Give General Motors Co. credit: Its leaders, past and present, know how to kill a brand.
Before the Global Financial Meltdown of ’08 sealed the fate of Saab Automobile AB in the soon-to-be-shrinking GM pantheon, the Detroit automaker spent 20 years under-investing in the quirky Swedish marque it acquired in 1990. They beggared interiors; they over-ruled efforts by Saab product people pushing to make their brand a leader in introducing Bluetooth communication technology to their cars; they partially moved production of the 9-3 sedan to Germany from Sweden, a blow to its Scandinavian heritage; they dispatched waves of “smart people” from Detroit to Saab headquarters in Trollhättan to save a brand they were not really prepared to save.
Most of all, the lowest-common denominator types at GM repeatedly failed to capitalize on the unique brand equity Saab represented, relegating it instead to trolling the parent company’s global parts bins for pieces to cobble into a refreshed versions of all-to-familiar models. They forced Saab to develop a smaller 9-2 with the folks at Fuji Heavy Industries, parent of Subaru, birthing a forgettable “Saabaru” that hastened the brand’s demise; they waited way too long to offer all-wheel drive options on models, a move that would have made Saab more competitive with cross-shoppers looking at rival Volvo, BMW and Audi models underpinned with Quattro powertrains.
And now, amid a frantic search for a lifeline to sustain the brand into a new life, Saab’s former parent blocked its sale to Chinese investors because of fears that GM technology would be transferred to China — you know, that not-insignificant market where GM is basing its global strategy for the opening decades of this century. Sad, but predictable, Saab’s bankruptcy filing today in Sweden – a turn that had been coming for far longer than many Saab lovers were prepared to acknowledge.