Who could buy Saab?

Ok. Now I know that Saab being sold isn’t a done deal just yet.
Jan-Ake Jonsson has come out saying that an all-out sale is lower down on the list of options they’re exploring right now. In addition to that, GM might get through their expedited “review” and decide they’re better off keeping Saab.
And in addition to that, that the current climate means that GM may not get a decent return for Saab as other companies are suffering, too, and will want to strip any purchase to the lowest amount possible.
BUT….let’s dream anyway, shall we?
The following images are taken from a slightly out-of-date automotive family tree diagram, which you can bamboozle yourself with in full over at Jalopnik if you so desire. Taking snippets like this means that you don’t get the full impression of joint ventures and other relationships, but you’ll get the gist of it.
Click on the thumbnail to see the full (slightly outdated) relationship diagram for each group.
General Motors
As mentioned at the top, it may not be all over for Saab within General Motors. GM have put Saab under review and Fritz Henderson has come out saying that they will explore all options, including a sale of Saab to another company. Jan-Ake Jonsson says there have been a number of expressions of interest, but won’t so say who.
Despite all this, Saab may still stay with GM. Saab made a US$360m loss last year, which in automotive terms is very nearly a profit! They’ve got two all-new vehicles well into development (9-5 and 9-4x) and an alternate version of an existing vehicle (the 9-3x) due early next year.
GM may just find that the global crisis is hitting potential buyers hard enough that they won’t get a desireable purchase price. In that instance, and with revenues due to increase soon thanks to those new models, they might just try to hold on and convince the US Congress that it’s worthwhile doing so.
On the downside, GM have only recently shown the beginnings of understanding Saab. They say they’re committed to it but then they undermine that commitment by pouring heaps of funds into a doomed-from-the-start promotion of Cadillac in Europe. If they keep Saab, will they really commit to making it what it can be?
TS verdict:
Potential – Medium to High, though it could well turn out to be Low.
Probability – Quite possible
Desireability – Low
Ford or Chrysler:
Let’s not go there, shall we. But here are their diagrams anyway.

BMW actually have room in their portfolio and I’m sure they’ve got plenty in the way of reserves, too. They’re no stranger to working with GM, having been part of a joint venture to develop the two-mode hybrid system that GM use in their hybrid SUV’s now.
Saab could provide an outlet for those who want a BMW-sized vehicle but with front-wheel-drive versatility, which is an option that their other two marques don’t offer. Saab could also offer further turbocharging expertise seeing as how BMW are getting into that more and more now. Much as I hate to say it, a link with BMW would also provide an instant lift to market perceptions towards Saab, as well.
Downside – BMW just don’t need it. Or they don’t think they do, even if they could benefit from it in some markets. The downside for Saab would be being associated with one of the larger companies to offend the cockometer.
TS verdict:
Potential – Medium
Probability – Low
Desireability – Hausfrau
This is a fascinating one on a number of levels. Honda are a well respected brand in most facets. They’re an engine company that makes cars, amongst other things, and people generally love their products. They are the Japanese brand that’s sporting, yet unpretentious, and their luxury line is – generally speaking – a genuine extension of their regular offerings rather than a pure rebadge like some others.
Honda could definitely benefit from Saab’s safety expertise and I’m sure they’d be interested in Swedish hybrid and flexfuel developments, too. They’re big in Asia and the US, but my impression is that they’re not so big in Europe, though still a player. I’m sure they wouldn’t mind enhancing their status there.
I can’t think of a downside, though I’m sure a few of you can. Personally, a Honda is one of the few Japanese cars I’d consider for my own garage.
TS verdict:
Potential – High
Probability – Unknown, probably Low
Desireability – High
I’m tired of this one before I even start writing about it.
I suppose Mercedes could use a smaller, FWD brand in some sort of way, but I can’t imagine for what – and I’m sure they can’t imagine a use for it either. They believe they’re perfect as they are. And if you think Opel have stripped Saab of much of their engineering prowess, I can’t imagine what Daimler would do. There’d barely be a shred of Saab’s identity left, I wouldn’t think.
For some reason this just doesn’t sit well at all and aside from that, I just can’t imagine it happening.
