Saab's new buyer has a different strategy for the brand than the company's current owners, General Motors. Sweden's Koenigsegg Group AB recently announced that they would close 81 of Saab's 218 dealerships when they take control at the end of this year, a reduction of more than one third of their retail network.
General Motors announced earlier this year that they would sell the Saab brand to Koenigsegg Group AB, helped no doubt by a guarantee of more than half a billion dollars by the Swedish government. The new company will operate in the U.S. as Saab Cars North America.
This means that, in 2010, Saab would be left with 137 dealers in the U.S., bringing it in line with smaller niche brands. BMW's Mini, for example, operates 80 dealerships in the U.S. In October, Saab sold 513 vehicles in total in the U.S., meaning that each of their 218 dealers sold on average less than three cars during the entire month.
Saab dealers received the bad news via FedEx envelopes this Wednesday. The company's COO, Mike Colleran, spoke to AOL Autos this morning but would not reveal the names of the closing Saab stores. Many of them are GM dealers with multiple brands under one roof.
"Shut downs would be contingent upon close," said Colleran. This means that the dealers who received letters will face the closure of their Saab franchise only if Saab's sale to Koenigsegg Group actually happens later this year. If the deal doesn't go through and some other event occurs with the Saab brand (if GM were to have change of heart on the brand and keep it, or find another buyer, both of which are extremely unlikely), these stores could potentially keep their Saab franchises.
Where It Went Wrong
Saab's fortunes in the U.S. went south when it tried to expand its product lineup into areas that's didn't fit the brand's core ethos. For example, the 2005 Saab 9-7X was a perfect example of platform sharing run amok, as GM's Chevy Trailblazer provided the guts for Saab's first mid-size sport-utility vehicle. The 9-7X proved to be a pretty good version of a Trailblazer, but a horrible example of a Saab.
While products such as the 9-3 and 9-5 delighted a small contingent of buyers, they were far cries from Saab's earlier products and didn't capture the same driving character. For years Saab was seen as the thinking man's European car, a title it fought arduously with BMW throughout the 1970s and 1980s. By the time of GM's takeover of the brand in 1989, Saab's products needed a bold refresh. Instead, GM kept it on life support and supplemented the lineup with confusing new models such as the 9-7X and a warmed-over version of the Subaru WRX called the 9-2X.
When Koenigsegg Group AB finally takes over Saab, we expect good things. The brand is set to receive new models such as the 9-5 and 9-4X that were developed under General Motors. But a redesigned 9-3, as well as a possible 9-2 and 9-1, means that Saab could actually return to its roots. If they can capture the magic of original products such as the successful (and much beloved) Saab 99, they could rise again.