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SAAB: Dead Brand Walking...

... A few decades ago - let's not go too far and say only three or four - Saab was the epitome of Swedish quirkiness on four wheels. No, it wasn't Volvo, whose sole original trait was (and still is) its safety-based marketing. The "other Swedish automobile" brand's name was originally spelled as an acronym, whose letters came from "Svenska Aeroplan Aktie Bolaget", or the "Swedish Airplane Company".

As many of their fans know, its main line of business initially consisted of manufacturing aircraft for the Swedish Air Force. While World War II was coming to an end, they began looking for new types of business in which they could expand. Their brainstorming sessions in those days included ideas such as expanding into the automotive business by building cars or commercial vehicles, motorcycles and even kitchens. Interestingly, the kitchens idea was further developed into a full-scale business in the same period of time by another Swedish entrepreneur, who goes by the name of "Ingvar Kamprad", or should I say "IKEA head honcho".

Finally settling on the automotive endeavor, Saab started a new car division in 1944, but only began production of their first automobile in 1949. Anyway, years passed and about two decades later they became a well-established car brand, profiting from a niche they had created by themselves. In 1969, they even tied a wedding knot to Swedish truck manufacturer Scania AB, a connection that lasted for over 25 years. That connection can now be recalled by just about anyone in the know as Saab's "Golden Era".

What era is it now, you ask? Well, so it happens that the 'merican ex-"ruler of the automotive world", "the General", "number one car company" also known as General Motors took over Saab in a fit of buying fever in 1989. Most Saab fans will now probably tell you this was the beginning of the end for the Trollhättan-based car company. All the quirkiness that had characterized the Swedish began to slowly fade away under GM. Slowly but surely, all the models in the Saab lineup became re-engineered Opels, with a hint of GM's global thinking in just about everything they did.

Exactly twenty years later, General Motors finally learned the "bigger they are, the harder they fall" lesson on their own, dragging all of its brands with it. I'm including the Swedish Opel in this mess, of course. Just last month, "the General" announced that it believes Saab could file for reorganization within a maximum of ten days unless it receives substantial aid from the Swedish government. Well, surprise, surprise, that's exactly what happened only three days later.

Apparently, the Swedish government isn't as generous as the American one with its struggling automotive companies. "The Swedish state and taxpayers in Sweden will not own car factories. Sometimes you get the impression that this is a small, small company but it is the world’s biggest automaker so we have a right to make demands," said Maud Olofsson, the Swedish Minister for Enterprise and Energy about the whole shenanigans.

With its tail between its legs, GM is now on the verge of completely abandoning the former "Swedish epitome of quirkiness on wheels" by the end of 2009. Saab people themselves are well aware of the situation, with managing director Jan-Åke Jonsson quoted as saying that the current line of events is "the best way to create a truly independent entity that is ready for investment."

In other words, while waiting for a buyer (read: investor) which should probably be a bit better at running Saab than GM was, the Swedish are currently in reorganization, which is just the Swedish term for the US Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Do you think they'll manage to get through the year, maybe saved by an aspiring Chinese car company? I certainly hope so, but on the other hand everything points to the extinction of a once cool car brand... May the "thunderbolts" (Viggen) rest in peace!


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