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Phil LeBeau: Don't Sob For Saab

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Posted By:Phil LeBeau
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This one is for Wally Griffith. Wally was the executive producer of the "Saving GM" and "Saving GM: Inside the Crisis" documentaries. He would ask the same question time and again: Why does GM own Saab?   more-bullet.gif Read More


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This one is for Wally Griffith. Wally was the executive producer of the "Saving GM" and "Saving GM: Inside the Crisis" documentaries.

Over the course of more than a year of researching, interviewing executives, and putting together the CNBC documentaries he would ask the same question time and again: Why does GM own Saab? At first I would explain the rationale, but after a while I would just laugh and say, "Who knows Wally."



I bring this up because GM  reaching an agreement to sell Saab highlights the folly of Jac Nassar and Rick Wagoner.

The former CEOs of Ford and GM snapped up niche brands like Saab back in the 90's. Nassar and Wagoner believed adding niche brands "completed their portfolios" and gave them the size and scale they wanted around the world. The problem was those niche brands had only fleeting success under American ownership.

Now, HUMMER, Aston Martin, Land Rover, and Jaguar have all either been or soon will be cut loose by Ford and GM. Thank you Alan Mulally and Fritz Henderson. One saw the wisdom in selling the niche brands his company owned. The other was forced to do it. Soon Saab and Volvo will be free from the clutches of Detroit.

For all the progress HUMMER enjoyed briefly with GM, there is the sad tale of Saab. Talk about a brand that drifted. A few years back Saab had a marketing campaign touting the fact Saab cars shared the same "engineering dna" as fighter jets.

The campaign made no sense. Even worse, GM execs had no clue what it meant. I once asked a GM exec what the Saab campaign was all about. He laughed in an embarrassed manner and said, "I have no idea."


When Saab is sold to Swedish luxury auto maker Koenigsegg, the brand may finally find it's niche. Lord knows it certainly never had one with GM, unless you think GM wanted a "near luxury" brand with pricey cars. To quote one dealer in the midwest when discussing Saab with Wally, "How am I gonna sell this car?"

Wally never did get a legitimate answer as to why GM bought Saab. Soon he can ask that question to the folks at Koenigsegg. Hopefully, they'll have a better explanation.

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A long time ago, it seems like SAAB was a regional (northeast) yuppie status symbol. My sister bought one in '91 after moving to Boston. They were pretty common around there then, as much or moreso than BMWs. I think SAAB has lost a lot of that cachet since then.

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A long time ago, it seems like SAAB was a regional (northeast) yuppie status symbol. My sister bought one in '91 after moving to Boston. They were pretty common around there then, as much or moreso than BMWs. I think SAAB has lost a lot of that cachet since then.

There are still a lot of Saabs around here. My dealership is the oldest Saab dealer in the country and still does a good business. But I agree that Saab has been left to rot for a long time--the 9-5 is an embarrassment. I'm very keen to see their new models, however.

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GM never understood anything that went beyond the concept of volume, so it could never properly manage a brand like SAAB that is not meant to sell in volume.

Edited by ZL-1
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GM never understood anything that went beyond the concept of volume, so it could never properly manage a brand like SAAB that is not meant to sell in volume.

SAAB along with Suzuki and Subaru were the parts of GM which were inorganically obtained to gain only one purpose - market share. GM did not know then and till recent past how to use them. So as long other parts were making profits, managers did not give a lick about these parts. As I have said before, the sad part is when GM started putting money especially in SAAB and Opel it has to get rid of its stakes in those brands.

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A long time ago, it seems like SAAB was a regional (northeast) yuppie status symbol.

It still is. You wouldn't believe how many SAABs I see on a daily basis up near my school in CT, both new and old. Even here in NY. They're all over the place.

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