Regardless of whether General Motors ends up selling its Saab brand to Dutch sports-car maker Spyker Cars NV – or to anyone else – its apparent demise provides a depressing exclamation mark on a year in which the doomsayers about global automotive overcapacity were finally proven right.
Even during the worldwide, mid-decade economic boom, automotive analysts periodically would point out – and honest industry executives would admit – that automakers were headed for a capacity donnybrook. Even as Asian brands kept building new plants in North America and Europe, and General Motors and the Europeans kept adding capacity in Asia, those doing the relatively simple math kept saying: There’s way too much room to build cars, and sooner or later someone is going to have to pay for it.
Unfortunately, it hit the fan in 2008 and 2009. And GM and Chrysler, through their untimely meltdowns, have ended up bearing the brunt of the world’s massive capacity adjustment.
Still, Saab’s story is particularly poignant in this regard because it’s really the first venerable, standalone global brand that has taken it in the teeth – er, grille. Yes, GM has shed other brands, but Hummer and Saturn never were vital, and Pontiac had faded decades ago.
Saab has a proud heritage that GM slowly strangled with a paucity of new products after it bought the brand outright a couple of decades ago. Originally an aircraft manufacturer, Saab began building automobiles in 1949.
“Saab’s quirky designs and mastery of turbocharging gained it an international following,” as AutoTrader.com wrote in its summary about the brand. “Over the years, Saab also produced a bunch of industry firsts in technology, including ignition locks positioned on the front console instead of the steering wheel for better logic and more safety, cabin-air filters, electrical heated seats, and side- and rear-impact crash protection. During the Eighties, Saab cars gained popularity in America as a favorite choice of upscale young consumers looking for a way to distinguish themselves from the mainstream.”
Nowadays, however, consumers already are prepared to move on if Saab ultimately conks out. BMW, Audi, and Volvo could be the biggest immediate brand winners among Saab shoppers who also considered other brands while browsing for Saabs lately, said AutoTrader.com.
Added AutoTrader.com President and CEO Chip Perry: "As the Saab brand is shut down, it is likely many of those buyers will gravitate to those other European brands, although our shopper activity on AutoTrader.com shows Saab buyers are also interested in some American and Japanese brands."