It must have been 1986 or 1987 when I first came through Trollhättan ... in the middle of the night, on my way to Stockholm. I knew nothing more about Saab than that the brand was Swedish. The Saab factory? No matter. The city only became interesting as a travel destination in 2010. Ironically, the impending closure and the restart under Victor Muller brought the plant into focus.
The Saab Festival served as the occasion, the 9-5 was allowed to visit back home. The streets were full of Saabs for the festival, two-stroke and turbo sound was in the air. The city would never be so full of Saabs afterwards. The factory - a kind of holy place for fans from all over the world. Obviously, it wasn’t. The streets around the site are full of potholes, the buildings in the style of the 80s, the gravel area in front of the plant is part of nature. We didn't care! Fascinated, we stood at the fence and saw how every few minutes a new 9-5 rolled off the conveyor belt.
If we had already known at the time that every newly produced vehicle was automatically owned by a GM financial subsidiary, we would have suspected that Detroit Saab did not leave any air to breathe. We would have run away crying.
Trollhättan, Saab plant, October 2011
In the Swedish autumn sun the factory develops an almost poetic beauty. It is sleeping, the Saab factory. No production, no employees, only one man from the security service is waiting for us. The fight for Saab is at its peak, we pick up the vehicles for the Saab dealer tour.
A quick picture in front of the main portal, a photo in front of the huge Saab pylons, which seem so powerfully built for all eternity. The two Saab 9-5 sports suits are pre-series vehicles. Normally they will have a short life and being allowed to travel to Germany is an exception in turbulent times. That's how we think. That it will continue to France and Spain, that both station wagons will survive the factory and the brand, that is a madness of Saab history. But nobody suspected that at the time.
Around the Saab factory, April 2012
The insolvency administrators are now in charge of the plant. They keep the painting line in standby mode, they collect Saab vehicles and prototypes around the world. Saabs from testing, the pre-series, meet on the gravel yard in front of the plant. There are rare vehicles among them; Colors we've never seen before, lots of missed opportunities.
Mark and I are running around the factory. Main portal, gravel place, north portal. The road between airfield and press shop, close to the Göta Älv. The security service is stress, the Skoda of the security service does not let us out of sight. He could have had it easier too. A long walk with two crazy Germans, we would have taken him.
The thing is sad. Most vehicles, including new Turbo X and convertibles, are scrapped. The 9-5 bodyshells will never build cars.
The Saab flags are blowing. June 2012.
The waving Saab flags give the impression that everything is alright. If it is not, the factory is sold to NEVS. In Trollhättan the reactions are restrained. Departure or rejoicing, none of it is really felt. Maybe a clue what will be 4 years later, almost to the day. Then NEVS will get the Saab logo from the factory.
But it is not yet time. Summer, sun, Saab flags in the wind. And hope for a good future.
May 2013. Saab Festival.
The work as a backdrop. It is not more. Fans drive to the main portal, take a souvenir photo. There were rumors beforehand. NEVS would use the festival to show new products. Nothing happens, the plant remains closed, the parking lot in front of the plant serves as a race track on these days.
You do not have to walk around the factory area. You could, but it does not work. Because nothing is visible, because everything is tidied up. The sightlines are obstructed with containers, the terrain is as walled in.
December 2013. Restart in the factory.
How is that with hope? She dies last but she dies reliably. Before that there is a short high, in the plant world one speaks of a fear bloom. The work comes to life again after a long time. A minister who is no longer in office flies in from Stockholm. Representatives from China and local political celebrities. Suppliers from Germany are driven in buses through the city, the departure is there.
Of course we want to believe that, and we want to be there. Air ticket, car rental, hotel booked. And indeed: NEVS delivers a great staging and drive the first new Saabs off the line.
Final visit. Saab Festival 2015
Somehow we have lost the desire and maybe the hope. Mark and I have been in Trollhättan time and again, but the frequency of visits has dropped over the years. Maybe we are like many Swedes who have graduated in Saab history.
For the 2015 festival, NEVS opened the gates to the Saab plant, specifically to the Powertrain Complex, which has so much Saab history of the 80s. The 9000 is still as present in the rooms as if it had been designed yesterday. A great gesture to the fans, even if the condition of the labs speaks a clear language. Investments are needed if you want to play in the first league in the future.
Already 2015 there was the rumor with the Saab lettering, which should be removed. They stayed up. More 12 months.