Saab Spinning Off
Automotive News [sub] reports that GM is preparing to spin off its Saab brand, since its “strategic review” has failed to turn up any interested buyers. “Saab has been negotiating with GM and the Swedish government about becoming a more independent company, initially as part of GM,” explains a mysterious GM source. According to Saab’s union president Paul Akerlund, “under this [plan], the Saab board will be more like a normal board, and less dependent on what happens on GM’s European strategy board. They will make their own decisions.” Still confused? GM will still be the owner, but Saab will have its own budget, says Akerlund. Presumably only long enough to attract an interested buyer, though. “You have to make sure there is a company that GM can sell,” says Stefan Lofven, president of Sweden’s IF Metall union. “That means a company that is a separate entity where people can look at the balance sheets and you know what you are buying.” As in not GM, where top executives are “losing patience” with Saab. So instead of “GM life support” as Lutz so uniquely puts it, Saab gets production of the new 9-5 and an undetermined amount of cash (ha!) to retreat to the motherland and court buyers in peace.
New? Nine? Five? These words do not make sense. Maybe Ikea will buy them. It would be a revolution, the Flatpack Car!
All a smokescreen. They're giving Saab their own budget and management structure in order to see if they can right themselves -- all while making the brand more "separate" in order to entice a future buyer? Do you have any conceivable idea how much money, really, is necessary to run any car company in today's hyper-competitive environment? And do you honestly believe GM is giving Saab anywhere near enough to re-invent itself and thrive, let alone survive? If Saab is to be considered an "independent" with strings, do you know how inconsequential they are in the automotive world order? The reality is Saab is too small. Too far behind. Too broken. Too inundated with GM-think and GM-product to ever come close to pulling out of their born-from-Jets death spiral. This is all Public Relations nonsense -- a run-up to GM's next trip to the government "loan" department. "Look what we did! We shopped, er, studied Saab and we came up with a PLAN. All better now. Can we have our money?" This should cause smirks and outright guffaws in government or industry boardroom anywhere in the world were it not so... necessary. It was this or shut 'er down. And GM can't afford that at the moment (see Oldsmobile, history of; then state franchise laws) so it's a new Name the Stall Game at Saab for GM. But make no mistake, even if GM cut Saab completely clean...tossed 'em out free and clear, Saab is too small, too weak, too dependent to pull up.
From a GM point of view, Saab has failed to perform. From a Saab point of view, Saab was supposed to be something like GM's bad bank in Europe. A lot of Saab R&D was used on other GM projects - just take XWD, which is now being integrated into quite a few GM models all over the world. What's going to happen now is that Saab will work on their own account. They will pay for GM technology and will make GM pay for theirs. So let's see what Saab can do, if they're on their own!
no_slushbox, The best car Saab ever built was not, in fact, a Suburu Impreza with what GM called "capturing the essence of Saab" and what others called a Suburu with a Saab nameplate. Most Saab owners will tell you that the best car Saab ever built was the 900, which unfortunately began to acquire a high factory defect rate after GM bought into the company. The redesigned Opel/900 that became the 9-3 was a pretty awful car, as was everything after that. When GM purchased the rest of Saab they fired all the Saab people and let them reapply for their old jobs, unlike Ford's purchase of Volvo, wherein Volvo was simply handed a Ford parts book and money to design good cars. I currently have three Saabs: a 99, a 900 and a 9000. The 99 has somewhere on the order of 320,000 miles, the 900 has 328,000, and the 9000 has 200,000. None of them have been rebuilt, or required anything beyond oil and tire changes and new steering racks every 100,000 miles. They're incredibly easy to service (Saab at one time circulated its engineers through the factory service center), incredibly reliable and they're fun to drive. I'd love to have a car that's newer than my 1987 9000, because despite the quality of the driveline the plastic parts do eventually fall off. But I can't find another car that carries as much, is as well-built and easy to service, and is as fun to drive as my old non-GM Saabs. I'll cross my fingers for this new effort. Maybe there are still some Saab engineers left.