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Full speed ahead for SAAB-Spyker

The chiefs of SAAB and Spyker at a press conference in Stockholm, January 2010The formal sale of SAAB Automobile AB to Spyker Cars N.V by General Motors was completed on February 24th 2010 in an event that was not widely reported in the media.

Even so, the importance of this milestone should not be underestimated because now Spyker has assumed control, a new era has been ushered in. A change of leadership, fresh ideas and above all hope will inspire the whole organisation from the factory workforce right down to dealer level in countries many miles from Trollhattan.

This is important, for the air of gloom and uncertainty that has prevailed since SAAB sought bankruptcy protection from its creditors last year has had a devastating effect upon sales. SAAB dealers of many years standing have told the author about the gradual loss of morale amongst staff in both sales and workshop.

One dealer who asked not to be named said "We were facing a pretty bleak future. Not only were we witnessing the slow death of a famous brand together with a predictable decline in new car sales. Worse still, traders buying our part exchanges were reporting difficulties obtaining finance for customers on used SAABs. On a personal level, it has been soul-destroying to watch something you believe in just wither away. It wasn't just the future of the team, the people you have worked with but the customers we've sold cars to over the years".

In a statement released today, the C.E.O of SAAB Jan Åke Jonsson thanked customers worldwide for their loyalty and steadfast support. All those blog entries and the submissions on bulletin boards to say nothing of convoys around the world speak volumes about the people who are passionate about their cars. SAAB are a breed of cars that are apart from the common herd - they are innovative, safe, swift, individualistic and sometimes downright quirky. The new owners of SAAB cannot but be impressed by the expression of support for the marque and with funding secured, the way is clear to press ahead with introduction of the new 9-5 range.

The new 9-5 saloon is but part of the venture's grand design. An estate version is expected to follow soon but in all the drama of the past 6 months, the arrival of the 9-3X has been all but eclipsed. It might be easy to dismiss what initially looks like a jacked up 9-3 with extra bodykit mouldings as a cynical exercise to part customers from their cash with a machine that has off road pretensions but the 2.0 turbo petrol is equipped with a proper 4x4 system (the 1.9TTiD retains fwd). The author knows a number of engineers whose jobs take them off the beaten track who would find this suv/estate mixture with increased ground clearance very appealing.

New markets, new cars and new buyers is the route to successfully achieving annual sales in excess of 100,000 cars. Bold moves are likely - just 5 hrs ago a press release arrived here advising that Spyker aim to cash in the current vogue for retromobile nostalgia that has proved so successful for BMW (with the Mini Cooper), FIAT (with the 500) and of course Wolfsburg's second take on the Beetle. Spyker's ambition is to build a 92 - a car that harks back to SAAB's roots in the shape of their very first car. No artists impressions are available yet but those swoopy, aerodynamic lines will make for a very distinctive shape.

A replacement for the current 9-3 is known to be on the cards, although the current model has won many new friends with its sharp suited styling, not to mention the allure of the punchy -especially in twin turbo form- 1.9 diesel unit. The SAAB mantra 'evolution, not revolution' may have been tempered by financial strictures and whereas product iteration irons out faults, foibles and things that owners find plain irritating sometimes backfires. It backfires in the sense that owners who spend a lot of time in their cars (and SAAB owners do cover much higher mileages than average) tire of driving the same car and crave something new and different. An owner who had bought new 9-5s in 1999, 2003 and 2007 would be driving a car that looked substantially the same to the one he or she was driving in the last century.

Spkyer C.E.O Victor Mulller has outlined plans that will see the 9-3, 9-5 and a new 9-4x crossover SUV comprise the core product lineup but more variants will broaden market appeal and help close the gap on traditional rivals such as BMW and Audi. A niche 92 retro styled product will whet the appetite of those who have long craved a small SAAB but it remains to be seen how feasible it will be to translate dream into reality. The author is excited by the prospect of a small SAAB but cannot help recall what happened when Mercedes Benz strayed from their traditional area of expertise in introducing the A class. Small cars cost a fortune to develop and neither SAAB nor Spyker have any experience in that field.

Made in Trollhattan by Trolls - may SAABs be forever made in Sweden

If what has been said about future developments at SAAB may be seen as exciting , what has not been said remains intriguing. It is widely known that GM had planned to switch at least some SAAB production to Germany. In terms of global motor manufacturing operations this was hardly a move that could not have been anticipated because many makers have explored this possibility. The author hopes that SAABs will continue to be made in Trollhattan. This view isn't driven by a desire to hang onto tradition so much as a fear that quality would suffer. Besides, I like the famous sticker 'Made in Trollhattan by Trolls' too much.

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