Saab dies--again.

Posted by: David Welch on December 18, 2009

saab.jpgNot far from my childhood home in Syracuse, N.Y. lives a family I have always called the “Saab people.” I never knew them but for as long as I can remember, they had nothing but Saabs in the driveway. The last time I drove by, they still had an old Saab 9000 alongside a 9-3 and a 9-5. I’m sure those Swedish-engineering die-hards are lamenting the news from General Motors today that Saab will follow Pontiac, Saturn and Oldsmobile to the auto industry’s scrap heap.

The problem for Saab was that there were too few Saab people with that kind of loyalty. In the past month, GM had two bidders pull out of talks to buy the 72-year-old company, the latest being Spyker Cars NV of Holland, Bloomberg first reported today. Officially, GM and Spyker said that there were too many issues that couldn’t be resolved. But let’s face it, there wasn’t much of a business case for Saab.

The company’s sales fell 61% this year. Saab wouldn’t have sold 100,000 cars around the globe. In Europe, the competition for sporty premium cars from BMW, Mercedes, and a slew of others was too tough. Combine Swedish labor rates with the weak dollar, and Saab’s prices were higher than the brand could command from consumers. Selling cars to Americans was just a tough proposition. Saab sold just over 7,000 cars in the U.S. through November.

Another big problem, of course, is that GM didn’t feed the brand with enough products nor did it make an earnest attempt to market its cars. Saab was a niche brand for Northeastern college professors and other educated affluent types. Without a bigger lineup and a real advertising budget, growing beyond its core fans was never going to happen. One has to wonder what Saab could have been had GM not bought it. Maybe another parent could have given it a few more cars to sell.

It would have been tough for anyone. But the GM that owned Saab from 1990—when the auto giant bought its first 50% of of the company—until now didn’t have the means to support. GM probably didn’t have the product and brand smarts for most of that period to guide it either. So long, Saab. I know one family that will really miss you.

Reader Comments

The Hammer

December 18, 2009 6:11 PM

It is sad to see the Saab brand disappear, a true european engineered car that GM let die off because of their own incompetence. GM can only make trucks, that's it, the rest of their cars are worse than fecal matter. Fat bastards at GM, ruined their own brand and others.

Russ

December 18, 2009 6:12 PM

Too bad that the imaginative innovators and principled independents sometimes fall by the wayside. I always admired Saab's approach and their design work. The cars were always more interesting than most anything from the highly touted German makers. Saab engineers knew how to make a car body very rigid and strong. Let's hope someone comes to Saab's rescue.

Bryan

December 18, 2009 6:15 PM

Having bought my first saab 2 years ago I have fallen in love with my Saab. The sad part is I think it is a good niche for GM if they had paid even a tiny bit of attention to it. God knows 99% of Saab owners I know didn't have a caddillac as their 2nd choice...

Meaning GM is essentially exiting the BMW/Audi/Infinity space.

Tony D

December 18, 2009 6:28 PM

My Buddy is a big Saab fan and he is sobbing right now or saabing.

david e

December 18, 2009 6:29 PM

I bought a Saab 900S in 1994, the first year GM made the engines. Great car with a lot of soul--for a little while. Then the brake fluid started to leak (the dealer dismissed those complaints), the crankshaft broke at 30K (the dealer reluctantly fixed this under warranty), and then the engine blew up at 80K. The car was pricey to begin with, but the ongoing expenses and poor customer support doomed the brand in my mind. I know many others with even worse "Saab-stories," as they're called. RIP, Saab.

Nicky DeMont

December 18, 2009 6:37 PM

That family probably worked for a Saab dealer.

Chris Linn

December 18, 2009 6:44 PM

I also am from outside syracuse, Manlius to be exact. We were a Saab family and at different points had 6 Saab cars in our driveway. Saabs 900 turbos were and are one of the most fun cars to drive that also could hold a washing machine or a sofa if needed. When GM started manufacturing Saabs the quality dropped and the styles started looking like a Chevy. Good job GM in destroying a iconic brand with many fans. The company made the biggest mistake when they stopped making the 900 turbo.

ort11

December 18, 2009 7:17 PM

It's simply clear that GM missed a chance to put a world class I4 engine in some of the other cars and get 30-40mpg on the open road with 250hp. The comical handling of the brand with the 9-7 and "Saabaroo" would be a joke if it wasn't so sad. It's almost like this was planned from the start......

