Tuesday, 15 September 2009



You can’t help thinking Saab is marking time with its new 9-5. The appearance is improved now they’ve got rid of the clumsy chrome surrounds for the grille and headlights. They have rung some changes in the engines and you have to believe Jan- Åke Jonsson, Saab Automobile’s Managing Director when he says, “This car is the start of a new era for our brand.”

It could scarcely be anything else. Given the dire state Saab was in as part of General Motors, it probably marks the end of an old era at the very least. It was only in June that General Motors Corp confirmed a memorandum of understanding for the purchase of Saab Automobile AB by Koenigsegg Group AB.

The sale, expected to be complete by the third quarter, included $600 million from the European Investment Bank (EIB) guaranteed by the Swedish government. More support will come from GM to pay for day to day operations and invest in new products. That means this 9-5 announced in Frankfurt. It must have been in the final stages of development when GM was planning to move production to the Opel factory in Rüsselsheim.

“This is yet another significant step in the reinvention of GM and its European operations,” intoned GM Europe President, Carl-Peter Forster extremely relieved to get shot of the embarrassing little Swedish firm. GM had never been able to make a go of it since buying 50 per cent in 1989 and the remainder in January 2000. He said, “Saab is a highly respected automotive brand with great potential. Closing this deal represents the best chance for Saab to emerge a stronger company. Koenigsegg Group's unique combination of innovation, entrepreneurial spirit and financial strength, combined with Koenigsegg's proven ability to create world-class Swedish performance cars in a highly efficient manner, made it the right choice for Saab as well as for General Motors.”

Well he couldn’t say anything else.

Part of the transaction was for GM to provide Saab with architecture and powertrain technology during what was described as a defined time period. This must now mean Saab producing the 9-5 in Trollhättan, but who is going the buy the things during a “defined time period” however long or short.

The Konigsegg deal is bizarre. Founded by Christian von Koenigsegg in 1994, it is a tiny outfit that makes the 395 kph (245mph) CCX at Angelholm, southern Sweden, in a former Swedish Air Force hangar. Norwegian entrepreneur Bard Eker owns 49 per cent through his holding company Eker Group AS. Koenigsegg made 18 cars last year, Saab around 90,000. Koenigsegg employs 45 people, Saab 3,400.

Saab has made cars in Trollhattan since 1949. The 9-5 and 9-3 built in Trollhättan, the 9-3 Cabriolet by Magna Steyr in Graz, Austria.

The announcement of, “The most technically advanced Saab ever” has a hollow ring. Saab is careful to say it was conceived, built but only “chiefly” developed in Sweden, and will compete head-to-head with leading premium class competitors. It can at best be interim and its on-sale date of 2010 means Trollhättan is being hastily reorganised to make it. How difficult to shift the company culture back from dreamy aerospace to what Saab really did best, quirky all-Scandianavian relatively low-tech but high-quality mid-range saloons.

“Dramatic wraparound window graphic echoes Saab’s aviation heritage. With styling inspired by the award-winning Aero X concept car and a muscular, low-slung stance, the new 9-5 heralds the introduction of a bold and expressive design language.” They really can’t get out of the rut. “Aircraft-inspired head-up information display (HUD) - fuselage-smooth surfacing of the bodywork - deep grille flanked with curving, ice-block headlamp units. The entire glasshouse is presented as a ‘wraparound’ mono graphic: the disguised windshield and side pillars giving the cabin Saab’s signature cockpit look. In this interplay of proportions, the windshield and roof are reminiscent of the classic 900 model.”

Saab, like Jaguar, was one of the classic makes that lost its way under big corporate ownership. Ford and GM did not quite know how to keep the good bits and manage the money side. There were too many cooks in Detroit, and the broth was spoiled. The 9-5 will probably be a perfectly good car but it remains to be seen if the European Investment Bank’s $600million will be enough, or if Sweden is going to see yet another Phoenix Four emerge to turn a profit out of a crisis.

Dove Publishing produced the award-winning SAAB HALF A CENTURY OF ACHIEVEMENT 1947-1997. See www.dovepublishing.co.uk.

No comments:

Post a Comment


Related Posts with Thumbnails