to the derision of the Saab faithful. I remember thinking, WTF? This thing’s a better Saab and a better all around car than anything else Saab was selling. That’s when I realized that although I’d always kinda wanted one since I was a kid, I’d have to be out of my mind to ever buy a Saab, classics excepted.

        Showing up very, very late to the AWD party didn’t help.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Nice piece — and I’m a Saab owner. The reason I’m a Saab owner (bought a 9-5 wagon in ’02) is that the value proposition (as they say) with so much money on the hood was irresistable, if you wanted a wagon, which I did.

    Now, let’s take a look at the source of Saab’s brand equity, such as it was. We’ll have to use the wayback machine, to go back farther than when many of the B&B were around. The Saab brand equity in the U.S. was that it was a very early FWD car that was larger and more comfortable than the Austin Mini. In the vanguard of the European invasion (just behind VW), it was another quirky (to Americans) car that had certain advantages — compact size, comfort, not particularly thirsty and the fairly benign handling of FWD. Only Audi was selling equivalent FWD cars and their presence in the US market was miniscule. Like the Subaru decades later, the Saab established itself as a cold country favorite in the U.S. The two-stroke engine was an acquired taste to be sure, but Saab thankfully abandoned that concept pretty early on. Saab was a pioneer in maintstreaming turbocharging, so it was able to build a “sporty” image that stodgy Volvo never managed.

    Of course, today, none of those features are unique and Saab, like most of the smaller European marques suffered from diseconomies of scale and from a re-alignment of exchange rates between European countries and the US which — with the exception of the mid-1980s — had the effect of making European cars expensive. Thus the rush up-market by all of the European marques selling in the U.S. (except VW). It’s a basic economic fact that the higher the price of a product, the less demand (in terms of volume) there is for it. So, the result was the inevitable winnowing of the Europeans in the U.S. market. I don’t think that winnowing is over; I think Volvo will be next to go unless it can relocate production out of Europe. Interestingly, Volvo appears to be trying to shed it’s image of being the “safe” mom-and-the-kids mobile and is trying to transform itself into a maker of yet another “sport sedan.”

    VW clearly realizes the problem, with their opening of a production facility in the US (which the WSJ claims will have labor rates that undercut everyone in the US, even the Korean and Japanese transplants) and their decontenting of their cars so as to avoid pricing themselves into the difficult “near luxury” market.

    And I wouldn’t bet a whole lot of money on Acura, either. Although it’s interesting that their most successful vehicle is the TL sedan, which is built in the U.S. Job 1 for Acura is finding a decent exterior designer. A few more years of building automotive Pokemon characters and they’ll be toast.

    • 0 avatar
      SVX pearlie

      Good point on the FWD Turbos in a time of RWD V-8s which, unfortunately, has been caught by the rest of the industry.

      The Saab Turbo was awesome in its day, but now, it’s pedestrian, squeezed between the Japanese (and now Koreans) offering better-built FWD Turbos, and the Germans offering better-performing, better-handling RWD sedans.

  • avatar
    snabster

    Nice try Ed. But really, stick to cars, not industry analysis.

    Here’s the mystery. Why do people want to put money into the company. The russian gangster could presumably but SAAB into liquidation tomorrow and buy out the tool and move them to Russia cheaper. Victor Muller is losing money — and a lot of equity — regardless of his bonus. The Chinese? Rough allegations aren’t facts either.

    I’ve always thought, from the Farago era onwards, what drove TTAC nuts about SAAB was people LIKED the company, despite how many years of boring, generic product. It is tough being likable. I’m the first the admit that isn’t a business plan either.

    Bring back a 9-3 hatch, and the 9-5 wagon, and SAAB had a fighting chance.

    • 0 avatar
      TEXN3

      It was a great article… Companies can’t be run on hopes and dreams. Or fans wishing for products which were really never superior to anything else. Of course, I say that as a Subaru owner with a father in law as a Saab owner.

    • 0 avatar
      Silvy_nonsense

      “Why do people want to put money into the company.”

      Ego? Poor business analysis skills? Foolishly doubling down on a losing bet? People make poor decisions all the time.

      “what drove TTAC nuts about SAAB was people LIKED the company”

      The problem is that the group of people who like the company is very, very small, isn’t growing fast enough (if at all) and can’t sustain the business.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    As far as your picture you chose above, I think a better choice would be to use the old 60′s – 70′s drawing of a man with a giant screw through his midsection!

    I find it amazing that in the face of futility, hangers-on and lovers of the Saab brand just refuse to face reality. That reality appears to my insulated-from-the-nuts-and-bolts auto world that it’s all over but for the shouting.

    TTAC, rock on!

  • avatar

    When the ABC Widget Works no longer produces widgets that can be sold at margins healthy enough to sustain that company, it withers and dies. There’s no room for sentimentality. That’s it. Period. End of sentence.

    Temporarily propping up failed companies only forestalls the inevitable… whether we’re talking about Russian mob cash, ChiCom credit, or US taxpayer funds.

    • 0 avatar
      PenguinBoy

      Not always true – 10 years ago, Apple was supposedly dead. Not saying that Saab is a good candidate for a turnaround, just that this varies on a case by case basis and broad generalizations are not that useful.

      • 0 avatar
        Silvy_nonsense

        Rob Finfrock is absolutely correct that emotional attachment is no reason to sustain a dying enterprise. If you can fix a screwed up business based on the numbers and you have or can get the money, by all means go for it, but throwing money at a business for sentimental reasons is foolish. In Saab I see lots of sentimentality, but no business case.

