Monday, December 19, 2011

Saab dies a second death

Two years ago, Saab was dead. Until Spyker worked out a last minute deal that has kept the brand on life support while looking for someone with deeper pockets to help resuscitate the ailing company. Unfortunately, the only place where that kind of money is still flowing is China, and GM isn't about to hand over all the technology it put into Saab cars since they purchased it in 1989 to a nation of thieves.

A lot of people are making GM the bad guy in this. But they're protecting their intellectual property from a culture and country that doesn't know how to spell piracy much less respect its meaning.

Saab's demise actually goes back a lot further than its sale to GM.

Never able to fully fund its own ambitions, Saab has had a number of bad marriages throughout its lifespan, including a 10 year tryst with Fiat that began in the late '70s. Over the years, Saab products have shared platforms with brands that include Alfa Romeo, Opel, Subaru and Chevrolet.

This lack of consistency and vision has cost the brand in the past two decades. Nothing that Saab has produced since it replaced the 900 was particularly unique or interesting.

I always had a soft spot for the brand after driving a Model 96 from Washington, D.C. to Vermont in the late '70s, and was genuinely interested in it when I went shopping last year. But Saab's inability to find its rightful place in the automotive landscape, to have the discipline to define its core purpose and maintain its differentiation from other cars, finally caught up with it.

And what was once a very nice niche brand is no more.

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