QOTD: Alternative History of Avoiding Disastrous Consequences?

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis
qotd alternative history of avoiding disastrous consequences

Last week we played a round of Armchair Alternative History where we discussed missed opportunities in the automotive industry. Conversation focused on actions automakers didn’t take when they should’ve.

Today is round two. Let’s go back and erase things that actually happened.

Some of you branched out into this topic last week in the 270-plus comments the article received. Today you’ll just have to pick a different past mistake to erase. No one covered your author’s selected misstep for this week.

This one had “AVOIDABLE” written on it in red paint.

1989: General Motors decides not to get involved with Saab

In 1989, Saab (cars) and Scania (trucks) were a single large company. The company restructured itself so the more profitable trucks were separated from the struggling automotive branch. The newly independent Saab Automobile AB needed some assistance, and it leaned on two new capitally-rich owners: Investor AB and General Motors, each with 50 percent ownership. Investor AB was (and is) a private equity firm controlled by the same family since 1916. Typically its investments are in large Swedish-based companies. Though it only has about 80 employees, the firm is worth over $30 billion. General Motors, a much different sort of company, spent $600 million, just like Investor AB. The investment came with an understanding that GM could purchase the remaining stake in the company within 10 years. It did so in 2000, at a cost of $125 million more (quite a discount).

It never should’ve happened. Though the new GM-based 900 was successful and caused the company to turn a profit, Saab was a story of continual struggle. With quirky ideas, unique engineering, and a small following, it was a bad match for the Costco management style of GM. By late in 2008 the brand’s future was in doubt among all of GM’s financial troubles. From there it was sold multiple times, split up, and finally rendered defunct in 2012. NEVS made some electric Saab 9-3s for a while, but those didn’t really count.

In my alternative history, the Saab brand goes to Investor AB and some other firm, probably in China. Eventually wholly Chinese-owned, Saab is just a name for cars that would normally be called Roewe or Great Wall. The company’s last real vehicles were the 900 and 9000, which lived until circa 2002 with minor revisions. Here, General Motors saves itself some money, and does not dilute the final chapter of Saab with things like the Trollblazer 9-7X, and the Saabaru 9-2X.

What’s your historical automotive misstep to erase?

[Images: Saab]

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3 of 116 comments
  • Joe McKinney Joe McKinney on Aug 02, 2019

    Another from GM. What if Chevy had not gone the air cooled, rear engine route with the Corvair and had instead introduced a conventional front engine, rwd compact in the fall of 1959?

  • Art Vandelay Art Vandelay on Aug 03, 2019

    What if Chevy gave it a good rear suspension. It sells better, Detroit gets into the small car game earlier, Nader never writes "Unsafe at any Speed", remains unknown, and the Lions share of the 97,421 votes he got in Florida in 2000 likely go to Gore. Not injecting Politics...just pointing out that one had some serious ripple effects for years to come lol.

    • ToddAtlasF1 ToddAtlasF1 on Aug 03, 2019

      The Corvair was one chapter in Nader's book. It's worst features were shared with any number of European sedans. The rest of the book was about all Detroit cars. The book's objective was promoting Ralph Nader, and it would have been written with or without the Corvair.

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