6 July 2016

Saab – not as Swede as it once was – screeches to a halt

Grab some tissue, kids. You’re about to hear a Saab story that has already left a trail of tears from Trollhättan to Minnesota.

News came out of Sweden recently that Saab, the once-proud automaker, is as dead as the proverbial doornail, which is an odd metaphor considering that no sane person has ever actually seen a live doornail. Perhaps that’s the point. But I digress – much like Saab did when it filed for bankruptcy five years ago and its assets were acquired in 2012 by National Electric Vehicle Sweden (NEVS), a Scandinavian company with Chinese backers.

If that seems like a strange conglomeration of companies, people and philosophies, that’s because it is. Bioenergy pioneer and NEVS founder Kai Johan Jiang is focused on renewable energy, something a gasoline-powered automobile obviously does not provide. And while NEVS attempted to straddle the fence for a while, it didn’t help its cause that the rights to Saab’s brand and its famous griffin logo weren’t part of the bankruptcy agreement. NEVS was initially allowed to use the Saab brand (not the logo), but it lost that right too when it experienced its own financial trouble two years ago.

It was only a matter of time before the inevitable happened and Saab (or the artist formally known as Saab) bit the dust – kind of like the “sudden” passing of an elderly relative who has been comatose for months. While it is sad, it certainly wasn’t unexpected.

So no more Sonetts. No more 900s. And after seven decades, no more Saab.

But this is no Swede surrender. NEVS plans to introduce a new electric vehicle in China and Sweden in 2017. Meanwhile, Saab’s website (www.saabcars.com) offers reassurance that “Exciting things are happening at NEVS! Our website address has changed, marking a new beginning for our company, and paving a new path to take us into the future.” It’s a future, however, that has just one link to the past – an actual link, in fact – www.saabparts.com. At least we can locate replacement parts for our orphans.

Here are our five favorite production models since Saab’s first model, the 92, went into production on Dec. 12, 1949:

  1. Saab 99 – The 1968-84 Saab 99 began its life as a rather ordinary automobile, then it gained fuel injection in 1972 and turbo in ’78, making it a true driver’s car – and a less-expensive alternative to Porsche.
  2. Saab 900 – Sturdy and fun, the 1978-94 Saab 900 is the vehicle that most people picture in their mind when they think of Saab.
  3. Saab 96 – Introduced as a replacement for the 93, the bulbous two-door 1960-80 Saab 96 is often described as “quirky” looking. With a larger rear end and a successful racing history (thanks to racer Erik Carlsson, who won 14 rallys in various 96s), the 96 was popular both in Sweden and abroad.
  4. Saab 9000 – Larger and more upscale than the 900, the 1984-98 Saab 9000 shared a platform with the Alfa Romeo 164, Lancia Thema and Fiat Croma, much to the chagrin of Saab purists. But it was spacious and fast.
  5. Saab 92 – There’s nothing like the original. The unconventional 1950-56 Saab 92 featured unibody construction, front-wheel drive, all-independent torsion-bar suspension and rack-and-pinion steering. In a move that would have made Henry Ford smile, all first-year 92s were painted green.

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