Doug Crawford

December 18, 2009 7:18 PM

In 1966 while living in Santa Barbara I had some friends that owned a SAAB with a 2-cycle engine that required 1 qt of oil to be added to the gas tank on every fillup. A smoky, loud, obnoxious vehicle. While the 2-cycle engines are gone now the overall appearance of these weird cars hasn't changed all that much - still ugly.

I won't miss 'em.

Mrovertaxed

December 18, 2009 7:20 PM


Good riddance; it was an ugly car it should have died a long time ago. I am sure other brands will follow, probably Dodge and Chrysler, maybe someone will buy Jeep. (Don't count on Fiat to save them, I mean really, a merger of clown cars and dinosaurs? It's like a Dachshund and Great Dane producing a desirable new breed. Frankenmerger. I mean if the Germans could not get it to work do you see the Italians making it happen (Excepting Lee Iacocca.)

Geek

December 18, 2009 7:29 PM

A loyal following, a niche product where price was not a dominant consideration. Saab was murdered by bad management who continues to display a lack of imagination and competency.

A unique product that had and could have returned to decent demand levels should have been retained frankly along with the Saturn network whose strength was customer satisfaction and an outlet for both Opel and Saab.

Is there a sound business case that GM could have made I suspect so. The problem is GM is now totally focused on stopping the red ink and getting out from under thee thumb of the Federal Government, a short term strategy and imperative.

It will be interesting to see if the Swedish Government comes to the table at some future time but if they do not I will be happy to continue to drive a Saab that is destined to become a classic and at 125,000 miles has been great to drive and trouble free to own.

Thanks GM, thankfully you will never get into the health care business.

Matthew M

December 18, 2009 7:55 PM

And because of decisions like buying Saab, GM did not have sufficient resources to support Oldsmobile, Saturn and Pontiac. Too many of what GM called "hi-potes" (high potential) geniuses from the treasurer's office obsessing about organization charts and not enough focus on product. Decades and billions mis-spent.

rds

December 18, 2009 8:04 PM

easy to blame GM, but it was a saab story all along. They could never shake the pipe smoking image.

lolofred

December 18, 2009 8:07 PM


used to own one...It is a good car, but a bit too pricey for it's worth..So long SAAB...

Brooks A. Batson, NP

December 18, 2009 8:17 PM

C. to Embassy of Sweden at Washington, DC

In the Northeast (New England) the engineers employed at Pratt & Whitney and the other large industrial concerns formed a huge block of loyalty branders of Saab. I bought a $3500 4-Cylinder Saab (which replaced the two-stroke 3) in 1974 at a time when a VW Beetle cost $1400 and a BMW 2000 or Alfa Romeo cost $4000 (having bought an Alfa in that year, too).

Engineering and Aerocraft were Saab's core functions, with automobiles sprouting out of those. Why didn't the Swedish Government, which buys Saab's Fighters, subsidise this most Swedish of Swedish industries, and arguably part of her national security independence, as is domestic Rice farming Japan's?

Apparently, GM stopped Saab Automobiles in their tracks, resting on past engineering laurals, like being the first car to introduce turbo-charging to its sports sedans.\, for instance. My '74 had the Freewheeling stick, which put the gearshift in neutral rather when coasting was advantageous for downhill motorway travel -- and they might have incorporated energy storage batteries fed by generators which ran off the braking system, if computer controlled! So much could have been done had Saab not utilised its full resources to design automobiles and trucks -- and self-powered passenger trains -- for the 21st Century market, instead of relying on past avante-guarde engineering which, by the 1990s had become obsolete? That was the Spirit of Saab which General Motors apparently ignored, in simplistic ignorance, and the Swedish Government failed to see investment opportunity in the interests of Sweden. Somebody, like BMW or better the Swedish Government wake up and save this wonderful resource of potential engineering genius and fruits both for Saab automobiles & Trucks, and for profitable licensing to other corporations!

