GM, in a perfect world, wouldn’t own Saab. In a perfect world, Saab would be self-determining. They would build vehicles according to their own philosophy and they would sell enough of them to keep investing in themselves and developing their craft.
Of course, we don’t live in a perfect world. Given that that’s the case, GM may or may not be the ideal owner for Saab.
But they sure beat being owned by Ford.
There’s been a train of thought that Ford have treated Volvo well because they’ve let them develop their own vehicles, ones that use a generic platform that Volvo have been allowed to build on in order to maintain their individuality. And indeed,this is a good thing. Volvo have grown and if and when Ford sell them they’ll likely provide themselves with a cushion for the loss they’ll take on Jaguar.
But the fact that Ford are in a position where they almost have to sell Volvo speaks more about the company as a whole than what their success with Volvo does.
Here in Australia, Ford announced today that they will be shutting down an engine plant that builds six-cylinder engines for the large-size Falcon range and Ford Territory SUV. There’s been a huge outcry over this today and calls for the government to step in, etc etc.
It’s not the government’s fault, though. It’s a business decision, based on the fact that business here ain’t been that good – and Ford have got no-one to blame but themselves.
Several years ago, GM took a decision to invest in Australian vehicle development, and the ultimate outcome of that decision has been plenty of vehicle exports from Australia to the US and the Middle East, as well as a few to the UK and other markets. GM’s Australian operations have also been recognised as an area of expertise for RWD architecture. Basically, we build great hoon-mobiles and people seem to like them.
Similarly, Toyota invested in their operations here and also export vehicles from Australia to other markets overseas.
Both companies have relatively secure operations here. But not so with Ford, as this latest bit of news shows.
Whilst GM have watered down some of Saab’s identity in the last few years, they’ve also begun to discover the things that the Swedes are good at. Saab have been entrusted with responsibilities for turbocharging, development of E85 capability and more recently, the implementation of XWD for GM’s coming new vehicles.
Here in Australia, Holden have been rewarded for their expertise by being able to bring out a new Commodore sedan that’s regarded pretty highly by the press and public alike.
In Sweden, Saab have just released a refreshed 9-3 that made real, tangible steps. My mate Par Brandt from Auto Motor and Sport in Sweden referred to it as being how the 9-3 should have been right from the start.
I feel pretty sure that we’re going to see Saab’s model range, and their role, grow in proportion to the increasing impact they have on vehicle development within the GM portfolio. The trick will be to get the mix of identity, character and engineering correct.
I met enough determined guys in Sweden to feel confident about that happening. Here’s hoping it’s the case.