      • 0 avatar
        Sigivald

        The difference being that “supposedly dead” in Apple’s case meant analysts saying “Boo” – but the company was profitable.

        (It might well have died if the iPod hadn’t come around and if OSX hadn’t turned out as well as it had, but even before both of those*, it was still turning a profit.

        *OSX was out in 2001, a decade ago, but just barely, and it was so new and rough that it wasn’t obviously a long-term winner yet.)

        Saab doesn’t have the giant virtue of making money, or offering a really compelling product…

  • avatar

    For some strange reason I find myself simply not wanting Saab to die. Maybe it is just my desire not to see any manufacturer die, but I think there is something more. I am not a Saab fan as such, although I have a soft-spot for non-German euro car manufacturers. Saab is attractive as a brand that has attempted to put some passion and flair into its cars. Unfortunately in many cases it has failed.

    I owned a Saab 9000 for a couple of years, but was more than happy to see it go. It was completely uninspiring to drive, and after a few expensive mechanical repairs I couldn’t wait to offload it. Only finances kept me from selling it sooner.

    I accept that although I don’t like to see Saab go to its death, unless I am willing to buy one (which is unlikely) I have little right to complain.

  • avatar
    tparkit

    The Russian mob, a straw investor from China… what could go wrong?

  • avatar
    CarCrazy24

    This is well said, but I hope it’s wrong. I am a huge fan of Saab and their general “weirdness”. Most cars these days, anything from Toyotas to BMWs, are all cookie-cutters copycats of appliances. Saabs have been going this route during the 80s through to the 2000s, but I have hope that the 9-5 sedan and the new 9-3 and 9-2 that are planned will change some minds. As for their history, you’re right, no company can rely simply on an innovative past for a fruitful future.

    But I think this company is worth saving, and is one of the few with the vision to tackle the automotive equation a little differently from the rest. I hope they survive to make cars that will be a modern representation of the vintage Saabs from the 50s to the 70s that defined the brand and made them so special.

  • avatar
    Dr Lemming

    Edward adopts an argument that comes surprisingly close to the conventional wisdom. I’m surprised by that; isn’t TTAC supposed to be a more iconoclastic media brand?

    Sure, Saab is dead. Sure, GM dumped a lot of money into Saab — even though by conventional standards it didn’t invest in the brand to the degree needed for GM’s chosen business model to be successful.

    That said, I’d flatly challenge Ed’s assumption that an independent needs big money to survive. There are all kinds of examples of the opposite, e.g., AMC in the late 50s and early 60s was quite successful with a strikingly narrow and old range of compacts.

    The most successful independents target markets that the bigger players won’t or can’t easily enter. That doesn’t require big money so much as the ability to refuse to be engulfed by what Brock Yates once referred to as “Grosse Point myopia.” In other words, group think.

    Of course, it isn’t enough to presciently trailblaze a new market. Fatal weaknesses in styling, engineering, production processes and/or customer service can snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

    However, the more sharply an independent deviates from the conventional wisdom of an era, the more likely that the market will give it the benefit of the doubt when problems arise. For example, the original Jeep Wagoneer’s overhead cam six suffered from such serious reliability problems that it was quickly pulled from the market. Yet Wagoneer sales steadily grew due to the uniqueness of its market niche.

    Subaru management has long understood this basic dynamic much better than Saab. That pretty much explains why Subaru has survived and Saab is toast.

    Saab was doomed to failure at GM because 1) GM is too mass market-oriented to do smaller niches very well, and 2) Saab was too quirky to be expanded into a conventional premium-priced brand.

    • 0 avatar
      Domestic Hearse

      Sure, an independendent might possibly survive without a huge investment from a huge, backing corporate sponsor. I’ll allow, it’s possible.

      But there’s one element Saab needs, going forward, that absolutely positively will sink it….

      Lack of a captive finance arm.

      Right now, Saab’s ex-parent’s ex-bank (GMAC/Ally) is writing Saab paper. Even agreed to help out with a low lease during the new 9-5 launch (and even that isn’t creating demand).

      Understand, that without GMAC’s support during Saab’s entire period under GM ownership, it wouldn’t have come anywhere near the numbers in Ed’s chart. Subsidized leasing was the only thing that kept Saab afloat. Propped up residuals and low monthly terms accounted for 75-80% of the retail units delivered. How else was Saab (already losing $5000 per unit the minute each rolled off the assembly line) going to compete with Japanese and German entry-luxury vehicles?

      So sure, I’ll grant everyone the possibility that Saab may be able to make a go of it with a far smaller turn-around investment than Jaguar Land Rover. But without its own “bank” buying-down leases, there’s no way Saab makes it. And once the Ally agreement runs out, this — more than any other reason — is why Saab dies.

    • 0 avatar
      SVX pearlie

      At one point Subaru was partly GM-owned, hence the Saabaru 9-2x…

      Subaru definitely gets their niche. But their cars are also better built, and cost $5k to $10k less than the comparable Saab.

    • 0 avatar
      DC Bruce

      What was possible in the 1960s is not possible now. Today’s cars are infinitely more complex, and today’s buyers are infinitely more demanding in terms of reliability. A car is a product where scale economies matter hugely.

