Bailout Watch 36: Elias Votes Nay
Selling eight brands’ worth of vehicles under the “Employee Pricing for Everyone” banner does nothing to reassure jaded “I won’t ever buy domestic” car shoppers that GM isn’t Wal-Mart. Even so, GM makes some great– well very good anyway– rolling stock. But a quick bailout from the Feds won’t fix the cash-burning automaker in time for consumers to discover this fact. It will simply prolong The General’s “we’ll muddle through” mess until the next crisis. What GM’s North American ops really need is a full, head-on crash into the wall of bankruptcy, followed by private DIP (debtor-in-possession) financing. Meanwhile, it’s a real Saab story.
News flash! During the last GM fire sale, I bought a 2007 Saab 9-3 2.0T. The 9-3 offers a great combination of comfort, handling, performance and decent fuel economy. Safety? Top pick of the IIHS. In an era of high gas prices, when every automaker scrambles to make small cars “cool,” GM’s got a darn good one.
Only no one knows about it. Instead, The General is busy trying to convince the public that the electric car of the future is on its way. Wake me up when the Volt arrives. Until then, why bother? What IS the point, especially when it comes to Saab?
GM began its Swedish odyssey in 1990 (with 50 percent ownership). The takeover reached fruition in 2000, with complete ownership. GM’s thinking at the time: Saab would provide the company with a Euro entry lux vehicle for the U.S. market. GM would gain sales by expanding the Saab offerings upwards, fending-off rising competition from both the new Japanese and stalwart Euro lux brands.
Wait. Wasn’t Cadillac supposed to be GM’s upmarket brand? Did GM really need Euro-badged vehicles? Perhaps Saab’s takeover was an admission of the damage already done to Cadillac. Or maybe it was reverse badge snobbery from the Powers that Be. No matter how you look at it, GM never figured out what to do with Saab.
Saab launched its volume leader, the 9-3, in 2003. It had a host of problems, mostly electronic. Vehicle testers/raters like Consumer Reports ranked the 9-3 as “problematic,” giving the brand a black eye. No one really expected a Saab to be as reliable as a Toyota; the car’s quirkiness, Swedish design elements and turbocharged engine offered a trade-off. But for a company (GM) as supposedly committed to vehicle quality to build and sell a modern era car that didn’t work well (to put it mildly), well, the damage was done.
In subsequent model years, the problems were mostly resolved. But Saab’s sales never recovered. They declined from 2003’s peak of 48k units to last year’s 30k last year. Sales in ’08 are set to be much, much worse. It’s been widely reported that GM’s lost money on Saab for all of the years it’s been involved.
During this decline, RenCen decided to expand the Saab lineup on the cheap. It looked to leverage its investment in Fuji Heavy by rebadging a Subaru WRX as a Saab 9-2x. No one was fooled; the small Saabaru never sold more than a few hundred units a month, and the experiment quickly ended. GM also decided Saab needed an SUV on the other end. The General repackaged it’s less-than-stellar Chevy Trailblazer as a Saab 9-7x. Same result. Like anyone really thought this vehicle-– built in Ohio– had any linkage to the brand? Where was the true Euro-flair, the ride, the design? Gone.
To make matters worse, GM launched a new tagline for the brand in the fall of 2005 with a massive (for the brand’s size) media campaign: “Born from Jets.” Ok, like anyone in the USA had any clue that Saab started life as an airplane company? Can anyone name a Swedish jet? Did anyone care? Suffice it to say, as mentioned above, the campaign failed miserably.
Strangely, the Saab 9-3 today could be the right car for times. But GM bungled the handling of the brand from the beginning, and then compounded mistakes. It’s too late to breathe fresh life into this dead brand.
Think of other GM brands where this exact pattern has been repeated. GM’s mistakes with the Saab brand reflect the problems GM faces with consumers across its entire vehicle line-up: poor build quality and mechanics (now mostly resolved), lagging technology, stale designs (much improved today), overlapping vehicles (still an ongoing problem) and weak brand equity (getting worse all the time).
I want GM to make it. I’m an American. But why should the Feds give money to a corporation that’s done such a piss-poor job handling its North American business, such as selling one of its only competitive cars? What makes anyone think GM will do better with a bailout? No, GM needs to crash in North America and then rise from the ashes. It’s the only way.
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- ToolGuy This trend of cyan wheels needs to end NOW.
- Kwik_Shift Interesting nugget(s) of EV follies. https://x.com/WallStreetApes/status/1729212326237327708?s=20
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