Many auto brands have been relieved of duty over the decades of business, but Saab is a special kind of story. Not only because the quirky brand made some of the greatest niche luxury cars of all time, but because of how many times the brand has changed hands.
When General Motors purchased a fifty percent stake in the company in 1989, it would soon become apparent the two were never bound to work. Sometimes opposites attract, but not in the case of Saab and GM, according to a CheatSheet story.
The partnering seemed perfect, Saab would gain access to an immense dealer network in the U.S., and GM would gain a foothold in the European luxury market which was already booming by the time of the acquisition. And in the seemingly imagined endless paperwork of the deal was the opportunity for GM to buy the remaining fifty percent in ten years, which it would carry out in 2000.
Where it seemed to have gone awry, though, is the culture both companies carried with them.
Saab was known for outside of, around, hell even forgetting the box. Its approach to engineering cars was unlike anything seen before, and it made a name for itself doing so. It became the first manufacturer to include a turbocharger to enhance performance of a mainstream vehicle, as seen on the 1977 99 Turbo. It crafted striking, yet, aerodynamic designs. Saab was the oddball of the industry, but in the greatest way possible. For every bad idea Saab had throughout its manufacturing career, it had one good idea. Often, quite brilliant.
On the other hand, General Motors was a totally different animal, and it quickly became apparent Saab would do anything possible to disregard direct orders from Detroit. Typical of Old GM, the company pressured Saab to become another brand of badge-engineered appliance work, much like what plagued Oldsmobile, Pontiac and Buick for a greater part of the 1990s and 2000s. GM envisioned Saab to become a rebadged Opel, something it would fight to the bitter end.
With the introduction of the 1993 Saab 900, which was supposed to merely be an Opel Vectra/Vauxhall Cavalier, the Swedes scoffed at the idea of badge engineering and in the end, only one-third of parts were shared with the GM platform mates.
In the second go around for the introduction of the Saab 9-3, GM tried yet again. Saab also disregarded, yet again, even changing the car’s wheelbase. As a past episode of Top Gear tells, a GM accountant paid a visit to Sweden to understand why the brand was costing so much money. Upon having a seat in the 9-3, he realized the navigation system wasn’t even part of the General Motors parts bin.
After GM pulled the plug during its bankruptcy filing, the brand made a brief stint with Swedish supercar maker, Spyker. But they went bankrupt too. Ultimately, the brand landed in the hands of a company called NEVS, which had plans to sell electric 9-3 sedans in Europe and China. Now that company too, is bankrupt.
It seems the oddball Swede has ultimately been laid to rest. Do yourself a favor, snap a photo of a 9-5 next time you see one, because people like us will be the ambassadors of an orphan brand bound to be forgotten. Ultimately, even though GM tried so hard to force its ways upon the brand, nothing could keep Saab from stepping inside of the box.