      The “niche” you are talking about is occupied by six-figure vanity machines whose principal value resides in their relative unavailability and the opulence of their interiors. Just like the expensive, designer mechanical watches you will see advertised on the pages of the Wall Street Journal. It is, I think, a serious question whether even most of those manufacturers even make money . . . or whether the the whole thing is a vanity exercise or a “halo” exercise for a larger, more pedestrian brand — like VW’s ownership of Bentley.

  • avatar
    RGS920

    I just don’t see anything in Saab’s product line (excluding concepts) that excites me. I guess the last Saab that really got any of my attention was the 9-3 viggen.

    I think the current 9-3 would sell well at about $22,000. But for $30,000 there are just so many awsome cars it has to compete against.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      $22,000 is what the 9-3 has been advertised for at a number of US dealers. Two months into this years, 77% of Saabs sold were 2010 models, a perilous number only exceeded by Smart. I guess there still weren’t enough people willing to risk $22,000 on a car that GM might not stand behind once Saab is gone.

  • avatar

    Let me first just say, it isn’t over until the doors of the factory have shut for the final time. Yes I am a Saab enthusiast and yes I do hold hope for the brand. How you can say Saab is in the same league as Hyundai is beyond me. Here in Australia Hyundai is what we call throw away cars. You buy them brand new for $15,000 drive them for 5 years and then you take them to the wreckers. As for calling Buick a a European brand? You do realise that its American right? And last time I checked America wasn’t in Europe.

    Now as for finding the attributes that my Saab has in other cars. Well one of the biggest draw cards for me is that it’s European. I don’t want to drive some fuel guzzling American piece of plastic, I don’t want to drive some Asian car that yearns to be European or some Australian build that yearns to be American. So that kills off most of the other brands in the world. So what we have left is the few European brands. BMW, Audi, Volkswagen, Skoda, Mercedes and Volvo. I don’t like Volvo, they are ugly square boxes with no style whatsoever. Skoda may turn out to be a reasonable car in the future, but for now they are ugly and cheap looking. Every stuck up twit drives a BMW, plus BMW’s rides are way to soft (I like to be able to feel the texture of the road I’m driving on), Mercedes are priced well above Saab and aren’t really that appealing to me (I’m not fond of small Sydney Harbour Bridge styled windows that are too small to see out of). So that leaves Audi and Volkswagen.

    I don’t mind Audi, but I find that their interiors are drab and their air vents look like the designers forgot to put them in and then cut holes in the dashboard and shoved some piping in there and hoped for the best. Plus from the front the A3 looks exactly like the A4 which looks exactly like the A5. Come on Audi differentiate your cars a bit, I mean, they don’t even look slightly different. Oh and for all the people that criticise Saab for sharing platforms with lesser brands… Audi A3= Volkswagen Golf and Audi A4= Volkswagen Passat. Shame shame shame.

    Ok so now we are down to Volkswagen, again I don’t mind Volkswagen, but again I find their interiors to be a very boring and uninspiring place to be with their flat boring dashboards.

    So, IF Saab where to close up shop, then I guess I’d have to become another “Me To” and drive something that everybody else drives. It’d most likely be an Audi A3 or perhaps a Volkswagen Passat, neither of which I am overly joyed about, but if worse comes to worse then I’m sure Volkswagen will be thrilled to learn that they would be a few customers closer to complete world domination (we all know thats their goal), but for now I’ll remain happy and hopeful driving my 9-5.

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      “As for calling Buick a a European brand? You do realise that its American right? And last time I checked America wasn’t in Europe.”

      Oh yeah? America has been in Europe ever since June 6, 1944! They’re still there, ha ha!

      • 0 avatar
        Silvy_nonsense

        @ Zackman – America is where ever we say it is. (Relax, non-Americans, we’re just joking around! For the most part.)

        @ Sean – Be an individual all you want, but there are too few of you individuals to sustain Saab’s business. Sentimentality is no reason to double down on a losing bet.

      • 0 avatar
        PVDave

        @ Zackman:

        1) Tacky, very tacky

        2) The Allies (including the U.S. Fifth Army) invaded Italy on September 3rd, 1943. Last I checked, Italy is consided part of Europe. If you’re going to be tacky, at least get the dates right.

      • 0 avatar

        Mr Moloney: You’ve made my point for me. Yes, I know Buick is an American brand, but the Regal is a rebadged Opel Insignia. The point of my piece is that Saab-like products are available in nearly every market, so long as you’re willing to look past your emotional brand attachments and objectively evaluate products on their own merit. Perhaps Regal falls into your “yearning to be American” category, but if you look past the brand you’ll find that it uses the same platform as the 9-5, with the same 2.0T Ecotec you find in the 9-3 and 9-5, as well as European-developed handling and the Insignia’s sleek, subtle styling. Oh, and it starts at nearly $10,000 less than the cheapest 9-3.

        The point that I’m trying to make with this whole piece is that brands delude, and that you have to look at the product. The Regal isn’t a perfect car, but I still haven’t heard anything that explains why it’s so fundamentally different than a Saab that it can’t be considered a “close enough” substitute.

        Also, you may want to revisit a few of your perceptions about the new car market. Hyundai has left its “disposable car” rep behind with its latest generation of Elantra, Sonata, i40, Tucson (ix35), new Accent and Genesis/Equus luxury cars (the latter of which are helping kill “entry luxury” sales by offering full-sized, rear-drive luxury at low, low prices). Also, if BMW’s suspensions are “too soft” I wonder that any car truly satisfies you.

