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Saab’s lost 2 decades February 22, 2009

Posted by Richard Aucock in What I learned today.
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I want GM to survive. With its E-REV Chevrolet Volt/Opel Ampera, it has a future fuel revolution on the shelf, tantalisingly within reach. Painfully close. But it doesn’t half deserve a kicking for what it’s done to Saab.

It’s the early 1990s. You’re a volume manufacturer, who fancies a bit of posh. But, lo – you have a slightly leftfield but still premium brand in your portfolio. What an oppo: treat it as a separate division. Give it oily bits from one of your best-selling cars, and let it produce its own version. Give it the cash to make this entirely bespoke – needn’t cost a fortune. The margins on said car will bring home the bacon.


At this point, Volkswagen and GM split. Audi came up with the so-so but beautiful first-gen A4. Slickly marketed, it sold in droves. Ii inspired the VW-based A3. The VW-based TT, and so on. You get the picture. Audi was raking it in, becoming a cash cow the equal of its parent. ROI: unquantifiable.

GM, however… Lord, how I want to put the boot in. It gave Saab the dire Cavalier platform. Then, as if that wasn’t bad enough, didn’t give it enough cash to do much with it. Then, sent the mediocre Vectra bits to Trollhatten, and told them to make a 5 Series rival. Then, cut the direct debit. Then, started whining that Saab still wasn’t doing an Audi, and told it to make a 3 Series alternative. OK, this 9-3 Sport Saloon was a start, but Saab’s heart clearly wasn’t in it.

Then what? Nothing. Audi brought out the A3. BMW the 1 Series. Merc the C-Class Sport Coupe. Saab’s answer? Despite having GM’s pretty decent Astra platform to call upon? Nothing. Open goal; ah, there’s the ball, flying into row Z.

Since the 9-3 Sport Saloon? Zilch. Nothing epitomises this torpor more than the Vectra-in-drag 9-5, limping on year after year. It was average when new. It’s abysmal now. The 9-3 has just been jacked off and ‘allroaded’, 5 years too late, and apart from the 9-4X, still not with us, there’s nothing.

Now it’s being taken on by the Swedish Government. Seriously, thank God. Because they can’t do any worse a job than GM. Of course, it’s not that straightforward. There are reasons why GM didn’t do a halfway decent job. But, on the showroom floor, what does the customer see? Elderly, average cars, a 2-model range, and the quickest possible route to the megalith that is Audi. A maker launching 10 new cars in 2009 alone.

GM needs to be saved. There are brilliant people there, once the chaff has been cleared out. Here’s just hoping the person with the casting vote is a greenie. And not a Saab fan.