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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