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Posted by: David Welch on February 25, 2010
There’s a new verb in the auto vernacular. Saab-ing it. That’s what people inside Hummer and General Motors say they are doing with the menacing-SUV brand now that a tentative deal to sell it to China’s Sichuan Tengzhong Industrial Machinery has fallen through. GM says they will wind Hummer down. Recall over the past several months before closing the sale of Saab to Spyker Cars that GM said a couple of times that a sale was unlikely. They said that they planned to wind it down, thereby putting pressure on any bidder to come up with a cash deal quickly. It worked. So GM is playing a similar game with Hummer. The company says Hummer is in wind down mode, but if a buyer comes along with cash in hand there still could be a sale.
Well, I have another definition of Saab-ing it. GM management has already done it with Hummer. They just didn’t know it. To Saab a car brand means to buy it, give it some initial investment money in the early honeymoon years and then starve it of new models and marketing dollars until it has to either be shuttered or sold. GM spent a pittance on Saab and Hummer marketing in recent years. After the H3 was launched, GM didn’t add anything new. They had a great concept called the HX (pictured above) but it was never built. Both Hummer and Saab were limited to just two models to sell for most of their existence under GM ownership. Nothing in equaled nothing out.
To be fair, Hummer is a tough sell these days. Americans are in a recession-driven period of austerity. Fuel is cheap, but the prospect of a gasoline price spike sits on the consumer’s shoulder like a fat gargoyle. In an era when conspicuous consumption is scorned and consumer confidence is low, Hummer would be a tough sell.
That said, Lamborghini and Ferrari aren’t withering away. A new buyer could take Hummer back to what it was before GM bought it and Saabed it. It could be a niche brand selling expensive, recreational, ultra-rugged suvs that can go anywhere. And by anywhere, I don’t mean the speed bumps in the prep school parking lot. I mean the Dakota Badlands. Remember the H1? Imagine that, only more refined. In other words, it could be to suvs what Ferrari or Lambo are to sports cars, but its new owner can’t Saab it.
Want the straight scoop on the auto industry? Detroit bureau chief David Welch , Dexter Roberts and Ian Rowley bring daily scoop, keen observations and provocative perspective on the auto business from around the globe. Read their take on such weighty issues as Detroit’s attempt at a comeback, Toyota’s quest for dominance and the search for an efficient car.