Spannerhead Dot

The Third Owner’s the Charm

July 7, 2011 by Matt

2010 Saab 9-5

Is Saab back for good?

After GM decided to divest themselves of the company in late 2009 as part of their restructuring program, the Swedish automaker was rescued in early 2010 by the Dutch firm Spyker in a truly 11th-hour deal. Despite Spyker’s lack of financial muscle compared to GM, I had high hopes Saab would regain more solid footing under their auspices. Especially with the long overdue release of the second-generation 9-5 (by all accounts a very good car, if not the automotive equivalent of a killer app), I started wondering whether a Jaguar-in-the-’90s-style renaissance was in the works.

Unfortunately, Saab’s problems today are different than Jaguar’s were back then. The British company’s main failings were on the manufacturing efficiency and quality control fronts, two areas that their then-new owners, Ford, were amply able to help them address. Jaguar never suffered from a lack of distinctiveness, and their basic design and engineering had always been on par with the standard-bearers in their cars’ categories. But those are precisely the two main issues facing Saab today. Saab needs make a car that can hang with a BMW 3-series, Lexus IS or Infiniti G, and they need to distinguish themselves from their competition (something GM’s platform sharing antics did not help). Accomplishing those two things would help the brand win converts beyond just the diehard loyalists, or those who define themselves first and foremost as nonconformists.

2010 Saab 9-5 Rear 3/4

All that said, in spite of the competence of the new 9-5 (pictured above and at top) Spyker couldn’t do much with the Swedish company, and put Saab up for sale. And yet again, on the verge of liquidating their assets and shuttering their factories, a pair of buyers emerged, in this case the Chinese firms Youngman and Pang Da.

Here’s hoping they pull through. If they do eventually go under, the automotive landscape will be a bit less unique for the disappearance of the quirky, and in many ways pioneering, automaker.

Saab has been at the vanguard of a number of automotive innovations; just to name a few: wastegate-controlled turbocharging, coil-on-plug ignition, and my personal favorite: the variable compression engine. Unfortunately, with that last advance, they lacked the capital to fully develop what could have been a game-changer, a real breakthrough that would have given them technical distinctiveness and leadership, in addition to all the little peripheral idiosyncrasies they maintain.

On another personal note, as much of a nonconformist as I like to think I am, I’ve never been a huge fan of the brand, mainly because their entire model range is front-wheel-drive. There’s just no way to achieve a well-balanced, classically fun-to-drive car with that mechanical configuration. It’s unfortunate, really, since Saabs are generally very handsome, and manual transmissions are offered on most cars in their lineup—two big positives.

If nothing else, this post allows me to coin what I will call Spannerhead’s 1st Law of Automotive Blogging: “You can’t call yourself a true automotive blogger until you’ve written a post about a Swedish automaker.”

So at least I’ve arrived, even if Saab hasn’t quite yet.

Filed under: Car Industry, News, Saab, Technical


  1. John D says:

    Funny you posted this as I recently drove my first Saab the other day. Friend of mine (Fuller) got it for his girlfriend and let me take a spin. I was fairly impressed with the interior feel and composed nature of the car. It was fairly responsive in many ways, but pushing just a little into a tight round about quickly revealed it’s limitations. Understeer came on very early and it lost the fun and sporty feel in that instant. Definitely not what I’d call a ‘driver’s car’. But I have heard that they are moving in the right direction over the past couple years…

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