Bob Lutz on Saab

This is a long one. 3000 words. Settle in.

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I got a Kindle for Christmas.

The first book I bought was one that was difficult to get in bookshops here in Australia: Bob Lutz’s Car Guys and Beancounters. Bob Lutz, for those who are unfamiliar, was one of GM’s Vice Presidents during much of the time when they owned Saab Automobile. He was responsible for lifting the overall quality in both manufacturing and design and if you consider GM to have had any sort of renaissance over the last 10 years, Mr Lutz is the man you can thank.

Lutz is a controversial figure, which is why GM loved to wheel him out at any big announcements. He was always good for a quote, so the press loved him, too.

I’ve got mixed feelings about Bob Lutz. On the one hand, there’s a lot that he says that makes sense. The opening of this book contrasts his thoughts on quality with those of some of Ford’s beancounters when he was working there in the late 1970’s. Ford had huge problems at the time with camshafts in their four cylinder engines, with many of them failing just after vehicles had passed their 12,000 mile warranty. Lutz investigated, approved the marginal costs needed to make more durable camshafts and was subsequently lambasted by the beancounters, who enjoyed booking profits on the service work associated with the failures. They estimated the improvement in the camshaft quality cost Ford roughly $50million. To the beancounters’ eyes, these customers were a captive market, with no choice other than to replace the failed camshafts (and associated damage from failures). Lutz correctly argued that the customers’ choice would be made when it came time to replace the vehicle, and the choice wouldn’t be another Ford.

That’s the good Bob Lutz. Make the product better for the benefit of both the company and the customer.

The Bob Lutz I don’t like is the one who cancelled nearly all of Saab’s proposed model range in the few years after GM took 100% ownership of Saab. My understanding is that the Saab 9-3, for example, had 5 different body styles in the works when it was being developed. Saab eventually got just 3 of these to market, but even then the SportCombi took three years to arrive (after the sedan). The planned small crossover version was cancelled as it was thought no-one would like the idea of a smaller SUV ……… right.

This article is going to show you more of the bad Lutz. It’s not necessarily intended that way. My intention was simply to share the quotes referring to Saab that appear in his book. As it happens, those quotes don’t paint him in a good light if you’re a Saab fan.

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Quote 1

….General Motors embarked on a series of initiatives to overcome both the perception and reality of the growing import threat. Some of these taxed the comprehension of rational minds at the time, such as the creation of Saturn, an all-new auto company, making a new kind of car with a new and more productive relationship with the UAW. Another was a mind-boggilingly bold move into China with, of all brands, Buick. There was a series of alliances with various Japanese brands and – after GM was jilted in its quest for Jaguar – the purchase of the decidedly weird Swedish brand Saab. As we shall see, many of these initiatives were ill-advised and ultimately failed. Some were successful, but not enough.

OK, that’s not so bad, I guess. Some might even take a description of Saab being “weird” as a compliment. I don’t think Bob meant it that way, though.

The comment about Buick being a mind boggler when it comes to entering China is one that’s somewhat typical in this book. It’s a book with many contradictions – he thinks the choice was mind boggling but it turned out to be the right one, yet there’s never any self-deprication at his own lack of understanding. Similarly, very little that afflicted GM in the 30 years before the bankruptcy appears to be GM’s fault in Lutz’s eyes, even if he lists GM’s shortcomings in detail (which he does).

Quote 2 – this is a big one….

A far sorrier tale is that of Saab. This was a “marriage on the rebound” if ever there was one. Irked, feeling diminished, and worried over rival Ford’s successful acquisitions of Land Rover, Range Rover, Jaguar and Aston Martin, GM decided that they, too, needed a premium European brand and set out to buy one. Naturally, in this particular dance hall, all the pretty girls (Mercedes, BMW, Audi, Ferrari) were taken. But what of the lonely, somewhat undernourished wallflower over there, the one called Saab? Thus commenced a journey into misfortune.

Saab had never been a strong or powerful company. An offshoot of Saab aircraft after World War II, the company built small, unusually shaped cars, initially with two-stroke engines (which trailled blue smoke and went “ring-ding-ding” when the driver lifted the foot from the throttle) but later with the European Ford V4 – a lumpy and charmless engine, but the only one that, presumably, would fit in the Saab 900 engine compartment.