OlFatDick

December 18, 2009 8:45 PM

That family. And Me. In '02, my wife bought a 9-3, after having a 900 convertible. The 900 was cool, but the 9-3 was (and is) an automobile par excellence. Fast. Good Mileage. Comfortable. Well made. Great handling. I described it to my friend like this-
"Like Saturn, it's more than a car, it's a Story." And the Story involves more than just marketer types and bean counters. It's more like a clubhouse where automotive and aerospace engineers get to come in and play with all the latest computers and software, consume lots of espresso, aquavit and chili verde, and just let their imaginations run wild, without supervisory types looking over their shoulders. Boring is prohibited, creativity is encouraged, Middle of the Road is left to Buick. RIP, my Friend.

OlFatDick

December 18, 2009 8:45 PM

That family. And Me. In '02, my wife bought a 9-3, after having a 900 convertible. The 900 was cool, but the 9-3 was (and is) an automobile par excellence. Fast. Good Mileage. Comfortable. Well made. Great handling. I described it to my friend like this-
"Like Saturn, it's more than a car, it's a Story." And the Story involves more than just marketer types and bean counters. It's more like a clubhouse where automotive and aerospace engineers get to come in and play with all the latest computers and software, consume lots of espresso, aquavit and chili verde, and just let their imaginations run wild, without supervisory types looking over their shoulders. Boring is prohibited, creativity is encouraged, Middle of the Road is left to Buick. RIP, my Friend.

Mike Jones

December 18, 2009 8:47 PM

So long Saab, or should I say, sob, which is what sorry owners of this product did when they got their first repair bill.

Sob, is what many car owners do, when they regret the day they bought such trash for to much money.

Its form over content, you just buy into an image; as one mechanic I know, who works at a dealership, namely, Audi..which he called the 'four rings of hell', prototype technology gave Americans the space shuttle, and the space shuttle's enormous budget and horrible disasters...and Saab, Audi, ect.

Why not buy a normal car that just runs, forget vanity...just remember, its just transportation.

Remember that copy machine, that caused you such frustration, that because its to complicated to work properly; lets not lament the cars that did the same thing to us!

Mike Jones

December 18, 2009 8:54 PM

So long Saab, or should I say, sob, which is what sorry owners of this product did when they got their first repair bill.

Sob, is what many car owners do, when they regret the day they bought such trash for to much money.

Its form over content, you just buy into an image; as one mechanic I know, who works at a dealership, namely, Audi..which he called the 'four rings of hell', prototype technology gave Americans the space shuttle, and the space shuttle's enormous budget and horrible disasters...and Saab, Audi, ect.

Why not buy a normal car that just runs, forget vanity...just remember, its just transportation.

Remember that copy machine, that caused you such frustration, that because its to complicated to work properly; lets not lament the cars that did the same thing to us!

Tom Tcimpidis

December 18, 2009 9:03 PM

No, the problem was not that there were too few Saab people, the problem was that GM never understood the brand and tried to distill it in to just another GM product, thus LOSING most of the Saab people in the process. In the transition, Saab lost most everything that originally MADE a Saab a Saab and along with that, what originally attracted Saab people to the brand. It became just another slightly different GM product with none of the cache, uniqueness, or panache it once had. GM killed it, Saab didn't die on its own...

rich

December 18, 2009 9:04 PM

I bought my first Saab, a Saab 96 - 3 Cylinder - 2 cycle in 1968,,$1800.,right off the show room floor. I had joined a cult. It was fun, I was 18. The car fell apart weekly with huge problems,,but I swore it was the best car on earth. At 15,000 miles it had dissolved itself into a smoking heap. So,,I bought another! A 4 cylinder!! It was horrible - the dealer couldn't service it - and it also fell apart early by 20,000 miles. I never bought another. I'm glad they're gone.
I never joined another cult - and never bought anything remotely related to Sweden again.

Benjamin

December 18, 2009 9:09 PM

This stinks! GM should be going out business and not Saab. GM managers should stand trial at the Hague for what they've inflicted on the American tax payer and the automobile industry.

David Knight

December 18, 2009 9:17 PM

GM certainly has a nack for eliminating nameplates. Too bad as SAAB had a small yet loyal following and at one time produced some very interesting cars.

