Carl Peter Forster talks about Saab

Carl Peter Forster is today the chief consultant of the Geely Group, which also includes Volvo. From 2005 to 2009, he was President of Saab Automobile AB and General Manager of GM Europe. Compared to the Svenska Dagbladet he spoke for the first time about the crisis years at Saab.

Carl Peter Forster introduces Saab 2008-9x Concept to 4 in Detroit
Carl Peter Forster introduces Saab 2008-9x Concept to 4 in Detroit

How dramatic the situation was in 2005 becomes clear in the first sentence. "Jesus! GM hade inte investerat i Saab's product på tolv år.“… GM hadn't invested in (new) Saab products for 12 years. When he joined GM in 2005, he called for a $ 2 billion swift investment in the Saab brand. Four new Saab models should be created.

Saab had already developed a 9-3-based SUV in the past, and the new model was at a very advanced stage. At the instruction of GM, the new development was scrapped. One of the first activities in the new position was drawing up a business plan. And then, in 2005, Saab first (!) Had a business plan that deserved its name. And a board of directors who was willing to rely on the brand.

Then came the financial crisis in 2008 ...

“It was super frustrating,” says Forster. “We started investing too late”.

The financial crisis forced GM into 2009's orderly bankruptcy in June. Only two vehicle models for Trollhättan were finished shortly before. The Saab 9-5 and the Saab 9-4x. In September, 2009 Forster left GM.

Previously, the group was in free fall. For GM Europe, Forster was with Angela Merkel, then in Brussels. It was about state support. Meanwhile, the numbers at Saab were increasingly bright red. The rest is known.

I learned my lesson from this, Forster told Svenska Dagbladet. If you do not invest in product development, then it does not work.

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The interview - it is the first time that Forster speaks so openly - gives us an idea of ​​how bad things have been around Saab over the years. It also shows how oddly haphazard the GM strategy was. On the one hand, they invested a lot of money in modern production and installed one of the best paint shops in the entire group in Trollhättan. On the other hand, no money was released for the development of further products for over 12 (!) Years.

Could an 9-3 SUV have saved Saab?

A SUV on Saab 9-3 basis would certainly have become a sales driver. The small model series has always been responsible for the quantities. Maybe Saab would have survived, in the general SUV boom, and would still be part of GM today. Whether that would have been good or bad, that is the question. On SU there was a similar discussion a few days ago, and some commentators see Saab better off at GM than NEVS. The answer we know in 5 or 6 years, if we can judge the development under NEVS direction.

Four new Saab - we only know three ...

But one question remains open. Carl Peter Forster speaks of four vehicles that have been newly developed for Saab. We know the Saab 9-5 NG sedan and the 9-4x. Number three would have been the sports suit, which came unfinished into the Spyker era and was then fully developed in Trollhättan. It was ready for series production, but it was no longer produced. Another Saab is still missing. Is it a vehicle based on the Phoenix platform that legend says was developed without GM's knowledge? Or was there another unfinished Saab - maybe a small, compact 9-1?

Carl Peter Forster could answer these questions and maybe one day he will. If he wants.


Picture: General Motors



13 thoughts on "Carl Peter Forster talks about Saab"

  • Unfortunately I don't understand the statement. I feel that “no longer invested” would be an inflow of funds from outside. I can understand if GM would have been of the opinion that Saab should finance itself, especially since the technology of the entire group was available. But you, Tom, interpret it differently, namely as if even Saab's own profits were no longer allowed to be used for development, which is quite a difference.

    After all, that does not mean that no new Saabs have been developed. At some point I read that the development department in Trollhättan had shrunk by half, to about 450 people. Of course you can not build your own cars anymore, just the design deco. But of course Opel could continue to develop Saabs and build in Trollhättan. And that was also the strategy, even if it was thrown over again a few years later (see above), probably after it turned out that Saab had a powerful development group and Opel was actually not that motivated, the greatest and most interesting Saabs to construct (that was the time when Opel had to develop so many GM models that they no longer came to even design Opels).

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      My interpretation is that GM did not invest in new Saab products. Saab itself was not in a position to do so, as profits in Sweden were always calculated to be zero or loss for years to come. There were many possibilities. As a result, the company did not have any opportunities to invest in the Group with sole responsibility. For GM this was an advantage, as long as you could count the profits of other brands in Sweden tax-saving.

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    Brussels Motor Show 2014 (January 14th - 26th), : SAAB can not find a word about the (on the entry page). Curious; or too bad. Even if Brussels is not necessarily one of the big salons.

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      The first auto show for Saab will be Beijing. Nothing is known about European appearances and I am not expecting them before the car show in Paris. But maybe we will be surprised ...

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        As a supplement: The mood at VOLVO. - The future lies in China?

        Internal Translation from Flemish (from De Tijd)

        The CEO (from VOLVO) spreads concern to the future of VOLVO Gent (Belgium)

        Swedish automaker VOLVO, now in the hands of Geely (China), is considering exports from China to the US and Europe. That's what CEO Hakan Samuellsson said about the car showroom in Detroit.

        Such an export (from China) would be bad news for the VOLVO factories in Sweden and Ghent (Belgium), which today supply the US and Europe. They would get tough internal competition from Chinese sister kidneys. At VOLVO Gent, 5000 people work.

        Until today, the official statement from VOLVO has been that the cars from the Chinese factories are intended exclusively for the Chinese market; today it is stated that the Chinese production can also be sold elsewhere. “But there are still no resolutions,” emphasizes spokesman Stefan Elfström.
        "We have to hold talks and convince people if we want to export premium cars from China," said Samuelsson in Detroit. Geely had already indicated earlier that they intend to export cars developed together with VOLVO to the USA from 2016.

        "It is not yet for tomorrow that the Chinese VOLVO will come" is the reaction of the BBTK union, which points out that the Chinese factory in Chengdu has just opened. "If the Chinese manage to produce cars of a certain (high) quality, then that might be a possibility," says BBTK unionist Peter De Sutter. “Whether that will be real is another question. Whether the world is waiting for cars from China is even more a different question ”.

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    So you can learn a lot about mistakes that even large corporations stumble. One can only hope that NEVS does it better and quickly brings new models. A 9-1 e.g. it can also be marketed well as an EV.

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    So it goes

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    Somehow this article scares me. If you read how a big corporation is ticking, then I'm at a loss. At GM, you have apparently learned nothing. After almost destroying OPEL with CHEVROLET, you take the brand off the market. You look so long-term strategy?

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      Opel dismantled itself, with lousy quality in the eighties and nineties…. At that time I was working in a GM USA / Opel agency ... with the Caddies, Buicks, Chevys etc. we had significantly fewer problems than with the Rüsselsheimers ....
      And is the call gone ...

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    The 540 (9-3 III) was already 2008 on the drawing board, then still based on Eps II (too big with 4,8m), then Delta II (the big wheel version, Astra OPC, with the length of the Zafira would have fit well) and Shortly before the bankruptcy of GM even Gamma II (Corsa), no wonder that they wanted to bake their own rolls again in Sweden.

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    Good morning.

    Very nice and interesting article!
    And about GM, one can only really wonder.

    A big new 900 'with hatchback would have always pleased me!
    (If I think about what we got everything without problems and thanks to a huge mouthpiece also very comfortable with stuff eg in our 9000'er: refrigerators, furniture, washing machines, etc.)

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      That was the philosophy behind it ... That you could drive to the nearest Ikea furniture store with a Saab 900 or 9000 and invite them. The Swedes at least thought a little further than GM later….

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    Great article, especially the end reads almost as exciting as a thriller

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