TS verdict:
Potential – Low
Probability – Lower
Desireability – Ocean depths
This one is a favourite of 1985Gripen and I can see why, though I can’t necessarily see it happening. Proton was started by order of the Malaysian government and is now publicly traded, but the Malaysians want to be more of a player in the Asian marketplace. Protons themselves are nothing to get charged about, but the company also owns a majority stake in Lotus, which is where it gets really interesting.
Proton have let Lotus stay in England and Lotus are still regarded as a highly desireable sports car, as well as a sought-after engineering firm. The fact that Lotus are still regarded worldwide as essentially an English company is testament to Proton’s ability to let a company get on with doing what they do.
On the downside, Lotus are a smaller company to swallow than Saab, and Proton aren’t that big themselves. Additionally, they’ve suffered sales slumps in recent years so in the current climate would be even less likely to be interested.
TS verdict:
Potential: Definitely
Probability: Low-ish
Desireability: Olsen twins. Clear and present danger for tragedy, but you can’t help but look anyway.
Oh my, I think I just dribbled on my keyboard.
Sweet salivation!
Contrary to popular belief, Porsche do not currently own Volkswagen. They own the single largest stake, at just over 45% and they have the definite and stated intention of increasing that to 75%, but only when the prices of VAG shares come back down.
Therein lies the tragedy for Saab lovers. Porsche, on their own, would make the perfect parent for Saab and Saab could compliment their vehicle lineup like a glove. Imagine sporting-plus-luxurious sedans and hatches leading a path to what many consider to be some of the best sportscars in the world today. No more need for a wierd looking Panamera or the brand-diluting Cayenne.
And for Saab, their engineers could work with some of the fussiest and finnicky engineers in the world to extend a good range of cars into a fantastic range of cars.
Sadly, Porsche will take over Volkswagen in the medium term and have no need for Saab in those circumstances, but it would be so good.
TS Verdict:
Potential: Massive, for Saab at least
Probability: Sadly, very low
Desireability: Schwinnnnngggg!!!
They don’t scare me like Mercedes Benz do, but they scare me nonetheless. Toyota remind me of a Japanese version of the Borg collective, a characterisation I used to use for GM.
The upside is that they’re cashed up and could probably see a genuine European label as something of value. They might also benefit from Saab’s safety expertise and I’m sure they’d like to get one over the General.
I just don’t think they’d be interested, though. And I fear that Saab would become uninteresting as a result of Toyota being in charge, too. I’ve rarely seen an interesting Toyota. When considering all the cars I’d like to own before my driving life ends, I discovered that I could just barely place an MR2 on the list, but only if a decent Honda CRX wasn’t available.
TS Verdict:
Potential: Probably high
Probability: Low
Desireability: Zzzzzzzz
Renault and/or Nissan
This is another fascinating one on a number of levels. Just how many frequent flier miles can Carlos Ghosn chalk up and should they get into airlines, too?
Renault and Nissan own stakes in one another, and as you can see, there’s other operations in the mix. Curiously, they’ve both managed to retain their identities whilst building some white hot cars (the new Z) and some very…..quirky (eek!) cars as well.
Somehow this alliance works despite the fact Renault doesn’t have a US presence. An acquisition of Saab could be a small foot in the door in that regard. With France having a growing interest in biofuels, Saab would be appealing from that front as well. Saab would also provide a more upscale presence that Renault lack to a degree.
The downsides: I’m no European but I’ve heard enough stories about French labour unions to scare me witless. Though Renault and Nissan retain their own identities as partners in an alliance, I’d imagine a Renault transaction with Saab would be a buyout, not an alliance (though it’s an attractive option if there were another willing party) and Saab’s Swedish identity could be hijacked at the insistence of French unions.
It should be noted here that Renault have been asked about their level of interest by the media and promptly smacked the reporter on the head with a baguette before riding off on a bicycle. I believe “Non” was the answer.
TS Verdict:
Potential: definitely
Probability: Medium
Desireability: Medium
Hyundai are building some good vehicles nowadays. Their new Genesis thingy has people genuinely buzzing. They have a very strong corporate culture, a wide industrial base and like other Asian manufacturers, they could probably see some value in having a genuine European brand under their wing.
Ah, who am I kidding?
Hyundai are like the brussel sprouts of the car business. Apparently they’re good for you but it’s a rare person that really likes them.
They might have money (they might not, too) but they’ve got no soul when it comes to the car business. They need to go out and do something extraordinary. Until then, I’m just not interested.
