Frankfurt in autumn 2009. I'm on my way to the IAA with a friend and two acquaintances. Saab shows the new 9-5 generation. At this point, it is very far away that I will write a blog about the brand around 1 1/2 years later. On the contrary. Because Saab is really no longer important to me. I've been through a lot with the brand.
There was my 9-3 II Aero Cabriolet. A really nice car and at the same time the sheet metal nightmare on four wheels. At a mileage of 5.000, the Saab disappeared into the workshop for extensive revision for days. Then it worked again - for a short time. Then when parts went defective that would have been expected at mileage of around 200.000, I threw the towel in exasperation. Our relationship ended at exactly 20.000 kilometers.
My Saab dealer had previously forgotten to forward the order for a 9-5 Anniversary Bio Power station wagon to Sweden, so that it was no longer available due to the factory holidays. The purchase of an exhibition vehicle failed because of the value of a full tank; in short, I was completely served. The 9-3 went to the Mercedes dealer, I vowed never to enter a Saab dealership again. At this point the story could have ended. Then there would be no blog, the readers would use their time for other purposes. But then everything turned out very differently, which is a long story.
GM is also fed up with Saab
Not only I have a cloudy relationship with Saab in 2009. Even GM, hit by the financial crisis, has had enough of the Swedes. There is the nice story that GM simply erased the Trollhättan location from the map of its former empire and thus pointed out the imminent divorce to those responsible for Saab. It is uncertain whether the story really happened that way. She is already believable.
By the end of 2008 at the latest, it is also clear in Sweden that the Americans will be serious. There is speculation in the national press whether GM will simply close the plant or sell Saab. Can you actually sell Saab? The journalists ask. And Dagens Industri headlines that the last chapter has now been opened for Saab. And should be right. At the beginning of 2009, GM sent its daughter to the reconstruction. The Swedish variant of a regulated bankruptcy to get the company out of debt for new investors.
Saab presents the new 9-5 generation at the IAA 2009
At the IAA 2009 we of course have no inkling of any of this. It was only clear that Saab is in some trouble. The word got around, but we don't reflect on how deep the crisis was. On the contrary! We are excited about the 9-5NG, because a completely new Saab is a rare event. And then he stands there on the Saab stand.
Large, elegant, impressive. A car that you wouldn't necessarily attribute to the brand due to its size. Do I want him? To stay with the truth - not really! The first contact leaves me relatively cold. Why is it? There is this strange atmosphere, which is perhaps temporary, perhaps also lasting for the whole fair. It tastes of crisis, tension, and I cannot classify it at the time.
Add to that the careless handling of the vehicles, the inexpensive materials that put me off on this day. Also, because I do not know the story behind it.
The Saab 9-5 NG is a Hesse!
At this point, the small Swedish brand is on fire from all sides. Above all, the Opel works council tried with all means to secure the production of the 9-5 NG for Rüsselsheim. To compensate for this, a couple of Opel Astra should have been built on Göta Älv. Not too many, of course, just enough. It is obvious where the intended relocation will lead. The strengthening of the Opel parent plant and, in the medium term, a complete liquidation of Trollhättan. Oh yes, solidarity among employees and works councils in the global GM family does not exist in 2009.
If the financial crisis had not come, the latest Saab would probably have become a Hesse. That's for sure, the vehicles on the IAA 2009 and all pilot series models are. Because the tools for the production of the 9-5 NG reach only on Friday before the IAA start from Rüsselsheim coming Trollhättan.
Departure under the sign of the IAA?
Most visitors are unlikely to notice the drama surrounding Saab. The 9-5 NG arrives at the IAA 2009 much better than my audience. My friend, who drives Audi in the meantime, is still infected. He wants to order one then and drive as a company car. The virus does not release him even after 10 years, but unfortunately there is no cure. Because there are no new and thus no more company cars from Saab.
Another model is almost drowned in the hype around the 9-5. In Frankfurt, Saab presents the 9-3 X, a crossover station wagon that is one of my favorites among the new models. A bit of lifestyle mixed with the brand's typical understatement. With the facilities for success and departure. Unfortunately, it never gets the attention it deserves. And drowned in the crisis.
Intrigues around Saab
In September 2009 indicates what 2011 will lead to the end of the brand. Intrigues, actors with an unclear agenda, big drama. There's Jan Åke Jonsson, the Saab CEO, who turns overnight from Saul to Paul and raises questions about his role. As a GM manager, he seems to Saab tough cuts, as CEO, he positioned himself superficially against the Detroiters. His role in the fight for survival will never be completely clear even after the separation from GM. Is he just the extended arm of the Americans and vicarious agent in the stablebacka?
There's BAIC. At this time, the state-owned company is still the preferred GM partner in China. The Chinese do not exclusively acquire the intellectual property of the old 9-5 and 9-3 II as well as Saab engines and transmissions. But they want more. At the IAA 2009 there are the first rumors. 25% share of Saab or maybe a little less? A little later they let the cat out of the bag. 20% would be absolutely sufficient. No seat on the Supervisory Board is desired, but many millions are announced for Trollhättan and ensures free market access in China.
A story that sounds too good to be true. But back then you want to believe because a straw can look like a tree trunk to a drowning person - and it gives hope. A year later, BAIC will attempt to take over Saab as a whole. The poker game takes some time and ultimately fails due to a missing signature.
Christian von Koenigsegg is traded as a possible Saab buyer. The founder of the sports car manufacturer from Ängelholm has the overall package in mind. A modern plant, exciting developments such as the electric all-wheel drive, a modular platform or the electric car concept that is way ahead of its time. Together with the BAIC millions and the Chinese market access for its super sports cars a tempting offer. Koenigsegg finally refuses, today he tries again under different circumstances and with NEVS and Evergrande. China beckons, and even now the motivation of everyone involved is not as clear as it seems.
2019 - what's left?
The story of Saab is clear. There is nothing to interpret. The brand is dead and it stays that way. Jan Åke Jonsson is the obstetrician for startups in Sweden today and is otherwise well-employed. At BAIC, business is mediocre, and Koenigsegg lure new adventures. Next year, a Koenigsegg sports car will be built in Trollhättan. The circle then closes. After 11 years.
The most amazing development is going through the Saab 9-5 NG. Against all odds, it is still being built. Not in Rüsselsheim, for example, but where a Saab should come from. In Trollhättan. Thank Victor Muller, he dares this adventure. The 9-5 brings it to a considerable level of maturity in a short time and drives straight into the hearts of fans. I'll buy one too, I'm happy with it, and a little sad when it leaves. With its history, it is already one of the automobiles that are immortal for all time.
Thanks: At this point a big thank you to friend Uli, who has provided the pictures for this article. Without him, the realization of the contribution would not have been possible.