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Expert: Saab's independent streak 'the beginning of the end'

TT/The Local/rm · 21 Dec 2011, 08:01

Published: 21 Dec 2011 08:01 GMT+01:00

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The findings come from Matthias Holweg, a car industry expert at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg and the University of Cambridge in the UK, who is publishing a report on the ailing Swedish automaker’s bankruptcy battle.

Saab’s reluctant way of holding on to its independence was the beginning of the end,” Holweg stated in the report.

The company was never properly integrated with GM, because of resistance from Saab, according to Holweg.

And GM was never able to overcome that resistance.

Another contributing factor to the demise of Saab was that the brand had a hard time competing with other brands like Audi and BMW.

If GM had been successful in making of Saab what Volkswagen made of Audi, a clearly integrated brand with a clear image, Saab would not have been driven out of the competition, argues Holweg.

“GM handled Saab awkwardly and should have fought harder to integrate the company,” said Holweg.

The attempt by Spyker (now Swedish Automobile, Swan) to save Saab was naïve, according to Holweg, as it didn’t bring any new money, new partners or new ideas to the table.

Story continues below…

If GM hadn’t blocked the sale to Pang Da, Saab’s future would have been very uncertain.

“Sales figures in China would have had to increase with an improbable speed for the company to survive,” said Holweg in a statement.

TT/The Local/rm (news@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

10:20 December 21, 2011 by rumcajs
The guy is right in many things.... not in everything. I don't think independence is bad. Ford owned many brands before the crisis too ..... like Volvo and Mazda and both were quite independent from Ford in many things. The problem with SAABs was that they always had (still have) a price range that make them compete with Audi and BMW and till the new 95 they had a design to compete with ....... dunno, a Peugeot from the 90's maybe.

Volvo was a bit in the same issue till they made the XC60 and the C30, so I started to see new Volvos again in the streets. Saab was too late with the 95 and by the time it came no1 wanted to buy a car made by a company living borrowed time.
13:40 December 21, 2011 by wickssan
I think the author gets it half right. Certaily Saab resisted integration with GM, but the Opel influence from Ruesselsheim also contributed to the problems. Since 1929 Opel has successfully resisted integration with GM, as continuing losses attest. If it isn't German, it isn't given attention in GM Europe.
20:31 December 21, 2011 by Escort
Rumcajs is on the right lines. Saab's offerings couldn't compete with either premium or mainstream rivals. Critically, they had no model in the vital Focus/Golf category. Premium does not necessarily mean big any more, as a lot of people don't want or need a large car like a 9-3 or 9-5. German rivals, particularly Audi and BMW, understand this and have cornered a lucrative new corner of the market as a result.

Developing a new premium compact car on the Astra platform should have been the priority for Saab, not the 9-5. If this had been launched 3 or 4 years ago with a reasonable price tag, Saab would have had a far better chance of survival. And why not follow this with a Fiesta/Polo rival on the Corsa platform? Poor management and product planning are the root cause of this mess.
11:49 December 23, 2011 by lokalkille
It pains me when a company like Saab decided not to change their approach with time. The design of their cars was their main problem as everyone has said. All car manufacturers were trying to bring out cars that look modern but it seemed that Saab did not just care about that. Take for example kia, hyundai, daewoo and the other well established ones like Audi, Toyota, VW. They all knew they had to keep up.

Saab was probably in denial and they believed in their fan base. They did not realise that car is too expensive for fans to be stupid followers.

The new 9-5 is really good though. I wish like others that they have release this at least 3 years ago.
11:35 January 3, 2012 by Tristram_Buckley

I am not a politician nor am I affiliated with any political party in Sweden. Sweden did not become an industrial marvel, relative to its small population, during these last five years alone. On the contrary, Sweden's most iconic brands, SAAB, Volvo and IKEA, have been around and thriving for decades. As I understand its history, Sweden's technological and industrial success arose during the period of the so-called "Swedish model," which advanced a public-private partnership. I appreciate the present government's move toward privatization. Here in the U.S. our tax revenue is just 26.9% of our GDP while Sweden has one of the world's highest at 47.9%. Yet saving SAAB would ultimately and dramatically lower Sweden's tax revenue share of the GDP. There are times when plans must be altered to take into account changed circumstances. The Great Recession and the resulting unprecedented upheaval in the automobile industry marks such an occasion.

On the global stage, party labels and political dogma is irrelevant. Ultimately, what is important is success, i.e., the Nation's GDP and its economic health.

While government leaders must be mindful of polls, they must not govern by polls alone. The average person polled on the street is not an economist nor automobile industry expert nor are they adequately briefed on all necessary matters. Voters may have opinions, as do we all, but they entrust the decision making process to their leaders, whom they expect to be informed and to lead wisely.

Years from now the people of Sweden will not remember poll results, but they will recall the day when there were, once upon a time, two iconic Swedish automobile manufacturers. They will recall how the Swedish government watched Volvo pass to the Chinese and worse, they will recall how the Swedish government turned a cold shoulder to SAAB and let it die an avoidable death in bankruptcy or be lost as a prize to another nation.

President Obama acknowledges that his decision to shovel additional taxpayer dollars to General Motors and Chrysler soon after taking office went against public opinion. But with the automakers rebounding and earning substantial profits, the bailout has become an early campaign theme as he touts himself as a president who's willing to make the tough decisions.
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