12 Saab badgeIf you own a Saab you’re probably feeling pretty lonely right now. You have what is likely to be a terrific car with lots of life left in it, yet it’s worth precisely nothing. Holden, which was handling Saab distribution in Australia when the brand disappeared in 2010, said at that time it would honour warranties and keep a supply of parts, but that was a long time ago and these days, according to Saab owners I know, it’s something of a lottery.

I bring news that may warm you slightly should you have a Saab parked outside. A company called Orio AB was formed in 2013 out of the old Saab parts division and specialises in finding and supplying parts for Saabs, both original and used. It is structured to supply businesses that repair and service Saabs, and it’s worth knowing about when your current service people can’t find the parts your car need. But because it is set up primarily to supply Europe and America, we in the southern hemisphere are likely well down on its list of priorities. Still, it’s a start for anyone looking for replacement drive belts or steering racks.

12 Saab bSaab cars were originally developed by aircraft engineers looking for ways to utilise the Saab factory following the second world war, when it had been set up to build aircraft, and it was once one of the great car brands. It was an early exponent of front-wheel-drive and its commitment to safety and air quality was legendary. It introduced turbochargers in 1978 when probably only Porsche knew more about them and had a brilliant record in international rallying. It was the first brand to embrace ethanol as a fuel, introducing motors that could run on mixtures of anywhere up to 85 per cent ethanol to 15 per cent petrol.

General Motors bought half equity in Saab in 1990 and ten years later bought the rest. Showing no understanding of the brand and zero sensitivity towards its buyers, the Americans arrived in Trollhattan in Sweden intent on streamlining. They sacked 1300 engineers and designers and spread Saab’s development and engineering across GM’s European affiliates. Saabs started sharing platforms with inexpensive offerings from GM’s then main European brand, Opel. The Australian office was rolled into Holden.

12 Saab cAnd Saabs lost their individuality. They became just like every other car.

The sales figures tell the story. In 1997 when Saabs were still Saabs, still quirky and highly individual, Australians bought 3234 of them. By 2000 that had dropped to 2524. In 2005 it was 1510 and in 2009 the sales total was 663. The real sting came in the last three months of 2009 with sales of just 16 cars. In November of that year I emailed Saab’s listed media spokesperson to ask about October sales (six). The message kicked back, addressee unknown. The New York Times has observed back then that watching Saab was like watching an animal slowly bleed to death.

Sales this dismal explained why several companies interested in buying Saab pulled out of negotiations. Last I heard a plan to re-launch the brand with electric vehicles had fallen through.

12 Saab convertiblesThere are still plenty of Saabs around, although a lot less than in the brand’s heyday, and that’s because these are good cars; solid, safe and reliable, and owners are hanging onto them until they drop. If they can continue to source parts for them, even if they have to come from Europe on a slow boat, their Saabs will keep on running for a long time yet.

Published April 2018.

 

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