Mike Kazarian

December 18, 2009 9:25 PM

One of the most favorite cars I ever owned was a 1985 Saab 900S sedan. It was solid as a tank, phenomenal in the snow, great on gas, aesthetically cool and relatively easy to work on. The parts were expensive though! In later years I bought some other used Saabs with low miles as the new ones were over priced ( for me anyway ). These were cars made in the early years GM took over. They were fraught with inexcusable defects for a car line of this caliber. They were unreliable beasts - and even though they still had some warranty left on them - Saab North America's customer service responses to my complaints were elitist, evasive and unsympathetic to say the least. I'm surprised they were able to linger on as long as they did! I switched to volvo's for a while - and now have a comfortably bourgeoise, reliable existence driving a Toyota Camry. Good bye dear Saab - I will miss the car company you ONCE were before the american mergers ruined the swedish car industry.

Joe Customer

December 18, 2009 9:25 PM

The era of buying out quality brands, and bankrupting them to eliminate competition is over. Bye Bye GM.

Michael

December 18, 2009 9:26 PM

My first Saab was a used 1961 2-stroke model that my wife drove to work every morning early to work in Northern Ohio where I was finishing my senior year at college. The car had front-wheel drive and drove easily and surely through all kinds of weather. We got used to putting the oil and the gas in together and loved the car right up until we hit a bump in upstate NY one day in 1968 and the car just settled down around the wheels as it surrendered to the rust all through the underbody.

Years later, I got another old Saab as part payment for a painting job I did one summer during my teaching years. The driver's side door would fly open every time I hit a substantial bump, but I got used to just pulling it closed. A great car that I traded for a carving set and a leg of lamb. The people who got the car drove it for another 2 years.

When I got into business and started having money, I began buying new Saabs, for myself and for my employees and colleagues. I think I ended up owning something like 17 over the years, not including the 2006 9-5 in my driveway.

I really don't get it. They were great, dependable, safe cars. I guess there were not enough people like me, which says, I guess, something about me...

Rachel

December 18, 2009 9:28 PM

I'm lamenting the loss also. Although to be honest I've been missing Saab since GM took control in 1990. My pre-GM Saab was far and away superior to the GM produced version. Perhaps what they did (or more accurately, didn't do) to the product is reflected in the diminishing Saab enthusiasts.

Christopher James

December 18, 2009 9:32 PM

It was an unreliable vehicle, albeit fun one to drive.

Christopher James

December 18, 2009 9:33 PM

It was an unreliable vehicle, albeit fun one to drive.

ntplano

December 18, 2009 9:55 PM

American auto companies buy auto companies as an losing asset(s)!!! Why? The answer is: Look where they are now, financially? BANKRUPT!!!

U.S. auto makers are so messed-up that they cannot even fixed their own mess!
U.S. auto makers are run by cowboys!!!
HAHAHA!!!

Saab Loyalist

December 18, 2009 9:58 PM

I have owned 3 Saabs since 1983. All high mileage solid vehicles. A very sad day indeed.

Craig

December 18, 2009 10:08 PM

GM wrecks another brand, what the hell else is new. GM has been in a slow motion train wreak for the last 20 years. Running Saab off a cliff, like they did to the other brands will solve nothing. Why would anyone buy a car from a company that has taken the lead in ruining brands...is bankrupt..bailed out and in a tailspin. It's only a matter of time till we hear the big GM crash.
It just pisses me off they took Saab with them.

michael

December 18, 2009 10:19 PM

Loyal Saab owner... 7 Saabs since 1995...
Great station wagon when my first child was born. No interest in German cars...looks like Ford or GM might get me...

Kerry Muzzey

December 18, 2009 10:34 PM


the car was always plagued with the 'pile of junk' moniker...it never was a quality unit/always had problems..good name but nothin else behind it...with the Swedes, you'd expected better......till you owned one.

Kerry Muzzey

December 18, 2009 10:34 PM


the car was always plagued with the 'pile of junk' moniker...it never was a quality unit/always had problems..good name but nothin else behind it...with the Swedes, you'd expected better......till you owned one.