[Yes, he really wrote that – SW]

The very weirdness of the cars endeared them to those in academia and other intellectuals. Saab ownership was like a badge of non-conformity, of daring individualism. Some of my professors explained their Saab devotion by repeating the fable that the company’s cars were superior because “it’s the only vehicle in the world designed by aircraft engineers.” (Having flown various US military jets in the 1950s and 1960s and experiencing their less than stellar reliability firsthand, I’m not sure how impressive, albeit fictitious, a claim that really was.)

Saab, always hovering at around 100,000 units per year, never could survive without a partner, and thus later, larger and more conventional Saabs shared their basic architecture with a midsize Fiat. Financial breakeven still eluded poor Saab. If you add up all the professors of sociology and political science, all the leftish intellectuals who admired the failed Swedish experiment in 90% tax rates and womb-to-tomb welfare, all the well-to-do who for some reason eschewed Mercedes, BMW, and Audi, you still couldn’t get to 150,000 sales. But GM bought it anyway, first at 50% and then 100! Saab would henceforth use two sizes of GM Europe’s Opel architectures and share systems such as heating and air-conditioning; the resulting better cars and lower cost would make Saab successful at last. (Frankly, I would have steered clear of this charming loser, and I later advocated sale or winddown every chance I got.)

Every effort to expand the appeal of Saab by making it more “mainstream” and less “quirky” ended in failure. Mainstream buyers simply didn’t consider Saab (or had never heard of it and thought it was spelled “sob”) while the intellectual fringe that adored “the unusual” was deeply resentful of what they considered a sellout to mass taste. They didn’t buy, either. The media were also very harsh on the “mainstream” cars, writing scathing pieces on the absence of the old Saab charm and decrying its “normalcy”. (“Saab story,” as the reader can well imagine, was often too tempting a headline to pass up.)

But GM’s worst failing was not in the purchase of Saab, but in the failure to do what is normally done in the acquisition of a smaller competitor: consolidate. Saab continued to operate largely autonomously, with all functions, including design, engineering, and purchasing, soldiering on as though they were still independent. The last Saab 9-3 was supposed to share most major systems with the well-engineered (but stylistically challenged) Opel Vectra. But, in a spirit of “we know better,” almost everything was changed, including the entire wiring and electrical system, as well as the engineering-intensive heating and air-conditioning unit. Since Saab sourced these and others to new suppliers, the economies of scale were lost, and the car became needlessly expensive. The fact that the specific Saab electrical system turned out to be heavily failure-prone didn’t help. This type of “brand character” can only be called wasteful stupidity. As I frequently (and irritatingly, I’m sure) said, “As if a Saab owner is going to crawl under the instrument panel and declare ‘What a ripoff! These are the same wires as in my neighbour’s Opel Vectra!'” Systems like electrical, air-conditioning and window lifts are customer-transparent: if they function well and are dead reliable, they can and should be shared across similar size cars, as they are between Toyota and Lexus. (The state of affairs I found at Saab when I joined GM in 2001 will be described in a later chapter.)

Patronising, dead-set inaccurate, and missing the point.

Saab did have some problems sticking to the GM playbook in those early years after 100% acquisition. The 9-3’s fibre-optic system was indeed quite futuristic and made for a wonderful dashboard that was in some ways future-proofed for the information overload that cars are just starting to take on today. I’ve not heard of mass failures of that electrical system, either, by the way, and I’ve been writing about Saabs for a long time. Maybe they just didn’t cross my desk.

Whilst Saab might have strayed from the playbook, it was the corporate parent that dropped the ball. GM used Saab as a management training facility, cycling their executives through the place on short term assignments to give them experience. If Saab were not sticking to the plan, why didn’t anyone at the Ren Cen know about it? Maybe Bob will get to that later…..

Bob mentions in the same paragraph that a) people wouldn’t care about a lack of individuality when it comes to shared parts, and b) that the customers and the press alike complained about a lack of individuality. He doesn’t seem to understand the disconnect here.

What he’s saying is right in theory. Unseen parts should be able to be shared and money saved. It’s just that GM employed this principle over the whole vehicle, sharing way too much and dumbing too many areas of the vehicle down. They had a clientele ready and waiting, and it was significantly bigger than what Bob touts here. They just never authorised the cars to be up to a standard to fully engage the public the way they should have.

