The History of Saab

Saab Automobile AB was a car manufacturer that was founded in Sweden in 1945 when its parent company, Saab AB (which made planes for a while), began a project to design a small automobile. It ended up being one of the coolest and most innovative automotive manufacturers in the world.

Saab AB, “Svenska Aeroplan Aktiebolaget” (Swedish for “Swedish aeroplane corporation”), a Swedish aerospace and defence company, was created in 1937 in Linköping. The company had been established in 1937 for the express purpose of building aircraft for the Swedish Air Force to protect the country’s neutrality as Europe moved closer to World War II. As the war drew to a close and the market for fighter planes seemed to weaken, the company began looking for new markets to diversify.

An automobile design project was started in 1945 with the internal name “X9248”. The design project became formally known as “Project 92”; the 92 being next in production sequence after the Saab 91, a single engine trainer aircraft. In 1948, a company site in Trollhättan was converted to allow automobile assembly and the project moved there, along with the car manufacturing headquarters, which has remained there since. The company made four prototypes named “Ursaab” or “original Saab”, numbered 92001 through to 92004, before designing the production model, the Saab 92, in 1949.

The Saab 92

The Saab 92 went into production in December 1949. 20,000 cars were sold through the mid-1950s. The 92 was thoroughly redesigned and re-engineered in 1955, and was renamed as the “Saab 93”. The car’s engine gained a cylinder, going from two to three and its front fascia became the first to sport the first incarnation of Saab’s trademark trapezoidal radiator grill. A wagon variant, the Saab 95, was added in 1959. The decade also saw Saab’s first performance car, the Saab 94, the first of the Saab Sonetts.

1960 saw the third major revision to the 92’s platform as the Saab 96. The 96 was an important model for Saab: it was the first Saab to be widely exported out of Sweden. The unusual vehicle proved very popular, selling nearly 550,000 examples. Unlike American cars of the day, the 93, 95 and 96 all featured the 3-cylinder 2-cycle engine, which required adding oil to the gasoline tank, front-wheel drive, and freewheeling, which allowed the driver to downshift the on-the-column manual shifter without using the clutch. Front seat shoulder belts were also an early feature.

Even more important to the company’s fortunes was 1968’s Saab 99. The 99 was the first all-new Saab in 19 years and a clean break from the 92. The 99 had many innovations and features that would come to define Saabs for decades: wraparound windscreen, self-repairing bumpers, headlamp washers and side-impact door beams. The design by Sixten Sason was no less revolutionary than the underlying technology, and elements like the Saab hockey stick profile graphic continue to influence Saab’s design language.

GM exercised its option to acquire the remaining Saab shares in 2000, spending US $125 million to turn the company into a wholly owned subsidiary. The new close relationship yielded its first product in 2003’s all-new 9–3. The new model, marketed as a sport sedan, dropped Saab’s iconic hatchback in favour of a more conventional four-door approach. The model shared a co-developed platform (GM’s “global Epsilon 1 platform”) and some other components with the Opel Vectra again, but the relationship was much more of a joint engineering effort than before.

Under GM’s direction, the badge-engineered Saab 9-2X (based on the Subaru Impreza) and Saab 9-7X (based on the Chevrolet Trailblazer) were introduced in the American market in 2005 with the hope of increasing sales. Both models were a critical and commercial failure and were cancelled a few years after production began. GM also delayed the 9-3 wagon by three years, shelved a hatchback derivative of the 9-3 sedan, stalled plans for all-wheel-drive capabilities in Saab models until 2008, cancelled a 9-5 replacement in 2005, and announced a planned shift of production away from Saab’s historic home in Trollhättan to Opel‘s factory in Rüsselsheim.

Owing to fading fortunes across its entire business due to a slowing economy in 2007, GM announced that the Saab brand was “under review” in December 2008, a process which included the possibility of selling or shuttering the car maker. As the talks progressed, GM’s support receded, and Saab went into administration, the Swedish equivalent of America’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Saab’s managing director Jan-Åke Jonsson said that this was “the best way to create a truly independent entity that is ready for investment”. For its part, the Swedish government was reluctant to become involved, with Maud Olofsson, industry minister, stating: “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.”

On 16 June 2009, Koenigsegg announced its intention to purchase the brand from GM. The bid was backed by a group of Norwegian investors and the Chinese car maker Beijing Automotive Industry Holding Co Ltd  (BAIC). The following month, both parties announced that GM had consented to the deal. There were outstanding financial details, but a loan from the European Investment Bank was expected to cover them. The loan was approved in October, but on November 24, 2009, Koenigsegg announced that it had “come to the painful and difficult conclusion that it could no longer carry out the acquisition” much because of the constant delays and the difficulties coordinating the involved parties: GM, the European Investment Bank, the Swedish National Debt Office and BAIC.

It was announced on 14 December 2009, that the Chinese automaker would acquire the intellectual property rights and production equipment for the previous generation Saab 9-3 and Saab 9–5 in a deal worth about US $197 million, which was enough for the company to run for three months. BAIC expressed its intention to create a new brand around the purchased technology and admitted to the purchase of “three overall vehicle platforms, two engine technologies and two transmission systems.”

Following the collapse of talks with Koenigsegg, GM announced that the brand would be eliminated in 2010 if it failed to secure a buyer before the close of 2009. As talks with several firms failed, including the Netherlands-based boutique sports car maker Spyker, GM formally announced its intention to wind down the Saab brand.

In the end, Saab was really quite an amazing automaker that pioneered many new technologies that we use today. Thank you for reading this article on engine-block. If you had any questions about anything in this article, feel free to visit the contact page of my website. Please continue to read through my website if you liked this.

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