GM Announces Closure of Saab Brand
Reflections on the Sad End of the Iconic Swedish Brand
By Kevin Miller
General Motors this morning announced that the sale of the Saab brand will not be completed, and the brand will be wound down. GM’s press release is included below the jump. This is a crushing blow to the company’s employees in Trollhattan and around the world, as well as fans including myself.
You’re read of my obsession with Saab before on these virtual pages. When I made the trek to Southern California to cover the LA Auto Show earlier this month, I inadvertently missed the much-ballyhooed Chevrolet Volt Dancers, as my first stop at the show was at the Saab stand, to get my first in-person look at the new 9-5 sedan.
On a stand strewn with 9-3 sedans, convertibles and SportCombis, the 9-5 stood rotating on a raised platform in silence, with Saab brand reps looking out across the stand which is empty of visitors. The new Saab sedan is larger than the outgoing 9-5 it was intended to replace, and is better looking in the flesh than it is in photos. After my relatively quick pilgrimage to the nearly empty Saab stand to see the 9-5 for myself, I headed off to join every other media pass holder at the show running from press conference to press conference.
The show’s second media day had a much lighter schedule, allowing me time to return to the Saab stand for a chat. Only a couple of brand reps were present, but I got a nice show-and-tell around the 9-5, with no particularly new information about the car. The 9-5 was anticipated to be on sale in 2010 as a 2010 model. The first cars to reach the US were to be Aero spec, equipped with Saab’s 300 HP, 2.8 liter turbocharged V6 with Saab’s XWD “cross wheel drive” all-wheel drive system (as seen in the Turbo X, and Cadillac SRX). Next would have come the 9-5 2.0T turbocharged four, with 220 HP and either front- or all-wheel drive (as seen in platform-mate Opel Insignia). A wagon version of the 9-5 was expected to bow about a year after the sedan is on sale.
Many photos have shown the 9-5 in light colors, and the appearance comes across as a bit sterile. In person, the subtle shapes in nearly every panel bring the 9-5 to life, from the small vents behind the front wheel openings, to the contours of the hood and the flanks and the visible elements in the lamp housings. Inside, the new 9-5 retained classic Saab brand features such as Night Panel and ignition between the front seats (though it is a pushbutton rather than a key hole). Instrument appearance builds on recent Saab themes as well as the company’s aircraft heritage, with a unique and good-looking dashboard layout. Seat comfort, always a Saab strength, is even better thanks to an expandable bottom cushion on Aero models to support longer drivers’ legs. Rear seat passengers can enjoy their own climate control and rear seat entertainment screens. Subjective measurement of rear seat legroom shows room to be about the same as the outgoing 9-5 (like the one my wife and I have owned since 2001), meaning that anybody other than the tallest driver will leave plenty of backseat legroom for passengers.
The decidedly Scandinavian Saab representative reminded me that all assembly of the 9-5 was to take place in Saab’s factory in Trollhattan, as was 9-3 convertible production which had moved from Austria. Of course, the LA Auto Show took place the week after Koenigsegg backed out of their purchase of Saab, and the same week that GM issued a “no comment” statement stating that there would be no news about other possible bidders for Saab, and the brand rep at the show lived up to the “no comment” edict.
Honestly I had a hard time walking away from the 9-5 on the auto show stand. Even knowing that it shares its roots with the (admittedly well-regarded) Opel Insignia, I found it very appealing and attractive, a true heir to Saab’s unique brand of vehicle design. What if the sale of Saab to a new owner was to fall through? What if I was never to see the new 9-5 again? Saab’s fate is such an emotional issue to me. I knew that the 9-5 sedan had to come to production, and the 9-5 wagon had to come after the 9-5 sedan. And I need to own it. As I left the Saab stand at the LA show, I had the feeling that I was saying goodbye to Saab, and I left feeling incredibly anxious about the brand’s future.
In the two weeks since the LA Auto Show, potential bidders dropped out of the running (again) for the purchase of Saab; technology and tooling for the production of previous 9-5 and 9-3 models was sold to Chinese automaker BAIC, the electric ZE Saab 9-3 project has been introduced, and Dutch carmaker Spyker became the sole hope to save Saab. Signs of hope have came via well-researched articles from our friends at Saabs United, including the news that US Saab dealers’ franchise agreements, which had been set to expire on December 31, had been extended until January 31, 2010.
As of this morning, that hope is officially gone, as GM has announced the closure of the Swedish brand, though they left a sliver of hope by announcing the possibility of selling certain vehicle lines (i.e. 9-5 and 9-4x) to individual buyers as the brand is wound down. The announcement of the closure, however, is a crushing loss to Swedish industry and Saab fans around the world. Myself included.
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Detroit. General Motors announced today that the intended sale of Saab Automobile AB would not be concluded. After the withdrawal of Koenigsegg Group AB last month, GM had been in discussions with Spyker Cars about its interest in acquiring Saab. During the due diligence, certain issues arose that both parties believe could not be resolved. As a result, GM will start an orderly wind-down of Saab operations.
“Despite the best efforts of all involved, it has become very clear that the due diligence required to complete this complex transaction could not be executed in a reasonable time. In order to maintain operations, Saab needed a quick resolution,” said GM Europe President Nick Reilly. “We regret that we were not able to complete this transaction with Spyker Cars. We will work closely with the Saab organization to wind down the business in an orderly and responsible manner. This is not a bankruptcy or forced liquidation process. Consequently, we expect Saab to satisfy debts including supplier payments, and to wind down production and the distribution channel in an orderly manner while looking after our customers.”
Saab will continue to honor warranties, while providing service and spare parts to current Saab owners around the world.
As part of its efforts to become a leaner organization, GM began seeking a buyer for Saab’s operations in January. Last week, Saab Automobile AB announced that it had closed on the sale of certain Saab 9-3, current 9-5 and powertrain technology and tooling to Beijing Automotive Industry Holdings Co. Ltd. (BAIC). GM expects today’s announcement to have no impact on the earlier sale.
As the company continues to reinvent itself, GM has been faced with some very difficult but necessary business decisions. The focus will remain on the four core brands – Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC – and several regional brands, including Opel / Vauxhall in Europe. This will enable the company to devote more engineering and marketing resources to each brand and model.
A media conference call with John Smith GM Vice President, Corporate Planning and Alliances will take place at 9:45 a.m. Eastern Time.
General Motors Company, one of the world’s largest automakers, traces its roots back to 1908. With its global headquarters in Detroit, GM employs 209,000 people in every major region of the world and does business in some 140 countries. GM and its strategic partners produce cars and trucks in 34 countries, and sell and service these vehicles through the following brands: Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, GMC, GM Daewoo, Holden, Opel, Vauxhall, Wuling and Jiefang. More information on the new General Motors Company can be found at www.gm.com.