Whew! When it seemed extremely unlikely that Saab had any chance of survival. Spyker and GM announced a binding agreement for Spyker to buy Saab from the General. The future of Saab has been in question ever since GM announced a formation of a new company with four core brands-Chevy, Buick, GMC and Cadillac. Saab was put up for sale, and it was a known fact that without a buyer, GM would shut down the company. Saab’s future looked promising when Koenigsegg agreed to buy the company. When that deal collapsed, Saab loyalists and fans had good reason to panic.
Dutch exotic car builder Spyker made it clear they wanted to buy Saab, but this time around GM was being eerily silent to the media. Meanwhile, the rights to the pre-2003 9-3 and current 9-5 were sold to BAIC, a Chinese company. Worse, GM then announces plans to “wind down” Saab operations, even though the company indicated they were still reviewing offers.
With GM acting like a company with little interest in sparing Saab’s life, Spyker continued negotiating, and submitting revised offers to make a deal happen. Rumors swirl that GM wanted the new 9-5 for themselves. Afterall, they footed the bill to develop the car. Word on the street is the 9-5 is a great car, and GM would sell it as a Buick. At the Detroit Auto Show, GM CEO Ed Whitacre tells journalists “We’re closing down Saab.” The situation looked about as hopeless as possible.
Thanks to Spyker’s tireless work, a deal did happen, and Saab lives to see a new day. The sale is worth $400 million USD, with $74 million in cash this year, the rest in shares later on. The marriage of GM to Saab was always questionable, but it happened during a time when it was in vogue for major automakers to buy boutique European brands. GM never seemed to have a coherent plan or vision for Saab, which was a crying shame for what was once such a focused company. When the SUV craze of the mid to late 1990’s ramped up, Saab was essentially forgotten. In the meantime, Saab’s rivals-Audi, BMW and Mercedes were constantly improving and updating their cars, while Saab’s 9-3 and 9-5 were carryovers. The Subaru Impreza derived 9-2X fooled no one, and the Chevy TrailBlazer based 9-7X marked a low point.
With Saab saved, the real work begins, and there are yet more questions waiting to be answered. Can Spyker, a small exotic car manufacturer, operate and manage a company the size of Saab? Saab is no giant, to be sure, but premium sport sedans for the masses are much different than bespoke exotica. Can Saab win back buyers? The hay day of the 1980s, with the 900 and 9000 seem like ancient history now, as Saab faces an uphill battle to get buyers interested again.
For now though, everyone is a winner. Spyker’s work has been rewarded-Saab is theirs. A lot of people keep their jobs. We get to see if the 9-5 is really as good as we’ve been lead to believe it is. GM gets some cash, but saves some face with the public. The mercilessly quick death of Pontiac, and subsequent slaying of Saturn after the Penske deal fell through was a little unsettling. GM giving the appearance they were determined to do the same to Saab upset a lot of people-mostly Saab fans. Those fans may be slow to forgive GM for their neglect of Saab, but in the end, they at least had the decency to give Saab another chance.