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It's bigger than GM
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Posted by Bloodnose [Email] (#1819) [Profile/Gallery] (more from Bloodnose) on Sun, 24 Feb 2019 15:43:43 Share Post by Email
In Reply to: Anatomy of a Murder: How Saab Was Sent to an Early Grave, Scott Paterson [Profile/Gallery] , Fri, 15 Feb 2019 10:04:18
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Here we have just another version of the same old short-sighted story, "How GM killed SAAB". History is written by such as these. If we keep repeating the same thing over and over, people will start to believe it. Industry journalists keep returning to the subject and repeating the same ideas. But journalists are rarely fully familiar with their subject. At the very least, each attempt to examine this subject serves as a testament to SAAB’s influence on the world. The truth is too complicated for the outside observer, and this recurring headline serves only to exacerbate the misconception.

It is human nature to try to discover the reasons for success and failure in historical events. A success is celebrated by honoring the significant contributors, and blame must be laid on the bad actors. Unlike a war hero and an enemy, our subject concerns the life and death of a corporate endeavor that served the world with the production of a stylish, conventional appliance. This particular endeavor eventually succumbed to old age and died of natural causes. The blame game begins by identifying the major actor that was involved at the end, and the usual uninspired explanation involves observations of bad choices.

The latest example identifies the bad actor, pointing out what it had and what it should have done. The discussion continues to further ideas of bad choices, resulting in a life neglected and cut short by a premature death. In the end, the audience is left with the image of a dried skeleton, sucked clean by its caretaker, languishing in its grave lacking a proper epitaph – a plot that makes for poignant drama.

The bad actor is named GM, and we are first shown the vigorous classic model 900 that GM dismissed right at the start as an aging burden, soon to be replaced with misguided ideas of better profits.

There was no more in-house development to be done for the C900. It was showing its age as new technology appeared to be "tacked-on" wherever it would fit throughout the chassis. The turbo control valve mounted to the radiator cross-member; the APC unit, cruise control, and evap canister hang out in the left fender well; a second relay box was needed for features that had outgrown the main relay/fuse box -- the sunroof motor was located way in the back, etc. Design modernizations succeeded and failed. The convertible was very well received. SAAB succeeded in designing their own electric windows, central locking, and anti-theft remote entry. There were changes made that looked like mere attempts at modernization. The bumpers flattened to the body in 1990. They tried the silly looking headlight wipers that looked even sillier when the susceptible mechanism seized up. Then came the requirement for airbag protection. But where to put the one for the passenger side? The C900's popularity made it ubiquitous and it indeed look dated as it entered the 1990's. And it was expensive. The world moved on.

There is no mention of the 9000. SAAB had indeed tried to evolve. The 9000 was the first SAAB in America to be classified as a "large car" (Wikipedia). SAAB continued to show ambition in market competition with the transverse-mounted engine, providing more room and better performance. C900 engineering peaked with SPG specs. The C900 transmission proved too fragile when hobbyists pushed for more performance. When GM entered the scene, the 9000 was still being perfected. It sold until 1998 when it evolved into the 9-5.

The new GM chassis are actually a German-engineered inheritance originating from an earlier acquisition of Opel. GM proves to be little more than a name. The next generations of SAAB would succeed in winning over a whole new group of loyalists. This is so worthy of mention. To the uninitiated, is looks like GM dragged SAAB down at the end, but advancing safety and emissions requirements had proven to require major redesigns, resulting in the vehicles we see on the road today. Before GM, corporate SAAB was struggling with its own internal conflicts, likely compounded by public criticism of SAAB "quirks" – another beautiful example of a label being repeated until it becomes cemented in the public conscience, to the point of truth.

SAAB moved on much earlier than when it was acquired by GM. The Swedes themselves continued to work hard right to the end, contributing some really smart and quality craftsmanship -- this is the real SAAB spirit. The second generation SAAB 9-3 had become the third major success with SAAB influence. It's still alive, trying to break into the future of electric power.

The constant conversation about how GM killed SAAB is obnoxious and irrelevant. There was give-and-take with GM just as with any SAAB association. I do not agree with the "early grave". SAAB Aktiebolag (its shareholders) had already moved on. GM actually helped extend the brand’s life. If SAAB had just folded instead of selling to GM, or sold to some other conglomerate, we’d have just a different version of this misguided story being told.

_______________________________________ Clarence Donath Richmond, RI

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