Quote 3

Meanwhile, back in the USA, the pressure was on to find some way to share a platform with Fuji, thereby demonstrating to the world the frequently doubted value of the “alliance strategy”. A modern crossover was to be developed, shared between Pontiac and Subaru. After months of fruitless haggling over features prices and sales volumes, it became abundantly clear that the aspirations of Pontiac, a low-priced brand, were incompatible with the upmarket ambition of Subaru. The program was shelved, mercifully, only to resurface later with Saab as Subaru’s partner. That one bit the dust as well, as the vehicle was deemed insufficiently Saab-like and too investment-intensive. Still, the pressure to “make use of the Subaru alliance” existed, resulting in one of my less good ideas: creating a small Saab, the 9-2, off the Subaru Impreza station wagon, the rear two-thirds of which bore a remarkable resemblance to the large Saab 9-5 wagon. With all-new Saab identity sheet metal, it would be credible, right? Wrong! It was hated even before testing by the media, who called it a “Saabaru” and we managed to offend both the quirky addicted Saab loyalists as well as the hardcore Subaru fans. Sales were dismal; the 9-2 required heavy discounting, and arguably damaged both brands.

Finally, an admission of some fault.

Aside from that, though, this paragraph goes to show how a lot of the decision-making seems to have been made at GM. It wasn’t “let’s make the right car for Saab”. It was “we have to make use of this alliance”. Always the shortcut. Always the path of least resistance, the shallow reasoning (the back looks like the 9-5).

I believe the 9-2x could have actually ended up being a decent Saab. It was, after all, a five-door two-litre turbo with fantastic drivability. That’s a formula most Saab lovers would like the sound of. As problematic as the decision-making process was, however, the execution of the car was even worse.

Given a meagre budget, Saab’s own Peter Dörrich was put in charge of the project but was constrained in the mechanical changes he could make, and the interior guys seemed to be cut out of the equation completely. The Saab 9-2x was a disaster not because it existed, but because the same shortcuts that lead to it’s conception were applied tenfold to its execution.

The 9-2x typifies GM’s attitude towards Saab, something I’ll get to in greater detail further along….

Quote 4

One of the first things Lauckner did was to ascertain the supplier prices for the major components of the then-current Epsilon cars: the Opel/Vauxhall Vectra, the Saab 9-3, the Daewoo Epica, the US Chevrolet Malibu and the Pontiac G6. Jon’s team analysed the costs for all these cars of such “invisible” things as seat frames, fuel tanks and fuel management systems, window lift mechanisms, heating and air-conditioning, brake systems and many more……

…. None of us were prepared for the shock we received when we saw the results: some seat frames cost three times as much as others. Heating and air-conditioning was no different; there were huge divergences in component cost. Lauckner’s assigned purchasing executives immediately went to work, picking the best features and then dangling a huge prize in front of the global supply base: instead of 200,000 parts here, 150,000 parts there, the supplier companies were now asked to bid on as many as one and a half million identical parts.

This is not so Saab specific, but at least 9-3 owners now understand why the radio in their $35,000 Saab 9-3 looked the same as the one in a $15,000 Chevy.

Quote 5

It was during these first few months of 2009 that plans were drawn up to eliminate Saturn, Pontiac, Hummer and Saab. (Buick and GMC were also on the list, but survived when their profitability became better understood. Clearly, though, the future emphasis was to be on Chevrolet and Cadillac.) Personally, I shed nary a tear for Hummer, as the brand, justly or unjustly, had become a lightning rod for the enviro-left and was taxing GM’s credibility as a creator of fuel-efficient vehicles. Saab, a perennial money loser, was a failed son I was glad to see leave home. Again, not a tear from me!

I’m not angered by the separation, but I am angered by the flippancy of an executive who should have been able to do something great with a distinctive brand, but just didn’t care.

As you read the book, there are vague assertions and notions present (like the V4-into-a-900 quote from earlier) that give the impression of Lutz simply not knowing some key things. We’ll get to another example of that in a moment…..

Quote 6

As I stated earlier [I’m not sure where, I’ve quoted everything he’s said about Saab in this article – SW], I liked the Saab cars themselves but not how we were permitting Saab to continue as a money-losing, quasiindependent entity. I would have thoroughly consolidated it into GM Europe and eliminated all of the unique fixed costs associated with the brand [presumably, whilst arguing for it’s winddown as per Bob’s quote above – SW]. In 2006, I was a strong advocate for the brand’s sale to whomever, but the general consensus was that it could be “made profitable”, a perennial hope that never materialised. Love the brand or not (and I do), from a business perspective, GM should never have purchased it. In retrospect, I see not one single scrap of evidence that GM ever benefitted in the least from the ownership of Saab.

This is the money quote, right here. This is the quote that should have Lutz certified.

Firstly you get his non-genuine “love” for the brand he constantly argued for the divestment or closure of, the brand he was glad to see leave home – “Not a tear from me!”

