Reader's contribution by Dominik Merkle
In the middle of the 80 years I was here for the first time, the 96 I had bought almost a year before. Sufficient time to get out of someone who liked the car to become a Saab fanatic, not only in the eyes of my fellow human beings. I went to Trollhättan to visit the factory and get to know Saabstadt.
In summer, preparations were made for the new model year, so that visits to the factory were not possible, the friendly lady at the front desk said. But she picked up the phone and shortly thereafter appeared a friendlier mid-fifties first wanted to see my car, then talked longer with me and put me at the end of a bag full merchandise article in the back seat. Then he explained the way to a gas station nearby, where I would be expected.
Later, I learned that he was the head of production. Somewhat puzzled, I searched for and found the said gas station where someone was actually waiting for the boy from Germany. This was housed in a kind of underground garage, which was to become the Saabmuseum a few years later. I was allowed to see everything, was allowed in the cars, got old brochures and handbooks and my enthusiasm for the brand and the familiar way with their drivers grew almost to infinity. Over the years, I got to know many people who had similar experiences and were certainly even more enthusiastic than myself.
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But at the end of the nineties it changed more and more, and I realized that Trollhättan had become one of many works of a big corporation and the people at Saab could not do what they wanted or maybe they did not want anymore and it seemed not even bothering them. Cadillacs were now on the bands at the factory and the views were bleak.
30 years after my first drive I'm back at the factory gate, much has not changed, except that the parking lot is almost empty. Nobody knows exactly what happens in the factory, at least until this day. I have an invitation to start production in my pocket, greeted by a handshake at the entrance and kindly guided past a red 16S displayed in the foyer to a boardroom. The mood there is very relaxed and calm, although there is a certain tension in the air.
And suddenly it's back: the hard-to-express something that many call the Saab spirit, a blend of innovation, thoughtful solutions, wit and modesty, and the courage to take unconventional paths. This time, however, with an unmistakable focus on economic feasibility. The Chinese-born owner has, I believe, inhaled and understood this spirit. He is the only one who keeps his address in Swedish, he promises no miracles but thoughtful steps. From the gasoline-powered 9-3 is about to roll off the line, about station wagon and convertible to the electric car, in a manageable period. Also, the Phoenix platform should be used, and you want to build only cars for which there are orders.
The curtain opens and reveals the final assembly of the plant. While the Swedish Minister of Economic Affairs gives her speech, the black 9-3 slowly rolls on the tape. A blue and yellow band is cut and the resumption of car production in Trollhättan is fact. The production manager drives the car off the line in a rather unspectacular manner and places it in front of the journalists with lightly turned-down front wheels. Unspectacular. Without champagne corks, without fireworks. Slightly shy managers give interviews, cool and factual, there are no PR professionals there to stage the event.
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Slightly in the background are the workers who built the car, but they are part of the whole thing and they are proud of their new old product. Especially as many of them start to make pictures of the car with more or less important prominence. The whole event is a long way from what GM hosted, and it has none of the grandiose visions of GM's successor. It's almost like Trollhättan in the 80 years, only the car looks different.
Will it be the same again? No, certainly not, the market would not allow. Nor do I think that our brand in Europe will ever regain the status it once had. But my impressions are very similar to those of my three fellow travelers. Of course, on the return trip to Germany we had only one topic: apart from the enthusiasm that we were allowed to be there, we were of the opinion that something is moving in a very positive direction. NEVS knows what they are doing and it is realistic.
Text: Dominik Merkle