Kerry Muzzey

December 18, 2009 10:34 PM


the car was always plagued with the 'pile of junk' moniker...it never was a quality unit/always had problems..good name but nothin else behind it...with the Swedes, you'd expected better......till you owned one.

Tom

December 18, 2009 10:36 PM

I'll miss Saab, too, although I haven't owned one in 20 years. It was a marvelously solid car to drive. Yet my 1976 Saab was expensive to service and the dealer was incompetent to do so. I really tried to hang on. Finally the car caught fire. Alas, I loved to drive it.

Dennis

December 18, 2009 10:41 PM

I owned three Saabs and finally gave up on the brand after fatiguing from the innumerable maintenance issues. The cars were quirky, and in that regard novel and fun, but the vehicles spent a good deal of time in the shop for bothersome and persistent issues. Add to that a particularly arrogant factory representative and front office crew in New England, and ownership became insufferable. It wasn't GM that killed this car. It was insufficiency of quality control and Saab's own dazzlement with Saab.

michael frisby

December 18, 2009 10:48 PM

In the 70's and 80's I had two Saab 900s and they were the best handling, most comfortable and fun cars to drive. I thought that Saab made a big mistake moving to the 9000, but I knew the end was near when GM bought the company. A sad day indeed. I regret that the Swedes didnt find a way to keep GM at bay and feared that Saab's unique engineering would be cannibalized by GM. Again a very sad ending for Saab.

Rob

December 18, 2009 10:48 PM

I loved my Saab and am really sad GM ran it into the ground. I had a '99 9-3 sedan and was really happy with it - totally reliable and as far as i could tell at the time comparable to the accord, maxima and 3 series but priced pretty well in the middle. But in the newer ones I could see that GM was "Americanizing" it... moving window switches, adding 6 drink holders, etc... It began to feel more and more like something less unique and it was losing the finish i expected of a european car. That was when I began to think of it as an "American" car which to me was less a status thing and more questions about its potential longevity (or lack thereof). GM needs an outsider now or it will continue its downward spiral. "Detroit" needs outsiders and they need to have the backing of their boards to really turn things upside down. Or, we'll continue to just see more of the same.

gdelius

December 18, 2009 10:49 PM

I owned 4 and rebuilt the engine in 2. Three were pre-1990 900's and what a dream they were to drive. The car fit you a glove and became an extension of your body. Designed to be maintained by the owner they were solidly engineered and built to last. The last I owned was a 1990 and what a piece of junk. GM' influence was immediate and devastating. The car became just another chevy it was sad...

I will sadly miss this amazing mark and the many fun hours I enjoyed driving like the wind.

eqkwizard

December 18, 2009 10:49 PM

A sad story. Unfortunately we have more cars the world can afford

tracy Rutherford

December 18, 2009 10:58 PM

It also didn't help that GM fiddled with the lower priced models. I had to take my Saab in for something and they gave me a rental Saab for the day. It was obvious it was just another GM car put in the body of a Saab. If this was what they were trying to sell I knew that anyone coming by to test drive the model they rented me would not be interested.

It is sad what they did to a really wonderful car. I have a 1991 SE Turbo Convertible, a 2003 900 Turbo Convertible, and a 2005 Turbo Aero Sedan. We wouldn't trade these cars for anything they are sturdy, safe, and really fun to drive. They all have their quirks and oddities, but none were insurmountable Maybe Saab would have died earlier if GM had not gotten involved. What is certain is that GM certainly contributed to the death of a truly unique and wonderful car.

Alan

December 18, 2009 11:14 PM

I owned a couple of SAAB Sonetts, a two-seater sports car they made in the late '60s and early '70s. Great cars, and at the time some the most aerodynamic, with a cd of only 0.31. As a unit of SAAB, they were quite the innovators--making one of the first production cars (the 99) to feature a turbocharger, for example. GM's purchase was the start of a long slide into mediocrity. Not surprising, knowing GM. I was surprised it took 19 years for GM to kill the brand.

Josh In Faheel

December 19, 2009 12:36 AM

Sob

m.r.