        Ultimately I sympathize with your desire to express your individualism in your choice of car… as the owner of a very unique car that sold horribly when new (BMW Z3 M Coupe), I realize that true automotive individualism requires sacrifices (specifically buying used). More importantly, I don’t expect any company to survive by chasing individualists who, by their nature, don’t want a popular car (or, rather, don’t want their car to become too popular).

      • 0 avatar
        Zackman

        @PVDave:

        The “soft under-belly” of Europe, in the larger scheme of things, didn’t count. In WWll, only northern Europe really mattered. Unfortunately, the lives and property lost as a whole really did matter.

  • avatar
    mhadi

    SAABs saga is similar to Rover’s. Once a producer of cars that the Prime Minister of England and her ministers used to drive, that company in effect ceased independence in 1965 when it merged into the various incarnations of what became British Leyland. After that, it was just a name.

    As a Rover fan, to me that company existed from 1885 to 1965, despite the name living on to 2005.

    SAAB fans should remember that SAAB really stopped being SAAB a long time ago. A SAAB 9-2 was nothing more than a Subaru. The last 9-3 was a GM platform. The current 9-5 is a GM clone. SAAB was a lost cause when it’s parent company SAAB-SCANIA decided it did not want to continue in the car business, but instead focus on the profitable aspects of their business.

    To me, the nicest tale of all is the Wolseley company – starting out in 1887 as a sheep shearing tool manufacturer, diversifying into the car business in 1901, then sold off it’s car division, which then became defunct in 1975 under it’s new owners. But the original company still exists today as a heating/plumbing business with the same trademark they used back then. At the end of the day it is a business intended to make money, and they focused on where the money was / is.

    Sound advice is for SAAB enthusiasts to try to find a viable company that makes products they can enjoy, or to enjoy the old SAABs they have / can still buy.

    • 0 avatar

      Graham-Paige stopped making cars in 1940, and Kaiser-Frazer bought their automotive assets after the war but the company’s real estate holdings kept it in business. In 1962 G-P changed its name to Madison Square Garden Corporation. I believe that today it may survive as part of Viacom.

      Companies change. CCM, the Canadian company today known for hockey equipment and other sports gear, was originally a cartel of bicycle makers, including John and Horace Dodge.

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      Not sure how this fits, but when I worked for a small company that was formed in 1909, it eventually sold itself to a larger entity in 1983 and became part of a larger group, it also took the group’s name. Then its operation eventually shut down and it is no more.

      Thing is, the “company” itself still exists – as a “paper” company. It produces nothing. Not sure what it does, but there must be money in it somewhere.

      Can’t you tell I’m no businessman?

  • avatar
    ajla

    On a more practical level, my suggestion to Saab’s fans who are struggling with the seven stages of grief as they mourn their dying brand is this: don’t get so hung up on brands.

    While this is certainly the most mature way to do things, I can tell you that it doesn’t work. The Mustang GT and Mazda6s are great, but they are never going to be a Trans Am or Grand Prix.

    My best advice to Saab fans is to start buying used Saabs and keep them running as long as possible.

    Brand loyalty is a very unfortunate thing.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      My first two cars were Plymouths. By the time Plymouth died, I’d long since moved on and the last Plymouths amounted to a different sticker set and a limited option list on a few Dodges, with the exception of the limited production Prowler. In hindsight, Plymouth was better off going away when they did. At least the Plymouth name was never used to market awful Mitsubishis like the Chrysler Sebring or reskinned Mercedes like the Crossfire or Charger. I prefer the fate of Plymouth to that of other cars I’ve owned and enjoyed. The Mercedes name is still around, but the cars don’t have anything in common with my 240D. The BMW name is still around, but the cars are no longer the ultimate driving machines, management having correctly determined that fashionistas are a much more profitable market than driving enthusiasts. Makes me want to vomit when I think about it, which I find that I hardly ever do anymore. The FIAT name is back from the dead in the US, but the product it is attached to couldn’t be any more of a rejection of what I liked about FIAT. Old FIATs had engines that screamed to elevated redlines. They had bodies that pointed to where car design could or would go, not bodies that recalled 50 year old shapes that were meant for completely different chassis layouts. They were built in Italy too, for that matter. The new ones may or may not be more reliable, but there is no longer any reason to take the chance. Based on my experience, I’d prefer Saab finally die were I a Saab fan too. It is worse when meaningful names like BMW, Mercedes and Fiat live on after their meanings are dead.

      • 0 avatar
        Zackman

        Wow. That was good. I agree 100% on all points. ‘Nuff said.

      • 0 avatar
        cfclark

        “At least the Plymouth name was never used to market awful Mitsubishis like the Chrysler Sebring”

        Well, there was the Plymouth Sapporo. ;) But I agree with what you’ve said.

        I’m concerned that Subaru may be headed down the same road, long-term, as SAAB–I recently test-drove a new Legacy, and I wasn’t that impressed, particularly with the interior, which wasn’t nearly as well-done as the interior of my (by now somewhat tired) 2003 Outback. At least the fake plastic wood in my car is quality fake plastic wood; the new car’s interior materials would be right at home in a rental Cobalt. But maybe that’s just par for the course now. (Which means why go out of the way to look at a Subaru or SAAB when plenty of more conventional brands offer the same experience.)

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        Nailed me cfclark! I also forgot the Fire Arrow. In my defense, the Fire Arrow and Sapparo were much more desirable relative to their competition than the Galants/200s/Avengers are today.

      • 0 avatar
        Sigivald

        The Mercedes name is still around, but the cars don’t have anything in common with my 240D

        True; they don’t emit smoke or burn oil, and they can get to 60 in under 20 seconds.

