Svenska Aeroplan AB, Saab, initially started out manufacturing aircraft and filling defence contracts for the Swedish Government. In 1948, they converted one of their facilities in Trollhattan with the intention of starting automobile production of a small car, the Saab 92.
This platform was to be the mainstay of Saab car production for the next 19 years, and it wasn’t until 1968 and the launch of the Saab 99 that they broke with this tradition. The Saab car designers have been famous for their trapezoid grille design and the ‘hockey stick’ curve of their rear passenger window.
The 1970s saw developments with the expansion of the Saab 99 model and then through an agreement with Fiat to sell rebadged Lancia Delta cars as Saab 600s. In the 1980s, Saab released the 9000, their first luxury car, which had a lot in common with the Alfa 164, Fiat Croma, and Lancia Thema.
The 1990s saw the involvement of GM who bought majority shares and then took over the company. GM’s involvement led to the production of the Saab 900, using the same platform as the Opel Vectra. The retirement of the 9000 made way for the new luxury model the 9-5, and in keeping with the new nomenclature, the 900 was given a facelift and renamed the 9-3.
The GM years were not happy ones, and the failure of the Subaru-based 9-2X and the Chevrolet-influenced 9-7X to make serious inroads caused the company to consider mothballing the Saab operation. A number of companies showed interest in buying Saab, and eventually it was narrowed down to a consortium of Koenigsegg, the supercar producer, and Chinese carmaker BAIC.
When agreement could not be reached regarding the rights over intellectual property, the deal collapsed. In stepped Netherlands specialist car producer Spyker, with serious backers, and in 2010, it was announced that an arrangement had been found.
The initial euphoria disappeared as production targets were continually lowered, and then reports emerged about difficulties paying invoices, halts in the supply of parts, and finally unpaid workers’ wages in July 2011. Talks continued with several Chinese companies, but progress was continually hampered by GM’s insistence on no Chinese firms being involved in the deal.
The issue over licencing agreements and the use of technology from GM was still proving to be an issue throughout 2012 and since Saab Automobile Parts AB was still under the control of the Swedish National Debt Office. In 2013, there was a deal announced between NEVS/Saab and Chinese investors Qingdao Qingbo to put money into the ailing company, build a new plant in China, and use the Trollhattan facilities for European manufacture and a Fiat-sourced drivetrain.
The Saab car production has, seemingly, come full circle with plans in 2014 to release the new Saab 9-2, a retro-inspired version of the company’s first model, the Saab 92. The 92 first hit the roads in 1949 and lasted until 1956. The new 9-2 is believed to be based around the same teardrop shape of the original model.
In 1955, the company produced the open top roadster, the Sonnet 1, which was again relaunched in 1966. Another of the well-received Saab cars was the 96 from the 1960s; this was as much for its innovative safety features as its distinctive shape.
One of the enduring Saab models was the 900, which first arrived in showrooms in 1978 and lasted until 1993. There were several design features that made this car popular, such as its rear-facing engine, transaxle gearbox, deeply curved windscreen, and aircraft-inspired dashboard.
The Saab 9-3 came out in 1998 and was meant as a completely revolutionised Saab 900, with an alleged 1000 design changes made. Designers included features like the ‘night panel,’ which only illuminated essential instruments at night.
Saab has always been recognised by its quirky design, aeronautical influence looks, and a diligence towards safety features. They were the first company to fit seatbelts as standard, headlamp washers, impact-absorbing bumpers, the sensonic clutch, head restraints, electronic brakeforce distribution, and floor-mounted ignition.
The positioning of Saab cars naturally sees it up against the technology of the German BMW, Mercedes Benz, and Audi. The home-grown Australian talents of Holden and the rebadged Opel cars also find themselves vying for the same customers.
Traditionally, Saab always possessed great residuals and their value held up well, but the GM debacle and the ensuing insolvency, bankruptcy claims, and posturing over Chinese ownership have seen prices drop. This means that for a fraction of the price you can pick up excellently equipped, reliable, and durable Saab cars. As the adverts say, ‘Saab, born from jets.’