The newswires were alive yesterday with a story that Autocar ran on 1 October.GM’s decision to sell the old 9-5 and 9-3 production equipment raised fears that Saab was being broken up by stealth, especially as the Swedish National Debt office has also demanded that the car maker is divided into five separate divisions.
Beijing Automotive (BAIC) has also just got the go ahead for a US $3 billion loan from the Bank of China.
Apparently, GM isn’t intending to sell Saab in chunks, but clearly Beijing Auto is still interested. The big hurdle is that GM is unlikely to sell its latest technology (in the form of the 9-5 and 9-4X) to a Chinese buyer.
However, I can imagine a scenario that might work.
If BAIC restarts 9-3 and old 9-5 production equipment in China, GM could prop up the Saab brand by selling the new 9-5 (possibly out of Russelsheim, the 9-5 original home) and the 9-4X (out of GM's facility in Mexico) directly to BAIC for a fixed ex-factory cost.
This would prevent BAIC getting its hands on GM's latest tech, but would prop the brand up for a few years as well improve the economics of Opel's Russelsheim plant and the Mexico factory which is also making the new Caddy SRX, the 9-4X's sister car.
Of course, BAIC would have to organise a replacement for the 9-3, but Saab engineers at Trollhatten are well on with the project and are already looking to buy large numbers of components (including engines) from component suppliers, rather than engineering their own. A new 9-3 is probably only a decent floorpan away from being realisable.
Although Saab's design and engineering centre would hugely benefit BAIC, it probably does mean that Trollhatten is over as a production centre. But then building cars in Krona and exporting them into the EU and US was a recipe for red ink.
Saab would become, partly, a virtual car company. Like Apple, for example, it would sub-contract its manufacturing around the globe. It might just work.