And then there’s the last sentence – I see not one single scrap of evidence that GM ever benefitted in the least from the ownership of Saab.

Saab were GM’s center of excellence for turbocharging, for safety systems, they implemented the XWD system – the world’s best on introduction and a system conceived at Saab – into GM’s global FWD portfolio. GM cars the world over are better cars today because of the technology, expertise and commitment of Saab engineers. Next time you see a SAHR-inspired headrest, or a 5-star rated GM vehicle, or one with a turbocharger, consider which part within GM adapted and implemented that technology into the GM family of vehicles. And all of that’s just for starters. There’s so much more I could talk about here.

This quote just goes to show exactly how off-base Bob Lutz, and quite possibly the entire GM executive team, were when it came to matters concerning Saab. “Not one single scrap of evidence”

You know what I think? I think this is symptomatic of a condition that haunts Saab to this very day.

GM quite simply put Saab in the too-hard basket. The margins, even if Saab became profitable, were too small for them to ever care about developing this brand. They absented themselves in the earliest days of their ownership and when they finally started to take notice of Saab, it was just too left-field for their rigidly six-sigma mindset.

Today, that means that even though GM would be capable of protecting their interests in a deal with a Saab buyer, they won’t. They’ve shut up shop and by their own public statements, it’s not opening again, regardless of who knocks on the door. We’ll wait and see if that’s true.

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Bob Lutz’s book is a good read. As I said at the top, there’s a lot in there that I found to be insightful and educational. It’s well worth reading.

It’s just a shame that it confirms what we all thought with regard to Saab. GM simply didn’t have a clue in the beginning, and by the time they got one they were both too destitute to be able to do something, and too indifferent to anything other than quick profits to care.

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51 Comments

  1. I think, if Lutz is responsible in any degree for GMs strategies the last 10-15 years, he is then responsible for strategies that led GM to ruins. Fits nicely on a CV, no?

  2. WOW! 🙁
    A perfect example what happens when a company is run by career managers. They don’t have a clue about the history and tradition of the company. With that comes the inability to understand its customers.
    SAAB was going to be GM’s European premium brand at one point, not something to be dumbed down and consolidated.

    Now I finally understand why/how the seat frame has failed in our NG 9-3, but in non of the old Saabs.
    Unbelievable.

  3. Americans worship at the altar of the almighty dollar. Sure every business is there to make a profit to be viable, but the American approach to fixing a problem by throwing a shit pile of dollars at it, cannot always yield results. I would hazard a guess here and say this was GM’s thinking of making Saab fit into its toy box of assets. Here in the UK, there is proverbial saying, “knowing the price of everything but without knowing the value of anything”. I think fellow Saab guys n girls know that the “value” applicable here is the wonderful ingenuity that springs from Saab DNA. GM and Mr. Lutz know how to make a balance sheet look good (even if they did put a gun to the head of the US administration that thought its[then] impending failure was unthinkable and warranted a massive bail out) but they didn’t have a modicum of a notion of how to harness the tech savvy guys within Saab. I truly hope that if a new owner or investor is able to purchase Saab, that they will look at GM’s mistakes and learn from them. We need sustainability and a new owner with balls to walk on the wild side! Saab cars have a distinctive signature and that has to be the unique selling point, not to absorb it into a corporate rebadged clone. Selling a Saab without a Saab engine in it is stupid. If this happens, the press will have a field day trashing a lamented brand. Loyal Saab owners will stick to the older classic cars and won’t buy new cars. If they don’t do that and spread the word, no buyers new to the brand will be found. That will be Saab armageddon.

    1. Good thoughts but as far as engines go, Saab may have sold more models with other manufacturer’s engines than their own! After the 2 strokes, the first two 4 stroke engines were from Ford and Triumph. The Triumph manufactured design inspired Saab’s first 4cyl, the 2 liter “B” motor which later morphed into the B202 16V line-up and such ending with the last OG 9-5’s in 2009. Along the way there were the Opel V6’s, and it’s hard to categorize the present Eco-Tec engines (even thought there’s probably a lot of Saab DNA in ’em!) as they’re all over GM’s product line-up! More than “engines” it’s always been more about “engineering”……They’ve always been made out of the same “stuff” as other cars, it was what they DID with it that made them special!

  4. ‘The Impreza looks a bit like a Saab – let’s make it a Saab!’ – Until this day, I had always hoped there was a better reason for the 9-2x than that!

