The death of a design classic makes for an easy obituary but sad reading. General Motors's decision to wind down Saab Automotive is distressing news but no shattering revelation. The Trollhattan-based manufacturer has consistently
failed to turn a profit since 2001. The company sold 93,295 cars in 2008 but still managed to haemorrhage a cool 3 billion Swedish crowns ($392 million), a sum that even America's largest automaker was unable to sustain.
In light of GM`s own financial failings and dwindling market position, the company had been seeking an appropriate buyer for Saab since early 2009. Despite interest from from Sweden and The Netherlands in the shape of Koenigsegg and Spyker - both quirky, low-volume specialist manufacturers - the egg timer appears to have passed its final grain.
Despite the imminent mass unemployment looming over the industrial belt of southwest Sweden, the government was not prepared to offer Saab a financial lifeline. The end was hastened by GM's decision to off-load production equipment for the venerable 9-3 and 9-5 models to China's BAIC (a swift and easy way for BAIC to gain access to tried and
tested technology).
Many hold GM directly responsible for the demise of Saab Automotive and it’s hard not to disagree. For the enthusiast, Saab signalled innovation and individualism, and the slow and steady eradication of these qualities under the American giant meant the company could no longer claim to own its niche. When Saab were Saab the
brand thrived on strong styling, quirky originality and healthy consumer loyalty, attributes that were slowly diminished following GM's 50% acquisition in late 1989 and eventual complete takeover at the turn of the century.
In 1994, Saab's chief designer Bjorn Envall retired after 25 years at the company. Envall`s unusual design approach was the embodiment of an altogether different set of motoring preferences. During his tenure Saab developed and marketed concepts taken for granted by the present day driver, like headlight wipers, electrically heated seats and side impact technology, safety and comfort features inspired by the Swedish climate. Performance was also important: the company built the first production car with a turbo-charged engine, the Saab 99.
But most of all, Envall’s creations possessed a soul that Saabs' competitors lacked, a perceived character that was formed through a mix of ergonomics, practicality, familiarity and function. Saab owners were loyal. They overlooked quirks and cherished difference. Regrettably GM have taken just 15 years to deconstruct what took Saab over half a century to achieve, creaming off Saab's engineering talent to work elsewhere in the company's global portfolio.
Along with Saab enthusiasts, its engineer, architect and graphic designer owners, it is with palpable regret we report the near inevitable end of the company. There's still hope that the name will live on - after all, a brand new 9-5 model is all tooled up and ready for production (although there have been hints that the handsome design
would be cruelly re-badged as a Buick) and Spyker are rumoured to still be in with a chance. With uncertainty still in the air,
we present a gallery of Saab as we remember it best, a purveyor of true Scandinavian style.