December 19, 2009 5:31 AM

welcome to the 'new GM'! slimmed down in many aspects! the only way it may survive! a dose of reality to a venerable company led in the past by CEOs who lived a dream called, 'futurama'! if Swedish government wishes to preserve jobs and Saab Inc. then let them invest!
so much for companies gobbling up everything in site because of cheap money and no corporate accountability!
welcome to the real world of Big 3 survival!

Mike from NYC

December 19, 2009 7:18 AM

If Saab wasn't purchased by another car company it probably would have ceased to exist years ago. Today's regulations make it too expensive for a small niche builder to build and design cars. Blame GM, but if GM didn't step in and buy them they would have disappeared anyway.

BTW, I did test drive a Saab Sonnett back in the early 70s.

leigh

December 19, 2009 7:20 AM

I, for one, will not miss changing a thermostat on a Saab engine, or changing a fuel pump for the PCM controlled fuel injection system. But, yhey are exciting when your front suspension is worn out AND you apply throttle; then the turbo spools up, Hold on tight, your technician isn't going to miss these "quirk"-mobiles. Let the good times roll!!!

Harvey G.

December 19, 2009 2:46 PM

I am one of those “Saab people”. I own twin 1996 Saab 9000s for myself and my wife, and one of my sons has a 1997 Saab Aero which he loves as much as we love ours.

I hope we can continue to get parts, when needed, because these cars are in perfect body, paint and interior condition. I have never seen an American car which looked as good after 14 years of service.

And that is why we have been loyal to this brand.

Good-bye Saab! We'll miss you very much.

Richard Parvey

December 19, 2009 8:14 PM

BMW should buy SAAB and bring their engineering to a brand that could become their funky side with unusual design, colors, etc. Look what they did for the Mini.

John Satariano

December 29, 2009 2:06 PM

I want to see the Saab brand bought.
I've never owned a Saab, but I like the
brand. Looking at their website, I like
the 1976 and 1978 model. I think they
would sell today. Saab doesn't need a
newly designed SUV to survive. I'd like
to see GM set a price for their Saab
division and let any company with the means to buy it. GM could spin the company off and let it trade separate from GM. GM said it would wait until the end of the month to shut down Saab. If nothing else I'd like 3 months to see if other individuals and corporations would be interested in buying the Saab brand through a stock offering. One problem is we don't know Saab's assets and liabilities. Dealer inventory is down and people need jobs. This is not the time to shut down any car brand.

John

January 7, 2010 5:33 PM

I've owed Saab in the past and absolutely loved them. Anyone have any requirements for their Saab site ?

Let us know

Thanks

Johanson

January 11, 2010 4:56 AM

Saab company owns the brand. Gm may own the factories it owns, but then Saab may again resurface with new models by the brand owners.

Dan in St. Louis

January 12, 2010 4:14 PM

Our family has owned a bunch of Saabs over the years from a 1978 99GL to our new 2009 9-3 sedan. The worst was our 2006 9-7 Trailblazer badgejob. They have all been great cars however. I will miss Saab badly but I feel the worst for the workers at Saab in Sweden. First Volvo is sold to China and now GM is shutting down Saab. Trollhattan will start to look like Detroit. Thanks GM, my business will go elsewhere now.

David , Saab mechanic ,Ohio

January 23, 2010 9:40 AM

I've been a mechanic 40 years now, and only on SAAB cars for 32 of them. Raised 4 children, no I'm not a rich man, but I can say with proper care any car can be seen as a good car. As I've seen a lot of people get poor service from their SAAB due to poor mechanics, and even worse dealers. I do hope SAAB keeps going , with proper care I have customers with cars @ 400K on them. GM needs people to buy cars new, an owner that changes with their latest hat to match. Sterling Moss's sister raced SAAB cars in the 60's the woman who started AutoWeek also raced them. Love or hate the car I for one whould hate to see the brand go away. and I'll do my part to keep the best of them going for as long as I can . A lot of people are alive today because of SAAB's safety and inovation . Thank You SAAB cars.

David Warren , Ohio

January 23, 2010 9:44 AM

BTW GM dont you owe the Taxpayer a lot of money, Sell the brand and pay your bills

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Want the straight scoop on the auto industry? Our man in Detroit David Welch, brings keen observations and provocative perspective on the auto business.

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