    Lutz doesn’t seem to be interested in details. Based on that 900 V4 comment, I suspect he didn’t write this book phyisically, but sat in a chair in his office and paid someone to write down his daily musings/ramblings, and put it into something legible.

    Just a note on those 9-3 dashboards, I could have sworn I’ve read about problems with them (probably on comments on your former sites?) and always make sure to avoid them when looking at potential purchases.

    It’s funny, the more I hear about this autonomous state that Saab took on during its GM era, the more I like Saab. Although it did them no favours, you have to admire the way Saab refused to drop its standards. Foolish maybe, but admirable! I know the fans around the world have things like ‘F-U GM’ written on their facebook things – but from the sounds of things, the biggest F-U given to GM was by Saab. For about 15 years! 😀

      1. Eggs, I believe there hasn’t been any problems with the automatic system itself (HVAC’s working well even on older cars) just the loss of pixels on the display due to insufficient glue used on the OG 9-3’s. Which can be fixed without having to change the unit.
        Both the original NG button dash display’s on the other hand have been perfect for almost a decade now, at least for us.
        Physical damage to the optical cables under the driver’s seat will screw up things but that requires quite a lot of abuse by the owner.

        1. This is known; the comment is in the context of GM/Bob Lutz as it applies to Saab. The SID issues were Saab and had nothing to do with Bob Lutz. That’s the point.

          1. I’m not saying it had anything to do with Bob Lutz, I was simply stating that I had avoided them on the past having read about the various issues in comments on Swade’s former sites. I acknowledge – as I always have acknowledged – that this was a failure on Saab’s part.

            Everything else – my debt, my inability to swim, my short stature, my girlfriend’s friends – I blame on Bob Lutz.

            Only kidding, take it easy Eggs!

      2. I guess the issue for me is the phrase ‘heavily failure prone’. I know 9-3’s have a problem with SID’s and that it shouldn’t happen, but it isn’t a dealbreaker for most people I know who love their cars. SID failures generally happened later in the car’s life and solutions are available and pretty simple.

        The 9-3’s issues with broken springs, now that’s an issue worth of the “failure prone” tag and a much more serious one. I think Bob took some liberties with language in order to reinforce his point.

  5. I’m not a Bob Lutz apologist. He is arrogant, contradictory in his testimonials and certainly a product of the big three for better or worse.

    However, I give Mr. Lutz a LOT of credit for being smart enough and bold enough to create waves of change of any size in Ford and later GM (he is Swiss German after all). Yes, many of those waves crashed against the shore needlessly, many of them were too big or too small for our liking, and most of them were about brands other than Saab. Like it or not, Bob Lutz created change in one of the most complicated, lumbering, labor-choked bureaucracies the world has ever known. That’s something. Really.

    As for his comments about Saab, yes, he’s been insensitive. Lutz had very big fish to fry and Saab wasn’t, in his mind, worth the time. He was trying to move the GM profitability needle which meant that his world was caught up in millions of units, not the thousands that Saab delivered. I get it. Lutz freely admits that Saab was a huge mistake for GM, and I think that we Saabisti agree with him. GM+Saab was worth less than the sum of the parts.

    Lutz has been right about a lot of things in his career: the aforementioned camshafts at Ford, the Dodge Viper, import of the Holden Monaro to the US, the rise of performance at Cadillac, etc. It’s a shame that he was indifferent to Saab because he could have easily been a savior rather than a powerful naysayer.

    1. I´m pretty sure that Mr. Lutz knows quite well, that the aquisition of Saab was necessary for GM as a whole as pointed out by Swade: if GM wouldn´t have bought Saab and moved the R&D facilities to Rüsselsheim GM products would be capable of passing any of todays emission regulations or meeting safety standards. Now that they are up-to date they think they don´t need Saab anymore.
      And from a business point of view, it´s important to do, say and write anything to deny this fact – and if possible to bury Saab. This is the only way to prevent competitors to get the same profit out of Saab – and that`s why he was acting and is writing in this way. If he was able to give the Dodge Viper a chance, then he would have also been able to give Saab a chance to produce mass-incompatible cars and to become profitable again. But he simply didn´t want to. Hope the new buyer will see this chance…

      1. Saying that GM/Opel were unable to satisfy new/different/better emissions regulations without Saab is absolutely absurd. There are a million other ways that work could have been done, including licensing anything that they needed from any European automaker that wanted GM’s money. Believe me, all of them do/did/will.

        Saab was perhaps convenient for compliance, but they were certainly not necessary.

