July 24, 2014

Saab on the road to independence

You’ve got to feel for Scandinavian car makers Saab and Volvo. Both swallowed up by big US car makers, and both now being abandoned in a vulnerable position after years of integrating their once independent products in to their parents infrastructure, they must wake up every day wondering if this is the day it all goes bang.

Ford is simply trying (increasingly desperately) to off-load Volvo, but GM, which is in a much more precarious position than Ford, has now abandoned its Swedish child in a desperate attempt to appease Congress and survive.

The Saab 9X Air Concept. Saab needs to innovate to move forward after being abandoned by GM

The Saab 9X Air Concept. Saab needs to innovate to move forward after being abandoned by GM

There have been stories in the last few days that Saab would go bankrupt, or at least end up in Chapter 11 protection. But things don’t work the same way in Sweden, and a court there has now ruled and Saab has time to put plans in place for proper independence. But it won’t be simple.

All of Saab’s current and planned products are so integrated with GM’s platform that true independence is impossible. But that doesn’t mean they have to give up. Whatever happens to GM, they will survive in some form, so the platform aspect for Saab is probably pretty secure. But they do need to reassert their individuality to move forward.

Jan Åke Jonsson, Head of Saab, was pretty bullish, speaking after the Swedish court ruled to allow Saab three months to find a way forward with investors:

“Today is the beginning of a new chapter in Saab’s history. We are now recreating Saab Automobile as an independent unit. The road ahead will not be easy. Many have already suffered considerably as a result of the crisis in the automobile industry and sacrifices will be a part of our future, but after a period of tough decisions we will have laid the foundations for a new beginning.”

Saab has managed to secure funding of around £2.25 billion to move forward, with loan guarantees by the Swedish government and private investment. They will be pushing ahead with the launch of the Saab 9-3X, and the Saab 9-4X, both based on GM architecture. But they need innovation, such as the Saab 9X Air in the image above, to make their mark.

But Saab has a history of innovation. Yes, their customer base was always a little quirky – always a favourite for designers and architects – but they have the history to innovate once again, in the way they did with the early Saab turbos, and re-establish themselves as an individual and innovative company in an increasingly corporate car market. Good luck!

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