When everyone’s favourite Swedish automaker filed for bankruptcy at the tail end of 2011, the automotive community went into collective mourning. You name it, every automotive publication, website and TV show dedicated time to the passing of Saab. To non car enthusiasts, this might have come as a surprise. I mean, Saab produced some solid vehicles, but surely you could hardly call them special? But to say that would be missing the point entirely.
The left-field choice
Saab produced some of the most quirky and innovative cars on the market. The company’s eclectic mix of vehicles were a nice antidote to the usual choice of Mercedes, BMW and Audi. Small touches like placing the key between the seats, or having a button to dim the internal lights at night (Night Panel) added to the experience. Granted, at times, Saab overplayed its tenuous connection with the aerospace industry, but we loved them for it.
So with the announcement that Saab could be returning in 2017, you’d probably think that we’re super excited to see the Swedish brand make a come-back. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Here’s why…
After filing for bankruptcy in 2011, it finally looks like the Swedish automaker might be able to make a comeback. Mattias Bergman, the chairman of National Electric Vehicle Sweden (NEVS, the company that acquired Saab’s assets back in 2012) made an announcement last week at the automotive conference Stora Bildagen, that the company is planning to launch four new vehicles in 2017, along with an electric 9-3.
The first of the three new vehicles is going to be a sedan with a fast back roof, much in the style of the Audi A7 and Mercedes CLS - sounds good to us. But more surprisingly, three out of the four vehicles will be ‘Active All-Rounder’ SUVs. So what does Active All-Rounder actually mean you might ask? Well, it means that each SUV will serve a different purpose; Distinctive Family, Urban Adventurer and Sporty Urban to be precise. But when you cut through all the marketing hype and waffle, in essence, these cars are basically going to be glorified crossovers.
Unfortunately, even on first assessment, Bergman’s plan looks destined for failure. In fact the whole thing reminds us very much of Dany Bahar’s overambitious five-model recovery plan for Lotus, which left the company in serious financial difficulties back in 2012. For a company like Saab, that has only just been bailed out of bankruptcy, producing four completely new vehicles alongside a new EV doesn’t sound like a solid business plan.
Saab AB, the iconic Swedish aerospace firm who helped to found the automobile company, owns the rights to the Saab name. Originally NEVS was given permission to use the name when it acquired Saab’s assets back in 2012. But unfortunately, things have changed since then. When NEVS ran into financial difficulty in 2014, it had to apply to the Swedish Courts for creditor protection. On application for this protection, Saab AB decided to cancel its brand agreement with NEVS and left the company without the right to use the iconic name.
NEVS has been working hard to find financial backing from automakers, and a recent deal with Dongfeng Motor has given them some hope, but with $57 million owed to creditors, the firm is not out of trouble yet. And because the financial worries are ongoing, it looks unlikely that Saab AB will be giving them the rights to use the name anytime soon.
The Saab name carries with it strong brand recognition. When we think of the Swedish automaker we think of models like the 900 Turbo, the 99 Turbo and even the mad 9-3 Viggen. Cars that weren’t necessarily the best in class, but vehicles that were unique, quirky and brilliant fun. And when these machines died out, the company quickly foundered.
I mean, let’s face it, who wants to buy a Chevrolet TrailBlazer in drag? Even the kinda cool Saabaru, the 9-2X Aero, didn’t have a market. So why does Mattias Bergman think that it’s a good idea to follow a similar pattern to General Motors? For the sake of the Saab’s heritage, we hope that in these circumstances, the company doesn’t make a return.