Saab chief jumps

After losing the manufacturing battle to the Opel plant in Russelsheim, Saab CEO Peter Augustsson has resigned.  His role will be assumed by Carl-Peter Forster, who will add his Saab CEO title to his current role as head honcho of GM Europe.

I take this as a disappointing development.  When the ‘fit-hit-the-shan’ last week, Augustsson came out and emphasised the importance of the Saab entity retaining it’s presence in Sweden.  Like Saab enthusiasts, he seemed to understand that simply "adding Swedishness" was not the way to go if retaining and then building on Saab’s niche market is the goal.

It’ll be interesting to watch the next few years and see if any more visionary projects like the 9x concept vehicle are forthcoming out of Sweden.  GM has come out in the last few weeks and committed itself to Saab being it’s premium global brand, so it’ll be interesting to see if any money goes where the corporate mouth is.

Of course, Bob (Lutz, that is….I know he’s reading this), this is the perfect opportunity to get a fresh face in there.  I’ve made you my offer already and it’s still on the table.

More on the resignation from MarketWatch:

"[Augustsson] has steadfastly led Saab to a significant brand positioning within the GM brand structure, and has supported the improvement in the production facility there in Trollhattan," said GM Europe Chairman Fritz Henderson in a statement.

Last Friday, General Motors, which has been working to stem persistent losses in Europe, tapped the production plant in Russelsheim, Germany, over Trollhattan to build Opel and Saab models.

The decision obviously wasn’t a popular one in Sweden, where airplane maker Saab first launched its auto production in the late 1940s. But Augustsson, 50, admitted that it was the right one for General Motors, despite his spirited backing of the Swedish plant and efforts to keep its workforce a dynamic part of GM’s future.

"From an investment viewpoint, it was absolutely the right decision to use the capacity that already exists in Russelsheim," Augustsson told MarketWatch. "Facts and figures tell the true story."

He does, however, foresee a brighter future for the Swedish facility.

"There’s reason to believe that if Trollhattan’s plant continues to perform as we are now, there will be further opportunity to use this capacity," he said. "It’s important that Saab stays true to its roots."

Augustsson, who joined Saab in 1998 and became chief in 2000, said he now plans to open a business development company after "taking in some sun in Spain" for a few weeks.

"The Saab brand is now going into another five-year loop," he added. "I’ve been around for seven years and I don’t think I’ll be around for another five, so it’s good timing to do something else."

Saab, which has been unable to reverse chronic losses during Augustsson’s stint, sold 2,545 vehicles in the United States in February, 6 percent less than a year ago.

For Saab to reemerge as a moneymaker for GM, the company will need to step up to the competition and deliver a new crop of compelling products, according to Augustsson.

"This is a very challenging business environment for the brand," he said. "While Saab already has strong vehicles in the marketplace, it really needs to focus on an expanded product program. And GM is committed to the expansion."

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