    2. Lutz is a total blowhard. I recently saw him on an American TV show (“Real Time with Bill Maher.”) When the conversation turned to global warming and the possibility that cars and their CO2 emissions might be a cause, he denied it, even though one of the other guests on the show, a noted American astrophysicist (Neil deGrasse Tyson), presented solid evidence to the contrary.

      1. @ Curvin – I saw that program as well. My take away from listening to the lisping Lutz was that he is a relic from the “golden years” of the American car industry where innovation was defined as bigger is better (or louder is “truthier”).

      2. I do not watch Maher throw Christians to the lions, but I’ll agree with your assessment of Lutz. Remember that he is now 80 years of age and certainly cut his business teeth during a different time.

          1. Metaphorically speaking, Maher throws Christians to the lions on every show. He incites arguments and ensures that those whom he supports subdue those with whom he disagrees. It’s his MO. Certainly you understand that?

          2. To be clear, I think Bill Maher throws all religions to the lions. Christianity just happens to be the frequent target for the American guests and audience. 😉

          3. “Christians to the lions” = helpless and/or overmatched person(s) forced to fight overwhelming competition. Roman history, anyone?

            That is, the statement is not about Christianity, it’s about the practice of using people for a mean-spirited bit of sport by slanting the competition against them.

          4. About 75% of Maher’s guests follow one religion or another, so I would hardly call that slanting the competition. If anything, he frequently has guests with opposing views to balance the conversation.

    3. Agree 100%, Eggs. As I mentioned in the piece, there’s a lot about Lutz that I like when it comes to his comments on quality and the wider industry. He’s got a track record to back them up, too. Unfortunately I’m also a Saab fan and in that regard, he’s a villain (with a similar track record and one that you rightly point out could have been a much more positive).

      1. You and I agree. With respect to Saab, Lutz was like a child given a Christmas present that he already had and he promptly ignored it. When asked about it by the relative that gave him the gift (GM’s board), he made up something that sounded good and went on ignoring it between visits. For that, I fault him. He’s better than that and Saab is better than that.

  6. Take away from your column Swade:

    “What he’s saying is right in theory. Unseen parts should be able to be shared and money saved. It’s just that GM employed this principle over the whole vehicle, sharing way too much and dumbing too many areas of the vehicle down.”

    My thoughts exactly.

    1. Yup, that’s pretty much both the magic business angle to success and the fatal flaw all at once. It’s the philosophy that works well at makers of soap, kitchen applicances, and tools, but poorly in the modern automotive world.

      From a certain point of view, I don’t see Lutz as being outright wrong in much of what he says. At the exact same time, it’s very wrong from a Saab view. Those two views, those two realities were never really compatible in the first place.

  7. “Love the brand or not (and I do), from a business perspective, GM should never have purchased it.”

    This is the key quote, and he is dead right. Not because Saab could not have been made a viable business, but because GM didn’t have the right approach to the brand, as SW describes in such detail. And if you don’t plan to bother at putting some effort into it, why spend the money on buying it at all? Again, Lutz is right: GM shouldn’t have got into the Saab game in 1990. The rationale behind the investment was non-existing, and once they joined the Saab game, they had no idea how to play it. Big question of course: would Saab have made it as long as they did if Fiat would have been the winning party back in 1990?

  8. I have one comment to make: What on earth was GM thinking when they purchased Saab – any due diligence? To cry foul after albeit 15 years when you wanted this stepchild to become premium and date the high echelons of ladies in corporate boardrooms, you should have had the balls to craft a strategy that would have made that feasible, right?
    Like J Fan’s comment: “the biggest F-U given to GM was by Saab. For about 15 years!”

  9. One relevant point that RL makes by accident is regarding the brand’s past, recent, and potential future customers in the US. The question is:

    Who are the buyers who can afford a $35-50K car and would consider something OTHER than a BMW, Audi, MB (or second tier brand such as Caddy, Volvo, or increasingly, Subaru)? Where do they live? What are their demographics? WHY would they not buy one of the above? And most importantly, are there enough of them to make a profit?

    Because a future Saab could never have the resources to go head to head on matching brand characteristics with those makes, it would have to do something different. So, again, what would lure those folks away from such established and competent models?

  10. Lutz may be touted as one of those executives who have a rare vision for the growth of behemoth car companies like Ford or GM, but in retrospect he seemed to be more focused on the bean counting aspect of running the GM vanilla/acme vehicle appliance factories, than being any sort of visionary for designing and building well engineered cars.

