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SAAB: the final hours

The SAAB plant at Trollhattan, Sweden

As the days shortened and autumn turned to winter, time finally ran out for SAAB, as chairman Victor Muller himself filed the bankruptcy declaration at the district court in Vänersborg, Sweden at 09.15 on December 19th 2011. The battle was not lost easily, for while SAAB had been under court protection from creditors, protracted talks with Chinese owned Youngman-Lotus continued and a deal that would have saved SAAB was not too far away. 

The definitive blow came with an ex cathedra statement from GM (after months of talks between SAAB and would be Chinese buyers) bluntly announced that the former owner of SAAB would not agree to any Chinese involvement due to potential for misuse of its intellectual property and intended to block any such deal by suspending licences for technology and components used in the current model ranges.

Since independence from GM, SAAB released a much needed entirely new 9-5 model range and a long-awaited 9-4 crossover.  Work on the replacement for the ageing 9-3 series in production for nearly eight years was well advanced and the company had secured a deal with BMW to supply at least 100,000 diesel engines.  The future looked promising: the company had the most modern product lineup for years and dealers and enthusiasts had every reason to be optimistic but within the space of a year, SAAB's dream turned slowly into a nightmare.

Economists, politicians and business analysts will doubtless hold different opinions not so much on what went wrong as when the crisis started and time in the decline of SAAB is an important factor because although the company ceased making cars in March, it was almost 9 months later when the chairman finally conceded defeat.

What went wrong
Quite simply, the company over stretched itself and had insufficient liquidity to sustain production.  This happened because the original sales forecasts proved to be optimistic for two reasons: prevailing adverse economic conditions and perhaps more critically, lack of public awareness.

Apathy and lack of knowledge undermined SAAB's position. The most well-known SAAB blog in the world (SAABS United) ran a feature that highlighted the problem admirably after the correspondent was horrified to see Google's auto complete function offer a range of popular searches that demonstrated beyond doubt that there was a failure in informing the car buying public that SAAB was back.

Of course, hindsight is a wonderful thing and any critic carrying out their own individual post mortem will doubtless focus with glee upon exuberant ventures like the Phoenix concept car or the limited production Independence Edition cars.  Whereas it would be easy to condemn management for these apparent excesses, there is no doubt that the publicity gained was valuable - motoring journals thrive on such things.

Implications: how parts availability and warranties will be affected
With SAAB Great Britain (SAAB GB) in administration along with wholly owned subsidiary SAAB City Ltd. with two retail sites at Fulham and Wapping since 29th November 2011, the UK dealer network will slowly disappear. Many dealerships without SAABs to sell since March 2011 had started to seek other brands to sell anyway. This trend will, doubtless, be mirrored elsewhere in the world, except, perhaps, in the USA, although this has not been confirmed yet.

Owners of SAAB cars who are concerned about keeping their cars on the road will be greatly relieved to learn that parts are unlikely to be a problem, since parts are (and have been for some time) the responsibility of a separate company. Saab Parts (located in Nyköping) is still a profitable concern and is therefore not included in the bankruptcy, although it is still owned by SAAB Automobile AB. With the dealer chain melting away, however, it will take longer to supply parts and marque specialists will probably step up to meet the challenge.

The warranty situation is more complex because, previously, SAAB Parts handled warranty claims. In theory, while the bankrupcy situation remains unresolved by the administrator, warranty claims should be forwarded to the dealers, as normal. In practice, with the dealer network slowly melting away, it remains questionable how well this will work. Saab GB has set up a customer hotline and those worried about their warranty can call 0845 300 9593.

The future: requiem or resurrection?
SAAB chairman Victor Muller is no quitter and SAABS United, world leading SAAB blog set up originally by Stephen Wade clearly believes the situation is far from being beyond redemption. The last time the company was in trouble, SU empowered groups of enthusiasts around the world, inspiring and co-ordinating them to stage a series of global 'Save SAAB' convoys. That spirit is still very much alive and in a very short period of time a new campaign has been launched.

We are many, we are SAAB!

SAABS United are promoting a series of worldwide meetings on 14th/15th January 2012. So far enthusiasts in no fewer than 23 nations are going to take part!

More details here: http://www.saabsunited.com/category/events

But while you are visiting SAABS United, do consider visiting the shop and buy one of the We are many, we are SAAB car stickers.

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