Saab’s place in the world

Saab has always been a little different.  They made front-wheel-drive a standard when it wasn’t.  They wired their headlights through the ignition – in the early 70’s.  Some manufacturers are still to try that one.  And of course, the one we can all hang our collective hat on – the successful introduction of a turbocharged production vehicle.

It was a great disappointment then, when a truly unique manufacturer was swallowed up by General Motors in the 1990’s.

The Detroit News has an article that’s a looming grey shadow over the Saab brand and it’s ongoing existence, although it also carries a small ray of hope.

The sadness is in the reported losses associated with the brand due to low US sales and under-utilisation of the Trollhattan plant.  There’s also some sadness in how generic the brand is becoming in order to crack the all-important US market.  Cars such as the Subaru WRX and Chevy Trailblazer are being rebadged and fitted up with a Viking nose and sold as Saabs. 

Personally, I’d be interested in the WRX copy, the 9-2x, but I’d rather see the 9-3x concept really come to fruition.  Why the GM honchos don’t consider the 9-2x for Australasia, I’ll never know, though one could guess it has something to do with manufacturing agreements and Subaru wanting to protect it’s market share here in Australia.

The ray of hope is that GM do view Saab as their premium brand in Europe.  Ford have managed to integrate and resurrect names such as Land Rover and Jaguar, and so the test will be whether GM can overcome the watering down of the Saab brand.

A big key to that is to maintain the innovation and uniqueness of the vehicles that Saab is allowed to churn out from Trollhattan.  The simple fact is that Americans don’t adequately understand a European market.  The American appetite for gas-guzzling SUV’s, whilst not quite unique, is nowhere near the marketplace when it comes to The Continent, where smaller and smarter is generally the norm.

If GM give the Swedes some freedom, they may be rewarded with a public re-acceptance of the Saab brand.  For old-timers like me, that’d be nice.

UPDATE: Look, I’m just a little Aussie bloke and don’t know much about the US market, but maybe this is part of the problem.  From Saab USA President Debra Kelly-Ennis:

"Saab is fortunate to have established a very distinct brand image in the minds of consumers over the years," says Debra Kelly-Ennis, president and COO of Saab USA. "Saabs are associated with independence, individuality and challenging convention. They promise progressive design, driver-focused performance and "gee whiz" functionality. Our new campaign builds on this heritage and makes it relevant to today’s customer."

Gee Whiz.  Tres sophisticated.

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