    Saab was never going to fit into that mould and thanks to the independent, no compromises thinking of Saab management during GM’s tenure, Saab were still able to build some pretty damn good cars.

    I still stand by my comment made a couple years ago on Swade’s SaabsUnited:

    Lutz should probably have also been included in the deal to sell old tools to China.

    🙂

  11. Sorry Mr O’Rielly…wrong again. The whole ‘global warming’ sham/scam has been proven so many times to be just that, so as to be laughable.
    GM definitely blew the whole Saab thing. They did have a potentially hugely valuable asset, and through lack of attention and understanding of the particular niche, let it go to waste. Mr Lutz’s comments seem to make that clear. It is also clear that GM derived great benefit from Saab in engineering [and accounting – Sweden is a good place to post losses on paper] as evidenced by so many of their current cars showing definite Saab DNA. Which is a good thing. Saab derived benefit from GM in reliability, as well as distribution and sales. Too bad such was underutilised. I think it could have been a really great partnership.
    Of course, what do I know? I wanted a 92X…at least until I found out it was a subaru.

      1. That article is from eight years ago. Thoughts have changed significantly since then. Statistics are a funny thing; proving correlation is easy but finding the cause isn’t always as obvious. (See mercury preservatives in vaccines that don’t cause autism.)

        The short story is this: the CO2-causes-warming argument was dealt a blow by the leveling and slight decline of the global temperature over the last four-five years despite record production of man-made CO2. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the CO2-causes-warming people are wrong — yet. However, it does mean that the causes and predictions of future temperatures are in need of much more study before they are fully understood.

        1. I stand corrected re the date of my “proof.” Let’s hope they do something about the problem… if it’s a problem. (I think it is.)

          1. I have heard that most climate scientists assume that gobal warming exists, and that most of those assuming that there is no man-caused global warming, are not climate scientists. I heard this less than eight years ago.

            I do concede that climate is extremely complex, but there are other good reasons to act like global warming would exist (saves money in the long run, makes us independent from the likes of Assad or Gaddhafi, maintains an emergency reserve for the next ice age, etc.)

  12. Working in the bowels of the beast in Orange Ct. when the GM guys first came on the scene, it was quickly apparent that they didn’t “get” Saab….and probably never would! Even though some decent product DID result from it, it’s evident, from his own words, that the glass house of the Ren Cen was just too remote for even a “car guy” like Mr. Lutz to really grasp the essence of what they now owned! I wonder what it would be like, today, if the Fiat deal, that we’d been breifed on and GM trumped @ the 11th hour, had gone through?

  13. Trying to take a neutral POV ( and I do appreciate your points E&G) , the Lutz/GM era for Saab as a business case could be seen as losing a lot in the execution. Good ideas which then were translated poorly into mediocre outcomes.

    However, I think the missing (to me) piece of information is perhaps the original sin: why did GM invest in Saab in the first place? I would like to know that from someone who was actually there, in the deal. I suspect the reasons were totally different to what took place afterwards. Maybe it was just about technology aquisition with the added bonus of selling a few cars on the side? That would explain a lot.

    This then goes to the reasons that Saab went to the wall last year. The potential sale was complicated with the deals-within-deals nature of all the GM contracts and interests. It wasn’t really that Saab didn’t have merit as a car mfr with reasonable prospects and a good factory – but more that it couldn’t extract itself from its circumstance.

    1. I’d certainly like that answer, too. What was the driving force for GM, of all companies, to want Saab? It’s a question that will be answered a million ways, methinks.

      If I transport myself back to 1990/1991, I’ll guess that GM had many small reasons to buy Saab, but no big reason. That makes it even worse.

    2. Here is the video to the Saab-Scania and GM Press Conference (December 15, 1989) that answers a lot of questions. It is important to remember that GM changed its top management (CEO) only a year later and the company had one of the worst periods in its history from 1990 to 92.
      New strategies were put in place during that time and Saab was probably viewed completely different than how the directors of the 80’s had envisioned the operation.

  14. Thank you Swade for this “Book review.” Maybe Lutz should take some credit for being part of the team which ran GM into the ground. Simple principle that when the ship is sinking you cast off whatever you can. GM will survive with Chevrolet and that’s it. As long as it’s other brands break even or make small profits it can have as many brands as it wants to have. It can even tolerate a “small time loser.” Saab is a loss that GM will forever regret.

    Just a thought.