        (I kid, because I love – I drive a ’76 300D.

        But I hear the modern Mercedes is starting to be built to a quality standard again, at long last…)

    • 0 avatar
      SVX pearlie

      @alja: “My best advice to Saab fans is to start buying used Saabs and keep them running as long as possible.”

      Of course, if they were actual Saab fans, and had bought some NEW Saabs, the company wouldn’t be dying…

  • avatar

    Edward, that was awesome – you’ve got a new fan! I’m a four-time Saab owner, but I wholeheartedly agree with you. Saab needs to be killed and put out of its misery. It’s past the point of being painful to watch the old fans hope and plead for survival. It’s now become pathetic.

  • avatar
    majorfrn

    You’re both nuts. This whole plan is nuts. It can’t work. I am totally in.
    —Max, Scandal Sheet

    McCoy: So you’re saying you want to go backwards in time; find some of these whales; bring them forward in time; and hope to hell that they tell this probe what to go do with itself??!!
    Kirk: That’s the general idea.
    McCoy: But that’s crazy!!!!!!
    Kirk: You’ve got a better idea?? Now’s the time.

    Lord Beckett: You’re mad!
    Jack Sparrow: Thank goodness for that, ’cause if I wasn’t this would probably never work.

    Trinity: Nobody has ever tried anything like this before.
    Neo: That’s why it’s going to work.

    Astrid: What are you going to do now?
    Hiccup: Something stupid.
    Astrid: Okay, but…you’ve already done that.
    Hiccup: Then something crazy.
    Astrid: That’s more like it.

    and finally…

    Shika: Well, it sounds crazy, but—
    Maryoku: Good! Follow me!
    Shika: But I said it sounds crazy!
    Maryoku: Yet you’re still going to give it a chance. That’s so nice.

    • 0 avatar

      Best thing said on this yet

      Att Mr. Ed and BS_

      I’ll call back in 2-3 years with a comment.

      • 0 avatar

        I’ll call back in 2-3 years with a comment.

        If we’re running stories about Saab by then, I’ll be stunned. And more than happy to admit I was wrong, I should add. But given that my sales numbers and counter-examples are being met with Hollywood movie quotes, I have to say, I’m at a loss as to where this optimism is coming from.

        Tell you what: TTAC has a long history of publishing rebuttals, and I’m more than happy to publish anything that coherently argues against the realities that I’ve laid out in this piece. If there’s a strong analysis out there that explains how Saab is going to recover 100k sales per year and then grow past that level (which was financially unsustainable even with GM’s technology and platforms) at the current levels of funding, I’m still waiting to hear it. Since not even the Saab fan sites are running that piece, I guess we might as well publish it here.

        So, instead of once again shooting the messenger, roll up those sleeves and actually sell us on why Saab will survive. Send your drafts to our contact form, and I will publish the strongest argument we get. Then you will have had the same opportunity that Bertel and myself have, and TTAC’s readers will be able to compare the two positions rather than having to endure an endless stream of faith-based optimism and “you must just hate Saab” irrelevance.

      • 0 avatar

        It’s not really my job to do the investigating and checking of facts.
        That’s your job.
        Try doing that, as opposed to opinion pieces

      • 0 avatar
        TEXN3

        It’s rather obvious that you don’t know how TTAC works, if you a blog to service your needs and opinions, you’ll need to look elsewhere.

      • 0 avatar

        Ok, then let me re-phrase my statement:
        I haven’t staked my reputation and credability as a qualified writers and analysts on the fact that Saab dies.
        Messieurs Ed and BS has.
        I just have to wait, so they better be right.
        They have failed a couple of times before regarding Saab, so they have something to prove.

      • 0 avatar
        Syke

        In other words, don’t expect any effort and intelligence in a rebuttal, just expect a lot of joyous jumping up and down yelling “I told you so!” if Ed is proved wrong.

        Yeah, just another typical member of the Best and the Brightest.

      • 0 avatar

        Yeah..
        Which is about the same thing most of the commenteers here will also do if Saab dies.
        There are lots of other places where you can get another evaluation and analysis of the Saab situation.

        Point is that Mr. Ed and BS can only go in the direction they have started on, trying to prove themselves right.
        Even is Saab lives in 5 years they will expect doom around the corner.

    • 0 avatar
      Sigivald

      They laughed at Einstein.

      But they also laughed at Bozo, and at the Timecube guy.

  • avatar
    KitaIkki

    Saab has never developed its own engine. It’s lucky to have “survived” this long.

    • 0 avatar

      Thats actually wrong. The Saab H engine was produced and used by Saab in the 90, 99, 900 , the 9000, 9-3 (1998-2003) and the original 9-5. Before this Saab produced its B engine which was based on a Triumph engine.

      I am convinced that if Saab can survive this hurdle and go on to launch its new models then it will once again become a relevant and competitive company. Think about it. In Europe around 80% of 9-5 sales are traditionally of the SportCombi body style, the current SportCombi is yet to be launched. The 9-4x has just been launched to the media who have given it pretty good reviews most of which declare it as a worthy competitor to its competitors. The new 9 3 which is Saab’s volume seller is to be launched in 2012 and is to be based on the PhoeniX concept which gained quite positive remarks from the public and press alike.

