Saab Humbug

December 23rd, 2011 by Tim Grimley

Once again we find ourselves at Christmas. A time of peace to the world, joy to all mankind and general festive overindulgences for the purpose of gaining suitably flabby midriffs around which we can base our hopelessly overoptimistic January resolutions. But amongst all this good will and gastronomic excess, it is also a time where we should spare a thought for those not as fortunate as ourselves.

The advent period is never a good time to be the recipient of bad news, so we can only imagine the pain of those at Saab who have just found out that after 64 years of car production, it is very likely that they will be taking a one-way trip down the gurgler of history.

Where did it all go wrong?

On the surface of it, it seems that the evil behemoth General Motors is to blame. Firstly, they sold Saab to Spyker – a small Dutch concern that was not particularly adept at making money from its low-volume efforts at sports car production and had a business plan for the Swedish motoring giant that, with hindsight, was probably dreamed up following a particularly intense session in one of Amsterdam’s “coffee shops” – and then when it was blatantly obvious everything was turning to custard, barred the obligatory rescue package from the Orient.

But like the heinous and evil mother who decided it was the fault of government agencies that she had beaten her children inside out and then locked them in a wardrobe, the people at Saab would do rather better to engage in a little more navel-gazing than finger pointing.

Firstly it must be noted that the bosses at GM were in a pretty difficult position. In the week when it was revealed the USA misses out on US$250 billion of revenue a year due to industrial espionage, it was never going to be a good look to gift wrap the Chinese a Saab-load of your technology. Potential suitors could certainly have been chosen with a lesser degree of desperation.

But even if an agreeable knight in shining armour had been found, Saab really didn’t deserve to continue.

For the last few years, Saab has survived by wheeling out a succession of very slightly improved vehicles cobbled together from whatever could be found in the GM parts bid and some inadvisably offensive chrome trim. While this may be enough to put you on the same playing field as the Fords and Toyotas of this world, Saab has long been pitched against far more rarefied opposition. And when lined up against the equivalent models from German and high-end Japanese manufacturers, it has been apparent for some time that the Swedes don’t even come close to being competitive.

Ah. That'll be it.

And that only left them with their last line of defence to fall back on – “quirkiness”.

As far as I can tell, Saab’s reputation for embracing the wacky is based entirely on one car – the 99 Turbo. Others may point to their earlier, aircraft inspired vehicles, but I prefer to view these as inspirational and visionary in their use of aerodynamics rather than downright crazy. The 99 Turbo was different; it was a front wheel drive car with a turbocharger manufactured at a time when chassis engineers had absolutely no idea how to make them work properly and as a result the driving experience was rather lairy. And despite being around in one shape or form since the late 1960s, the styling still appeared to have been dropped from space.

Saab had a car that was genuinely exciting, interesting and desirable, but rather than move on they favoured evolution over revolution and refined the looks and performance to the point when they became rather too mainstream. And with that unique selling point watered down beyond the point of all recognition, hope was gone.

Maybe at some point down the line, the Saab name will find its way back onto the roads – even if only as a branding exercise for an emerging manufacturer – but for now at least it seems destined to become a ghost of not only Christmas present, but the foreseeable future too.

Keep Your Walk On The Mild Side

March 13th, 2011 by Tim Grimley

There is a school of thought that says if you aren’t living life on the edge then you may be taking up a little too much room. Life is not a rehearsal after all and failure to wring every last bit of adrenalin from your days may somehow be abusing the gift of existence that a random coming together of sperm and egg happened to bestow upon you.

This could end badly Dude

And people who live to this philosophy do seem to have an awfully good time. They spend their days pumped up on the natural high that can be obtained by leaping, climbing and generally thrusting yourself in the line of danger whilst in the company of like minded folk who insist on growing their hair too long and calling you “Dude”.

They are, of course, completely wrong. Firstly, these are people who place the Volkswagen Beetle on a pedestal and are therefore more than likely using the vacant space between their ears for storing cotton wool. Secondly, and even more importantly, the pursuit of the bland, drab and generally mediocre has proven to be a thoroughly excellent method of propagating the human species to date.

Whilst taking up a career in Chartered Accountancy ranks somewhere around eating live tarantulas on my personal “to-do” list, I’ll freely admit that you don’t see many grey-suited bean counters killed in tombstoning accidents. And I would rather spend my days looking at other peoples’ tax returns than coming to a rapid and briefly painful end at the bottom of a damp cliff. Just.

This important life lesson extends very much into the realm of the automobile too. If you take a look at the history of the World Car of The Year winners, you will note that the combined lunacy of Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati, Bugatti, Pagani, Aston Martin, Porsche and Bentley have summoned up exactly no winners between them. Not one. In fact for as long as the competition has been going these bastions of alleged automotive excellence have managed more bankruptcies than they have nominations. Although this isn’t hard, seeing as they’ve not actually had any of these either. Continue reading “Keep Your Walk On The Mild Side” »

Saab brand dying a slow death

December 21st, 2009 by Darren Cottingham

Saab logo

When Koenigsegg’s deal to purchase Saab failed late last month, many feared the worst for the brand’s future. Now, those fears have become reality, as GM has announced that it will begin winding the brand down after “certain issues” arose in the deal with Spyker.

Last week GM sold the tooling systems for the last-gen 9-3 and 9-5 sedans to Chinese carmaker Beijing Automotive Industry Holding Co (BAIC), but left the door open for the sale of the actual operations if it could find the right buyer. That hasn’t happened.

“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.

The real loss will come in the form of products that will now never be produced, including the 2010 9-5 sedan and 9-4X crossover. Both vehicles had created genuine excitement for the future of the marque.

GM estimates a worldwide tally of 3,400 workers that will potentially be made redundant by Saab’s closure.

The death of Saab comes just as GM passes the 20th anniversary of its purchase of a controlling 50% interest in the Swedish brand. It purchased the remaining 50% back in 2000.