    1. That is, unless GM is one of the current bidders! Purely a baseless statement, that is, but I do wonder what Detroit’s reaction will be here in the next 30 days when the fate of our dear brand is decided…one of remorse, one of gladness (that they won’t be blamed, yet again, for the demise of the brand), or one of indifference (more than likely).

      P.S. – Scoggin Dickey still a Saab shop? My 9-5 Aero Wagon I bought there back in ’09 is doing great.

  15. I put Bob’s book on my last Christmas list and it was good to see those quotes posted on a discussion forum. I agree with Swade’s conclusion about contradictions. You wonder how someone who makes lots of sense on one hand doesn’t seem to make complete sense whan it comes to Saab. I conclude he knew things that we didn’t and didn’t fully understand other things about Saab. And, while he makes lots of observations in the book, he wasn’t always the key decision maker when it came to the business of Saab within GM.

  16. Scoggin-Dickey still has new Saabs on their lot. They are selling extended warranties also. So, I assume they are continuing service. I have not been notified differently. My last Saab service was in November 2011.

  17. There is evidence to suggest that GM hesitated buying the remaining 50% of Saab back in 2001. GM got close to selling Saab in 2006. Unfortunately for Saab, GM hung on to it for far too long. If GM had sold Saab in 2001 or 2006, I’m sure we’d be looking at a much prettier picture.

    1. I disagree. Only two major marques that could have acquired Saab in those days have had the financial strength to make it through to 2012 without significant sell-off of assets: Nissan and Fiat. Neither of those companies was in any position to buy in 2001, and certainly Nissan was struggling to regain lost market share in 2006 and wouldn’t have been able to focus on Saab. That leaves Fiat, and I’m not convinced that they would have been any more attentive than GM.

      Think about it: Ford had to sell Volvo, Jaguar and Land Rover, Toyota has had monstrous issues the last two-three years, Daimler had their hands full with Chrysler, VAG has perennial problem child SEAT and in the early 2000’s acquired Skoda and wouldn’t have been able to help Saab much. Renault were themselves restructuring.

      Who else would there be? Remember: in 2001 or 2006, Saab would have cost a few times the amount the Spyker paid for Saab.

      I submit that if Saab were bought in 2001 or 2006 there would have been a similar scenario to what happened in 2011, it simply would have happened a few years earlier. That’s my guess.

  18. Lutz is a pig how he talks down about SAAB owners. He is overhyped and is in reality an out of touch jerk. Good riddance to him.

  19. It’s Lutz’s “independence” argument that seems most dishonest. GM never really gave Saab the autonomy he suggests, nor the investment the company needed to compete against Audi.

    GM’s relationship with Saab paralleled BMW’s with MG/Rover. Buying Saab was an exercise in corporate expansionist hubris during an era when that was popular (Lutz referenced Ford’s P.A.G.).

    Like BMW and Rover, GM didn’t “get” Saan and didn’t want to. They just wanted more profits with minimal investment and to expand in the Euro market with something upmarket. Moneyed buyers saw through this mostly and opted for Audi. Saab loyalists who wanted to see their icon work, we’re alienated because the new cars were a) unrecognizable as Saabs and b) out of their price range.

    Enter MINI. Unlike Rover, BMW bothered to understand MINI- its quirky Brit charm and how that stand-out personality could really work in a hatchback market full of grey options. They invested accordingly into a new plant, kept the prices cheap, and the designs unique and reaped the profits accordingly. Also, MINI’s success in the States was due in no small part to an outstandingly clever ad/marketing campaign that successfully used humor to pitch to a young buyer that was probably stepping out of Mom’s old 909 for the first time since getting a license.

    Was Lutz “a pig” as Ella puts it? Nah. He just thought himself shrewd and is now trying to spin his legacy as a true car guy instead of a suit. Lutz lost the plot along with the rest of the old GM in exchange for profit margins longer ago than he dare admit.

  20. As I was told , SAAB was bought to develop Caddy into a Euro friendly brand , in essence a platform to see what whould fly and what whould not in making a sporty caddy , a dip into the highend euro market . Once done close them , a GM experment . Sold off to Victor who never had the pockets to keep it going then lessen the blame for the closing the brand . GM never did want SAAB to live , just a brand to play in the market till they could get Caddy and Buick into europe and China . Deed done . So from now on I’ll just continue to buy and rebuild an enless supply of used cars around my needs and not GM’s . Lutz is untouched by any of what happens to anything that happens to you or I ….. or SAAB . Just Sad IMO =/ . 35 years of proper care for a brand and the owners, I never seen the day coming SAAB whould be closed , silly me .

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