In hindsight, Saab could never have prospered as the most distant member – in terms of both intellectual approach and physical distance – of the General Motors family.
It suffered two distinct decades of muddle and under-investment.
When GM swept in and snatched 50 per cent of Saab from under Fiat’s nose in 1990, the Swedish carmaker hardly benefitted. GM’s components bin contained little worthy of a premium brand.
The 1993 900 was a brave effort with poor hand, but the split of ownership between GM and the Swedish Investor Group meant investment in new products was comically lacking in the 1990s.
While other premium brands expanded massively on the back of a mass roll-out of new products, Saab remained stuck with just four distinct models. Low volumes and unique engineering further undermined Saab’s business case.
At the beginning of the decade, GM took full ownership and Saab tried to begin a new chapter with the 2003 9-3.
However, extensive modification of the Vectra components package it was designed to be based on was costly and caused a rift with GM management that never fully healed.
GM continued to keep Saab on an investment drip feed and compounded the farce by pitching Saab into short-lived alliances with both Subaru and Fiat Auto. Selling cars into the US from Sweden was also rarely profitable for much of the last decade.
Looking back, it was probably the last-minute cancellation of the first 9-5 replacement in early 2005 that was beginning of the end under GM ownership. A co-production with Alfa Romeo, Saab designed the all-new Premium platform and finalised the 9-5 replacement.
But GM’s exit from its Fiat Auto alliance resulted in the new flagship Saab being binned at the 11th hour.
Saab never recovered. By 2009, the current 9-5 was 12 years old and the 9-3 six years old. Although the new 9-5 and 9-4X SUV are finished and ready for the showroom, the global recession and GM bankruptcy meant that Saab finally ran out of time as a GM brand.