What engine did SaaB cars use
What is Saab actually doing?
The Swedish carmaker has lost the fight for survival against General Motors - and is getting up again with a new name.
This announcement in late autumn 2016 was a stab in the heart for many in the Swedish industrial city of Trollhättan: The new owners have started to remove all signs with the brand name Saab from the premises of the main factory of one of the most famous figureheads in Swedish industrial history. Until the turn of the year, the lettering should no longer be seen there - except perhaps on a few cars in the Nevs company car park.
The large SAAB sign at the entrance gate, Nevs press spokeswoman Ulrika Hultgren assured meanwhile, will not be destroyed - it will be donated to the local Saab Museum, the Mecca of Saab believers. So it is actually over, the history of the Saab car brand. Hardly any other plant produced more idiosyncratic, hardly any so safe, reliable and sporty cars in the middle and upper middle class in series. And no other brand managed, as a comprehensive study showed a few years ago, to retain its customers so much. Once Saab, always Saab.
Customers and dealers alike, such as Svend Wind in Hoyer or Auto Heidemann in Flensburg, are still loyal to the brand. They have not been able to offer their customers new Saabs for a long time. But dismantle the Saab signs, as they are doing in Trollhättan - that is far from an option for them. But how did it come to an end - and what is happening now with the know-how of the Swedish engineers? First of all, let's look back.
Started as an aircraft manufacturer
In 1947 the passenger car division of the Swedish aircraft manufacturer Saab was founded (S.venska A.eroplan A.ktiebolag / Swedish Aircraft Corporation). The parent company still exists today as an aircraft construction and armaments company and has only recently opened a new Danish headquarters in Sønderborg. In 1990 the American giant General Motors bought 51 percent of the car division, but kept the Saab brand name and left development and production in Sweden. A little later, in 1995, the Scania truck division was also separated from the parent company; it is now part of Volkswagen.
In 2000, General Motors finally acquired all of the shares in the Saab car brand and forced the Swedes, who once made the turbo ready for series production, to do a number of "rationalizations". Saab models were built on common platforms with Opels, the hands of the engineers in Trollhättan, previously known for original and pioneering innovations, were increasingly tied. Meanwhile, the GM group became convinced that a brand with such an exclusive customer base and comparatively small production numbers was no longer tenable - also because the Saab brand was in competition with its own other brands.
GM took over Saab - and the leap into the mainstream failed
Hardly any other brand in the world has produced such modest numbers of everyday cars. Outside of Sweden, Finland and Norway, where Saab was the Volkswagen par excellence after Volvo, Saab was considered a brand of individualists - and also marketed itself relatively successfully in this niche until it was taken over by GM. But the Detroit shareholders did not want a lover's project, they wanted profit. And Saab was unable to deliver this sufficiently, especially not after initial tests of the new Saab 900, which was first built on an Opel basis, revealed some safety deficiencies. The engineers in Trollhättan went a step further and in the following years constructed - around the GM parts - the safest series vehicles that have ever been built anywhere in the world. But the reputation also in the home, the basic market, was tarnished. Saab was no longer considered a Swedish car. And when GM forced the Swedes to hastily bring a diesel variant with Opel engines onto the market, which were made of light metal and often gave up after a few tens of thousands of kilometers, Saab was over. The leap into the mainstream was unsuccessful, and its reputation as an exclusive but affordable car for individualists was ruined at the same time.
A rescue attempt from the Netherlands turned into a fiasco
Then in 2010 GM buried the Saab brand. The Dutch businessman Victor Muller, who ten years earlier had built a factory for exclusive retro sports cars with Spyker Cars, bought the plant in Trollhättan and the naming rights from the owner, who is still the original aircraft Saab AB to this day. Muller tried desperately to attract investors and finally found what he was looking for in China. But the GM group prevented the entry of Chinese companies and refused Saab to use GM technology should Chinese get into Trollhättan.
Since the basis of the current Saab models was based on GM technology (which GM had insisted on), Saab would not have been able to produce cars without this technology. After some crazy attempts to save Saab from Detroit despite this blockade and several thousand brand new Saab limousines built with a GM license, Muller finally had to give up. The market for Saab had collapsed because of the uncertain future prospects, hardly any companies wanted to equip their company car fleets with vehicles from a company in a nosedive - and the right-wing Swedish government stubbornly refused to do what Obama had done with General Motors - the company and to save the many jobs attached to it with state guarantees.
New name and path to electromobility
In the summer of 2012, the company NME (National Modern Energy Holdings) was founded by the Swedish-Chinese businessman Kai Johan Jiang. She bought the Saab bankruptcy estate and founded Nevs (National Electric Vehicle Sweden). In addition to NME, the Chinese city of Tianjin with its subsidiary Tianjin Binhai New Technology Industrial Development Zone, the state-owned Chinese IT company SRIT and Teamsun, one of the largest IT companies in China, also hold shares in Nevs.
Initially, the former parent company (Flugzeug-Saab) allowed the brand name to continue to be used, and in September 2013 brand-new Saabs left the plant in Trollhättan - in the meantime, the engineers had succeeded in completely removing GM parts from the cars. But even Nevs, belonging to a consortium of Swedish and Chinese investors, did not succeed in getting Saab back on its feet as a car brand. In the summer of 2014, Aircraft Saab finally drew a line and prohibited Nevs from continuing to use the Saab brand name and the old Saab logo. After two years of negotiations, Nevs is finally giving up.
The Nevs administration tried to sell the whole thing as its own decision. "With all due respect for our history and our heritage, we want to be recognized as ourselves," wrote company boss Mattias Bergman in a press release. So the name is gone. But what about the cars? The technology is still there - and many of the engineers who developed it are still working at Nevs in Trollhättan. And at the end of 2015, the Swedes received a huge order from China. 150,000 electric cars are to be delivered to Panda New Energy by 2020. The bodies will come from Trollhättan and will be those of the last models of the Saab 9-3. Construction is to begin in 2017, meanwhile, according to the company's management, “hundreds” of new and former employees will be hired in Trollhättan.
The plan: large series for China and small series for Europe
But from 2020 onwards, the cars will then be produced entirely in China. For the Trollhättan location, that is not a problem, said Nevs. Numerous developers would be hired and they would keep their jobs. But how should such a future be built - and will there be a Saab to buy in Denmark again at some point?
The Nevs strategy is to stop manufacturing fuel engines. Saab chassis are currently being produced and sold to customers such as the Chinese Panda Group who need a frame for their engines. At the same time, however, completely new vehicles are also being developed in Trollhättan. Pure electric cars for the European market. In addition to delivering to major customers, they should constitute the second mainstay of the new era. Saab will no longer be on these cars, but Nevs will. But they will be Made in Sweden again - developed and manufactured by the current 900 employees in the old main factory in Stallbacka in Trollhättan.
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