18 December 2009

Saab is dead

GM decides to kill of Saab after no buyer is found for the company

Saab

GM has announced it is killing Saab. The historic Swedish car maker has been up for sale for most of 2009, and no buyer has stepped up. GM is enormously vulnerable financially, having just come out of bankruptcy. It can’t afford to prop up the loss-making Saab any longer.

Saab isn’t going down in flames: the wind-up, says GM, will be ‘orderly’. In other words, Vauxhall dealers will honour warranties, and Saab workers and suppliers will get paid.

But 3400 Saab people will lose their jobs, and there are 1100 Saab dealerships around the world which will also mean job losses there.

When Saab was first put up for sale, tiny Swedish supercar maker Koenigsegg made up a financial consortium to buy the company. But at the last minute it pulled out.

Then tiny Dutch supercar company Spyker did the same (see a pattern here?). But it has been unable to overcome ‘due diligence issues’. Hmmmm: Spyker has never made real money. And it wasn’t a success at F1. Nor at Le Mans. To buy Saab looked like wildly over-reaching itself, frankly.

Meanwhile the Chinese firm BAIC has bought the rights to make the old Saab 9-5 in China, plus certain technologies from the 9-3. But it doesn’t have the Saab name.

Saab is a proud carmaker. Its history is of safe, practical big cars with muscly turbo engines. They were interesting and eccentric and occasionally rather good. But when GM bought Saab to try and have a premium brand (similar to Ford buying Jaguar), GM didn’t really know what to do with it. It lost money continuously.

GM has been trying to simplify itself in the past year. It nearly sold Opel-Vauxhall (which would have meant a catastrophic loss of engineering expertise). It closed down Saturn and Pontiac. It sold Hummer to another Chinese company. And now Saab is toast.

What’s ironic is that Saab had some good new GM-based cars coming: the attractive new 9-5 was about to go into production and towards the end of the year a new 9-4X crossover was due to be launched, based on the impressive new Cadillac SRX. Now they’ll never see the light of day. Unless some other car maker wants to buy the rights on them. GM says it’s open to offers, but that seems unlikely.

Paul Horrell

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