      But if the unimaginable (for us Saab fans) were to happen, then I guess we fans can take comfort in the fact that Saab went out as an independent company. But, if in 5 years Saab is still around and producing cars, then Mr Niedermeyer, it would be quite entertaining to watch you print this article and eat your words. Indeed, indeed

      • 0 avatar
        geozinger

        @Sean: Saab also had a hand in the design of the GM Ecotec lineup of 4 cylinder gasoline engines. IIRC, the basic design of the Ecotec was a Saab design, with enhancements from Lotus and Opel. But I haven’t been able to find that kind of info on Wikipedia.

  • avatar

    I’m hoping that Edward will write an analysis of Volvo and discuss where they’re headed. If Volvo survives, I believe it will be outside the U.S.

    • 0 avatar
      SVX pearlie

      Volvo will survive because they were bought by the Chinese.

      As a cost-cutting measure, everything expensive besides the Engineering staff will be excised.

      But the Chinese will “save” Volvo, in their own way. Of that, you can be sure.

  • avatar
    KitaIkki

    Subaru could save the Saab “brand.”

    Wait until Saab is liquidated, buy the brand IP on the cheap. Bring out a retro Turbo 900 on WRX mechanicals. (All true Saabs have longitudinal engines)

    But there is no rational reason for Subaru to do that.

    • 0 avatar
      SVX pearlie

      Exactly. Subaru does better engineering than Saab ever did, so there’s no IP they would gain from Saab.

      Volkswagen could buy Saab, if only to have yet another brand in the stable.

  • avatar
    Tstag

    Let’s just bear in mind that JLR is nowhere near as sick as SAAB. According to the Financial Times it’s about to turn a profit of 1.1 billion pounds sterling for the last 12 months. The fact that TATA is now pumping in another 8 billion pounds is more about chasing new revenue streams from new models than it is about fixing a fundemenally sick company.

    SAAB is more like Rover, except even Rover sold more cars!

  • avatar

    Though Jaguar is a lower-volume luxury brand than Saab, its turnaround will cost its new owners no less than $8.2b, according to the Financial Times.

    This is the core sentence of this fantastic piece, and a fact which many mathematically challenged or simply delusional people ignore – at their financial peril if they go into the car business.

    It takes huge amounts of capital to start a volume brand and to keep it above water. Just to develop a single car from the ground up costs well over a billion dollars – unless you have access to kits and platforms inside of the company. You need more than a single car to keep a car company alive. Even an oligarch like Vladimir Antonov would be long broke before just one new car is finished. 100 million may impress someone who bought his last Saab 12 years ago, but in the car business, it barely pays for the advertising.

    With 100K units a year, you can survive (barely) with a big mothership backing you – alone, you are dead. With 30,000 units, you are deader than dead. To develop, test, certify a car costs the same (obscene amounts) whether you are selling 30,000 or 3 million.

    According to the Ghosns and Marchionnes of this world, you need 5 million units a year to survive. BMW and Daimler do it with a bit over a million. But their cars are expensive, and during a recession, even BMW and Daimler flirt with disaster.

    No Muller, Antonov, Pangda can save Saab. The only savior would be a big manufacturer that has use for a foreign brand, no matter how damaged. That would be one of the top 10 Chinese. They are not stupid. They will not buy a going concern with huge legacy costs. You don’t want to know how much it costs to let some 4000 people go in Sweden – unless the company is taken bankrupt.

    • 0 avatar
      Tstag

      “According to the Ghosns and Marchionnes of this world, you need 5 million units a year to survive. BMW and Daimler do it with a bit over a million. But their cars are expensive, and during a recession, even BMW and Daimler flirt with disaster.”

      Really Bertel? Flirt with disaster? That’s a strong an inaccurate statement if ever I read one.

      Take JLR (the weakest of the British/ German premium brands) they are about to turn a profit of 1 billion having lost a few hundred million during the course of the recession. Even JLR are bouncing back very strongly.

      SAAB is no JLR. JLR is very profitable and has a parent willing to spend Billions to return even more cash from more models.

      SAAB is more like Rover. The message here is that unless you sell lots and lots of cars like Toyota then you need to be a Premium car make to survive with enough volume to make good margins. SAAB is neither.

      • 0 avatar

        My friend, I worked in the German auto industry – intimately – for more than 30 years. I followed the industry through countless boom and bust cycles. I ghostwrote books that earned high executives a professor title. BMW was in deep trouble after the 2008 financial crisis when buying Bimmers was not the politically correct thing to do. In the first quarter of 2009, they burned 2 million Euro per day. In the same quarter, Daimler lost 1.3 billion Euros, that’s 14 million per day. You need to be a very strong company to get through this alive. At that time, there were persistent rumors that both would have to merge.
        They were saved by the tanking Euro, by a resulting export boom and by China, which started buying BMWs and Mercedeses as if they would be going out of style. BMW and Daimler were lucky. Luck is infatuated with the efficient. If they would have been financed like Saab, they would be long dead.

      • 0 avatar
        SVX pearlie

        “Flirt with disaster?”

        Hey, the recession only cost Porsche its independence…

        Which is really funny, because you’d think after the previous go, and nearly going under water, Porsche would have been a lot smarter about American dependence…

    • 0 avatar
      Silvy_nonsense

      Bertel, quit supporting your views with objective data and stop forming complex ideas based on multiple variables. Who do you think you are, some highly-knowledgeable industry insider with decades of experience?

      Please leave the comment section to those of us who’ve mastered the arts of presenting our opinion as fact and quoting anecdotal evidence as statistically representative.

