Whither Saab or wither Saab? That appears to be the question facing the Swedish carmaker as the global car market continues to spiral downwards and General Motors says it can’t afford to keep propping up the brand.
Saab is caught between a rock and a hard place, with an ageing model line-up that it continues to refresh but can’t afford to replace. That line includes the world’s best-selling convertible, the attractive 9-3.
Saab’s dilemma was well-illustrated this week by US website, Autoblog, in a story on the Saab 9-5 Griffin Edition shown at the Detroit motor show.
“Frankly, the press release is more exciting (than the car),” Autoblog said. Despite some minor changes, the show 9-5 was “the same thing Saab owners have been looking at for years, but with some of the plastic in different places. It isn't bad. It's why?’”
And British magazine, Autocar, quoted GM product boss, Bob Lutz, as saying: "Saab is a luxury that we can no longer afford.”
He said Saab had never made a profit under GM ownership, but had cost up to $US800 million a year, and he wouldn't comment on whether the next Saab 9-5 would be built, Autocar reported.
General Motors is reviewing the future of several brands, including Saab, Hummer, Saturn and Pontiac. It’s seeking buyers for Saab and Hummer, but reportedly will continue with Saturn as an eco-friendly brand.
Pontiac will strip its range, possibly to one model, the Holden Commodore-based G8 sedan.
Anonymous GM sources quoted by US newspapers say the General can’t find anyone willing to buy Saab.
This week, the Detroit Free Press quoted a Swedish industry ministry official, Joeran Haegglund, as saying Saab will survive in Sweden if it produces more attractive models.
"At the moment I don't have any other belief other than that Saab will still exist in Sweden in a few years,” he was quoted as saying.
"Compared to the situation last year, the vehicle industry will be smaller, but more economic and more successful."
But he said Saab had to be independent of GM before it could qualify for Swedish government loans to help it survive.
Sweden has said it has no intention of buying outright Saab or Ford-owned Volvo which is also for sale as the Blue Oval pursues its One Ford global strategy. Ford, too, can’t find a buyer for the safety-first Swedish brand.