Saab Cars, 1944-2009, After a Long Illness

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It's a sad irony that one of the most unconventional auto brands had to meet its end in the dullest of conventional ways.

It was 1944.  World War II had a ways to go, but the industrious folks in Sweden figured they should have another car company.  At least the people at Saab did.

Saab was founded in 1935 to provide Sweden with its own aircraft company.  Fortunately for them, WW II came along and provided plenty of orders for war planes. (Sweden, an officially neutral nation, has a thriving arms production industry making planes, tanks and all sorts of exploding things.  During WWII they even managed to sell the same arms to both sides.  As we said, they are industrious.)

Seventeen aircraft engineers of various talents (non of them reputedly held a driver's license) were assigned to develop a car.  Being aircraft engineers, they were more interested in efficient engineering than fashion so out came a small, odd-looking aerodynamic vehicle powered by a two-stroke engine.

The rest is more or less history.  Saab established itself as a quirky manufacturer of quirky cars which were embraced on this side of the ocean by people who were dying to let people know how sophisticated they were and how much they were not influenced by crass automotive commercialism.

Then in the late '80's General Motors figured out that the best way to compete with the world's automotive companies was to buy as many as they could and sign joint ventures with the rest.

We all know how that turned out.

Unfortunately one of the companies they bought was Saab.  Next, the question was "what are we going to do with this thing?"  Their first thought was to sell a lot more Saabs than could ever have been sold before.  So to accomplish this, Saab's crazy vehicles had to be made more mainstream.  More mainstream cars and voila, more mainstream sales equals more sales.  Simple, no?


GM's stewardship basically stripped Saab of anything Saab-like.  They moved the hidden ignition switch to where some lout could actually find it.  The cars looked more like Chevys than Saabs.  And in one stroke, the reason for the Saab brand simply wandered off into Scandinavia's piny woods to die of dullness.

The final indignity was the imposition of a GMC SUV with a Saab badge (the Saab 9-7X).

I guess the question has to be asked if Saab could have survived if GM kept its hands off?  Probably not.  The rise of mainland Asia as an automotive power could spell the end for more European brands than Saab.  As we have witnessed, a proud history means nothing to nobody when it comes to the economic realities of the Global marketplace.

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Comments (14)
  1. I'm not sure that GM really wanted to sell SAAB at all,,,, it's a shame.

  2. Rather than sell Saab, they are just gonna have a yard sale. All to try and protect GM's technology. Isn't GM & technology a oxymoron?
    GM might as well pull out of Europe.
    The US taxpayer gets screwed again.

  3. It was vaguely inevitable but it will be sad to see SAAB go. They have, after all, produced some decent cars over the years, maybe not "great" but decent all the same; 93 Turbo, 99 Turbo 900 Turbo, 9000 Turbo, all Turbo powered, but Turbocharging saloons seemed to be SAAB's trademark. Then there was the 9-3 Viggen, oh no wait, that car deserves the "worst understeering car ever" award, still it's infamous right?

  4. Oh my god!!!
    Please, I hope any Chinese or Indian company are interested. I really don't wanna see this brand go. I was thinking that maybe one day if i'm rich enough, I would probably go for a SAAB instead of BMW or Mercedes. Didn't see this coming at all. What a shame!!!

  5. Yaaa, I always thought SAAB's where ugly.

  6. Cars guys always said " the only people who buy Saabs are a--holes and astronauts!" Knowing some Saab owners only confirmed the adage. It's kind of a shame, they made a sweet looking convertible, but it drove like a big piece of Jello!

  7. As the almost-owner of a 2002 Saab 9-3 Viggen convertible, I would contest the jell-o comment. But that car was the last true Saab, to be replaced by a Chevrolized version within a few years.
    Saab was also known for it's cockpits. Although they had a habit of hiding switches in maddening ways, they were among the first to get away from slab-sided dashboards and focus on ergonomics.
    As Spyker and Koenigsegg have subsequently shown, there was a market for quirky, exclusive, sporty Scandinavian cars. I think it's a shame that GM couldn't manage to sell Saab to either of these companies. Then again, what else should I expect from a company that struggles to sell cars and trucks to people in Detroit.
    Oh, but I should note that Vauxhall and Opel are GM brands in Europe that are vastly superior to GM, even though they start with a very similar collection of vehicles. Saab didn't have to go, but Wagoner sure did.

  8. The same is said about BMW owners (being a--holes), and is far more true than the typical SAAB owner. I have a 2008 convertible and can tell you that it has no sqeaks rattles which I can't say for some of my friends who have a German sedans which is a testament to the structure. The issue is mismanagement, how else do you explain a corporation taking over a company and allowing a model to stay on the market unchanged other than minor updates for over ten years?

  9. I've been day dreaming lately of buying Saab for $1 to take it off GM's hands. There's nothing wrong with the brand that a tight 9-3 (only) range of sedan, wagon, convertible and coupe (hatch) wouldn't fix - with the same 2T 4WD system and handling by Lotus - the brand's not dead, it's just that the owners have skewered the company. But, Swedish labour laws and EUR cost of manufacture may also have something to do with it.

  10. I would think that the Swedes would want to keep SAAB alive. Wasn't SAAB working on some interesting non-GM technology, like Biogas hybrids and the 9-1x?

  11. Saab Automobile AB, better known as Saab, is a Swedish car manufacturer last owned by Motors Liquidation Company (aka the old General Motors). It was the exclusive automobile royal warrant holder as appointed by H.M., the King of Sweden. Since its inception, Saab had been known for its innovation; as it evolved and adopted ever more advancements to its turbocharging, safety and green technology.Trollhattan Saab will still exist indefinitely an archive, but from this post onwards, all new posts will be published at Saabs United.

  12. I'm not a defender of GM but I think GM's is really guilty of neglect more than anything, along with not understanding the Saab personality. Saab was struggling when they took it off of the Wallenberg family-- in stages as I recall.
    GM has neglected not only Saab but their own brands. They invested in the wrong things and made awful decisions for so many years. Terrible follow through even when they had a promising product.

  13. Hi Guy's,
    The issue is mismanagement, how else do you explain a corporation taking over a company and allowing a model to stay on the market unchanged other than minor updates for over ten years?

  14. I would try to keep hold of the brand if i could, these cars have a unique style and performance about them. I hope that another big brand joins with saab to ensure they keep on creating better cars for sale.

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