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Saab takes new road after 20 years with GM

The announcement by General Motors on Tuesday that it will sell Swedish automaker Saab to niche sportscar manufacturer Koenigsegg ends ties dating back 20 years with the Detroit auto giant.

The Swedish automaker, which employs 3,400 people, posted a 2008 net loss of 3 billion kronor ($341 million).

It last made a profit in 2001, the only year it was in the black in almost two decades of GM ownership.

An ageing product line and a collapse in demand owing to the tightening of available credit hurt Saab’s sales in recent years.

In 2008, Saab made up 1.1 percent of GM’s global sales, selling 93,295 cars worldwide, compared to 133,000 two years earlier.

The automaker last brought out a new model eight years ago, the 9-3 in 2001, while its other flagship car, the 9-5, was last replaced in 1997.

In the highly competitive auto industry, the average life cycle of a new car is five to six years.

Saab started life in 1937 as an aircraft manufacturer — something which became evident in the aerodynamic, sporty shape of its first concept car designs.

The company built its first prototype cars in 1947 with the first production version rolling off the assembly line two years later.

Its main production headquarters are in Trollhättan, a town of just 55,000 inhabitants in southwest Sweden.

Saab’s glory years came in the 1980s when a weak Swedish krona helped boost sales in its export markets, the US and Britain, where it gained a reputation for its turbocharging technology.

GM bought 50 percent of Saab Automobile from Saab-Scania in 1990, snapping up the rest of the company a decade later.

The US auto giant wanted a premium marque to add to its wide range of brands, while Saab would gain better economies of scale by being part of a larger company.

However, Saab employees told AFP earlier this month that their US parent did not invest enough money into new products during its tenure as owner, which impacted on sales.

GM, now languishing in bankruptcy protection, needed to sell Saab to shore up its own badly damaged balance sheet.

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CARS

Former Swedish Saab bosses appear in court

Swedish car maker Saab's former CEO Jan Åke Jonsson and the firm's former head lawyer Kristina Geers have appeared in court in Vänersborg in west Sweden, accused of falsifying financial documents shortly before the company went bankrupt in 2011.

Former Swedish Saab bosses appear in court
Saab's former CEO Jan Åke Jonsson. Photo: Karin Olander/TT
The pair are accused of falsifying the paperwork at the height of the Swedish company's financial difficulties at the start of the decade.
 
A third person – who has not been named in the Swedish media – is accused of assisting them by issuing false invoices adding up to a total of 30 million kronor ($3.55m).
 
According to court documents, the charges relate to the firm's business in Ukraine and the paperwork in question was signed just before former CEO Jan Åke Jonsson resigned.
 
Both Jonsson and Saab's former head lawyer Kristina Geers have admitted signing the papers but denied knowledge of the Ukranian firm implicated in the case.
 
All three suspects deny all the charges against them.
 

Saab's former head lawyer Kristina Geers. Photo:  Björn Larsson Rosvall/TT
 
Saab filed for bankruptcy at the end of 2011, after teetering on the edge of collapse for nearly two years.
 
Chief prosecutor Olof Sahlgren told the court in Vänersborg on Wednesday that the alleged crimes took place in March 2011, when Saab was briefly owned by the Dutch company Spyker Cars.
  
It was eventually bought by National Electric Vehicle Sweden (Nevs), a Chinese-owned company after hundreds of staff lost their jobs.
 
The car maker, which is based in west Sweden, has struggled to resolve serious financial difficulties by attracting new investors since the takeover.
 
In October 2014 it announced it had axed 155 workers, close to a third of its workforce.
 
Since 2000, Saab automobile has had no connection with the defence and aeronautics firm with the same name. It only produces one model today, the electric 9-3 Aero Sedan, mainly targeting the Chinese market.