Where to lay your blame for the demise of Saab

UPDATE: There are many comments about this post that indicate that I’ve been a bit misunderstood here. I am NOT absolving General Motors of guilt. I am piling more folks onto the heap of shame for mistreatment of our beloved brand. Please read with that in mind. Thanks for reading. EnG.
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I hear a lot of outcry against General Motors for the current state of Saab. After all, they’ve owned Saab for almost twenty years and they’re the ones pulling the plug so it has to be their fault, yes?
At least partly true.
However, there are several other things hidden from us by the passage of time. Let me remind you of a few things.
Saab was already in a little bit of trouble when GM bought them in 1991. The Wallenberg family, who had controlling interest in SAAB (the aircraft, automobile and defense technology conglomerate) already had many mounting financial difficulties. In a failed attempt to gain some financial synergy, the Wallenbergs had merged the Saab automobile operations with the Scania truck and bus operations. Things weren’t getting any better, and the Swedish financial crisis in the early 1990’s sealed the fate of the vast Wallenberg empire. Thus they elected to sell Saab to General Motors in 1991.
Think about the condition of Saab at the time: the C900 was 12-13 years old in 1991, and the 9000 was 5-6 years old. How many car companies can live like that? Not many. The Swedish ownership group had not invested in Saab in some time. In fact, the joint development of the 9000 with Alfa Romeo and Lancia was indicative of the challenges that Saab already faced: they needed help just to develop a single new car platform. Bob Sinclair himself commented on this issue after his retirement from Saab USA.
GM came along and created the NG900/9-3 largely from the Opel parts bin, which certainly boosted sales. The 9-5 was good, too, but it certainly never took off in North America as well as one would expect due to some pretty heady competition. European sales were better, I simply don’t know by how much.
By the late 1990’s, GM was in trouble of its own — losing market share to the Japanese, it cut Oldsmobile and reorganized. Saturn was struggling and needed infusions, and GM became ever addicted to the SUV and small truck market, which it dominated. There simply wasn’t much time for Saab. In fact, there never seemed to be time for Saab in the entire ten-year stretch from 1999 to today.
So, to sum up: Saab was neglected by the Wallenbergs, affected by the Swedish financial crisis of the early 1990’s and then neglected by GM. There’s plenty of blame to go around! Plenty.

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