  • avatar
    Paul W

    For those of you who think that Saabs have become too expensive – don’t forget that Spyker intends to move Saab even FURTHER up-market…

  • avatar
    Rod Panhard

    I’d agree with Mr. Niedermeyer if he hadn’t contradicted himself. I’d also agree with Mr. Scmitt, except that most of his posts seem to be intended to inflame, rather than inform. Hence his comment about Mercedes and BMW just scraping by when the economy gets bad. That was true in the 70s, but with all due respect sir, it ain’t the 70s Mr. Schmitt.

    As we’ve seen on TTAC, there is no such thing as an “all new” design. There’s carry over on parts and intellectual property on all vehicles. There’s brand heritage. There’s dealer networks and distribution. There’s racing heritage. There’s an affinity with car magazines. Yeah, I know, the buff mags are dying but still, all that has value. It has lots and lots of value.

    Saab’s success in the U.S., which is still a pretty damn good car market by the way, exceeds Fiat, Peugeot, Renault, Saturn and Hummer. Land Rover died and came back as Range Rover. When Elon Musk whips up a batch by hand, he dreams of Tesla selling as many cars as Saab.

    Fiat and Tesla have almost none of that. What they do have is these things are being marketed and sold in the same way as women’s handbags. And in case you haven’t looked up and down your streets, that’s why the lady next door has a C class and the family next door has a 5-series. It’s about fashion now and car guys, like us, have been left behind.

    Does Tiffany get by selling $125 friendship rings? No. It’s by selling cachet in a little blue cardboard box. It’s diamonds are diamonds. It’s 22 karat gold is still 22 karat gold. A guy like Antonov only has to look out his window and see the Stolichnaya distillery to see how something that was once utilitarian (distilled potatoes and Moscow tap water) was turned into a luxury brand.

    The same thing can happen with Saab. Sure, it’ll take money. It’ll take brains. But all the pieces are there. It’s got a helluva lot more going for it than Fiat.

    • 0 avatar

      Do you have an idea how long it takes to reposition a brand? I was there when Audi was absorbed into Volkswagen. Come to think of it, one of my first jobs as a junior copywriter was to write copy for the first joint Volkswagen/Audi dealer meeting, some 40 years ago. Audi had an awful image at the time, it was a car driven by schoolteachers and accountants. It took more than 30 years, huge investments into industry leading technology, and a lot of work to turn Audi into a credible premium brand. That was done by automotive geniuses such as Walter Treser or Ferdinand Piech. This is a tough business, and nothing for playboys with small budgets and big dreams. If you want to get nauseous, download the Spyker annual report. That man never turned a profit with cars. Once I find a huge factory for snake oil, I’ll put the man in charge.

      • 0 avatar
        Rod Panhard

        Thanks! You made my point. It took Jaguar, Land Rover and MINI a helluva lot less time to achieve their current status as premium brands than Audi.

      • 0 avatar
        SVX pearlie

        You’re aware that MINI survives because it has good volume and cast-off 3-er tech & bits to bring the cost down, right?

        If MINI were stand-alone, it’d be dead.

      • 0 avatar
        th009

        Jaguar and Land Rover (really Range Rover) were luxury brands long before Ford took them over.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        The Range Rover launched over 40 years ago. Jaguar was building premium sedans in the late ’50s. Their SS100 was a premium product in 1936. Mini is the marriage of product and marketing. It is marketed as fun, it looks like fun, and the dealer experience is the same for Mini buyers as it is for BMW buyers. Good BMW dealers make Mini customer feel appreciated, and bad ones make them feel condescended to, just like they do when someone wants a 5 series for an advertised price. I suppose Mini is a premium product, as the small number of people who buy them pay more for them than they do a similarly sized Kia or Nissan. It still isn’t particularly premium when the transaction prices are industry average. If you can afford a new car, there is a Mini you can buy.

        Now lets look at what Saab needs to duplicate the overnight success of BMW using a storied name from the past to branch into small, inexpensive FWD cars with brilliant styling. The first element is product. They don’t have it. Current Saabs are GM tanks with indifferent dynamics and performance. The 9-3 and 9-4x are invisible. The 9-5 may be, as I can’t recall seeing one. None of them speak to the Saabs that people were once aware of, with the possible exception of the convertible. Too bad that segment is now dominated by cars with retractable hardtops. Saab needs a sub-3,000 lbs two door hatchback that combines Mini driving dynamics, a compliant ride, great seats, a true 4 seat interior with a roofline that stays flat to the top of the hatch,a trunk so big people get their friends out of the office to see it, and two engines offerings. The first should be comparable in performance to a 2.5 liter Toyota engine and be available in a car that can be advertised for $24,995. It can’t be on a GM floor pan, which is revealed by the weight. Even the Daewoo Cruze weighs more. The second engine would be forced induction, and the car simply called the Saab Turbo. It should split the difference in speed between the 328i and 335i, but cost a bit less than a 328. This would get us to the marketing past, but the problems are already revealed. There is no money to develop this unique new product, and there is no way to break even selling it for the prices I’ve mentioned. It would represent about the same value proposition as the Mini line does, but the Mini sells in tiny numbers anyway through dealers that are supported by being full line BMW outlets. Saab is dead. They fought the good fight and kept fighting when it was clearly the bad one, but they just aren’t going to ever make a go of selling Saabs.

    • 0 avatar
      Silvy_nonsense

      “The same thing can happen with Saab. Sure, it’ll take money. It’ll take brains. But all the pieces are there.”