TS Verdict:
Potential: Medium
Probability: Unknown, could be anything
Desireability: What?
This is a scenario that I just can’t help being attracted to.
I own an Italian car. I’m sure they screw them together better nowadays, but my Italian car falls apart just a little bit more with every pebble I drive over. The build quality is just shocking. The interior materials and design are both horrendous (again, definitely not so in a modern Alfa) and rumour has it that you can only tell if your Italian is working by the rate of oil leakage (surprisingly, not a problem for me).
Despite all these drawbacks, I absolutely adore my Italian car and I’ll cry like a baby when I eventually give it up. I may even wet my pants. It’s incredibly engaging to drive, with an engine that’s as mad as a barrel full of bats.
This is what Italians do. They wave their arms, talk a mile-a-minute at fighter-jet volumes and yet somehow, you can’t help but love them. Has there ever been a more lovable evil person than Vito Corleone? I rest my case.
Somehow, Saab managed to work with Fiat in the past, and work with them very well, too. The thought of them getting together with a vastly more organised Fiat is tantalising indeed, though one can’t help but feel that Fiat are always just one bad period away from complete collapse.
Fiat are looking to try the American market once again and Saab’s presence there could be an attractive, albeit small, foot in the door.
It’d also have the added benefit of me not having to be occasionally shamed in Saab circles by my Alfa.
TS Verdict:
Potential: High
Probability: Unknown, but possibly moderate
Desireablity: Medium-High
Peugeot / Citroen:
This is another fascinating one, though probably less so than the Renault version.
It has the same benefits in being able to manage and even encourage things that are considered to be non-mainstream.
The same concerns arise with regard to Saab’s identity being preserved, as well as their Swedish base.
The same opportunities arise with Saab’s US connections if Citroen want to try a venture into the US market (and of the two, I think Citroen would be the most likely to try).
Despite all this, the thought of Saab being taken over by PSA just doesn’t register whatsoever on my emotional radar.
TS Verdict:
Potential: Unknown
Probability: Unknown
Desireability: Unknown
Fuji Heavy Industries
They’re 20% owned by Toyota these days, but that’s no reason to eliminate the possibility of the Saaburu arising again. Did that sentence make you wince?
Actually, many people consider Subaru to be the closest thing to Saab in character. Subaru build reliable AWD cars with no small amount of character, though personally I’m not into them (even after spending four months in a WRX earlier this year).
Both are familiar with turbocharging. Both have strong safety credentials. Both have rallying success in their past.
Too similar?
TS Verdict:
Potential: Medium
Probability: Unknown, Low
Desireability: Meh
Here’s one out of left field, suggested by Turbin via email and in comments. It’s an interesting proposition:
Branson has been paying more than lip service to ethanol, has an emotional stake in the brand and could even be looking for a chance to play in the auto sandpit.
Dave Richards has been called the ‘Branson of Motorsport’. Through his interest in Prodrive and more importantly Aston Martin there is serious potential.
How about Saab as the green Aston Martin solution??
* AM logo has wings. Saab needs a new one.
* Virgin is into jets and ethanol.
* AM platfrom would make for a wicked Aero-X
* These guys have guts and vision.
* AM and Saab are both incredibly style driven backed with real performance.
* Prodrive could make some wicked Saab rally cars.
* Use AM to help lift Saab to the premium player it pretends to be.
* Branson/Richards, performance and adventure.
TS Verdict:
Potential: Huge
Probability: Miniscule
Desireability: Schwinnngiddy-ding!!
Various car companies from Russia and China
In every way, no.
I don’t know why, but something seems….dirty…..about the thought of Saab being an emerging market’s plaything. again, like the Hyundai argument, I’d like Saab to go to someone with a track record, someone who understands and values a carmaker’s heritage.
A Russian buyer would probably be much more palatable than a Chinese buyer, but I can’t help but think that it’d just be temporary and heartbreaking (Russian ownership of TVR comes to mind).
It’s always possible, too, that a Chinese acquisition could take the form of the Malaysian acquisition of Proton, with the company financed and allowed to do its thing. I guess that for that reason alone I’d probably try and accept it, at least until evidence to the contrary arose.
No diagrams for this one. I don’t want to encourage anyone.
Well, that’s it for me.
I’m sure you’ve all got your thoughts to contribute (again).
Let fly!