      So all Saab needs is billions of dollars for engineering and production development, visionary leadership, an energized and engaged dealer body and hundreds of millions for marketing to let people worldwide know about all these great changes? I had no idea that turning around a multi-billion dollar manufacturing enterprise was that easy!

  • avatar
    Truckducken

    Ed, I wholeheartedly agree with everything you said. My only wish is that you’d also declared an end to articles about this headless, rat-gnawed corpse. This topic has become meaningless and tiresome. Let’s move on.

  • avatar
    DDayJ

    I’ve only owned Saabs, and before that, Pontiacs (with one Audi in between for good measure). Guess I have a knack for picking brands…

    I thought this was a really good piece, and I’m an owner of a 2006 9-3 and a big Saab fan. Shortly after I got it, I was giving my friend a ride, I remember them saying, “this is a really nice car, what is it?”. When I told them it was a Saab they thought they went out of business years ago.

  • avatar
    CarPerson

    Why such a lengthy article for something this obvious?

    When Saab was kicked out of the nest, it was unmistakeably obvious they were headed into a situation where they had 25-30% of the capital they needed to be a viable company.

    Since absolutely nothing has changed and it appears it won’t, why are some clinging to the notion this is a ongoing auto manufacturer? They had a good run and now it’s over. It is a uncomplicated as that.

    • 0 avatar
      SVX pearlie

      “When Saab was kicked out of the nest, it was unmistakeably obvious they were headed into a situation where they had 25-30% of the capital they needed to be a viable company.”

      When GM (foolishly) picked up Saab, they had NONE of the capital they needed to be a viable company.

  • avatar
    moedaman

    I’ll probably get a lot of heat for this, but what the hell.

    What exactly would be lost if SAAB went under? The company was always a niche player and none of it’s vehicles were all that good. Sure they built some interesting stuff, but what have they done in the last twenty years to make them stand out compared to their competition? As far as I can tell, the worst thing about this brand/company going away would be the nostelga factor.

    Sorry if you get angry for my comments, but that’s just the way I look at this.

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      “What exactly would be lost if SAAB went under?”

      Probably exactly the same thing that happened after a couple of hundred other auto makers went away or were absorbed in the last 110 years or so – absolutely nothing.

      Sad, but true…life goes on.

  • avatar
    Mackee

    “And at the point that Saab’s flagship, the 9-5 Aero with 300 HP and AWD costs thousands more than well-established luxury cars with similar performance, like the Audi S4, clearly the brand’s positioning is problematic”

    So I can buy a comparably equipped S4 for less than a 9-5 Aero. For real? I find that hard to believe, particulary with SAAB’s problematic discounting.

  • avatar
    johnharris

    Good article and insightful opinion. Always emotions, the future (and cars)… Ultimately it’s a case study for the business schools.

    For my 1994 college graduation, my dad bought me a 1988 Saab 900 Turbo. It was my sense then, and better-informed people have opined since, that my cherry red ’88 Turbo marked the apogee of the marque. When it ran, the car’s practical qualities—handling that edged into 3-series territory, plush interior, vast hatchback storage volume, idiosyncratic appearance—inspired real devotion. I still have twinges of nostalgia for its second gear on highway onramps. The car was hellish unreliable. After two or three adventurous, expensive years, I sold it and bought a 4-door Suzuki Sidekick.

    Unless you’re Morgan or Ariel or even Mini, idiosyncratic is an impossible business model for an automobile. (Especially when the idiosyncrasies are polished away.) The operating costs for a volume car company are incredibly vast, while the margins are precious thin. If the apogee of your product was 23 years ago, and even then was marked by “hellish unreliability,” you are the walking dead. I’d love for Saab to stick around, especially if they got back to what they were onto in 1988, but it’s not my choice or the choice of the Saab devotees. It’s the choice of the banks and the markets. Saab and its investors have frittered away whatever it is they had that made their product desirable. And they just can’t pay the bills unless they sell 400 cars a day. Et in sæcula sæculorum. Amen.

    John Harris
    2009 Mini Cooper S
    2010 Ford Flex
    2009 Ford E250

  • avatar
    Ashy Larry

    I posted this in another thread but its worth saying it again:

    Time for Saab to die. I was a longtime brand faithful, having owned 900′s and a Viggen, but watching its long, slow, sad death spiral pains me more and more every day. This is a storied brand that made rich contributions to the history of the automobile, but it is simply time to let go and allow saab to go gentle into that dark night while the memories of all the good it has done still outshine the sadness of the events leading to its passing.

    This saga reminds me of my last days with my favorite Saab ever, my old 1987 900. It was bare bones, no frills, slow (slower with the AC on). But it was an endlessly loyal servant for many years and kept a wonderful personality. As the rust cancer began to eat it away I kept trying fixes to keep it alive, but it would crop up elsewhere (along with other high-mileage, time consuming and expensive faults). Finally with well over 250k miles on it, I gave it up, no doubt now resting peacefully in a junkyard, donating bits here and there to more needy cars. The point is, you should always recognize (with cars, pets, even beloved family members — and I put my Saab in the last category) when it is time to let go, when the object of your affection is too far gone to be worth saving.

    With a Russian investor on watchlists, the Chinese and some Euro government lifelines, combined with an acquisition by a loss-making exotic car company (however well-meaning they are) this seems more and more like a rehash of a movie we saw before with Rover.

    Please, spare us all the endless drama, the fale starts, the false salvation. End the misery. Euthanize Saab.


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