Koenigsegg Saab and MG Rover – uneasy parallels

Robert Leitch

Saab 9-3:  Sweden's Rover 45?

Saab 9-3: Sweden's Rover 45?

Saab Automobile AB really does seem to be returning to Swedish ownership a little less than twenty years after GM took a 50% stake in the carmaking component of the Saab-Scania conglomerate. Many of us will think back to May 2000, when, putting a brave face on many uncertainties, the UK once again had a domestically owned car manufacturer.

Some parallels are striking. Saab’s core product is based heavily on a lacklustre, just-superseded, product of the erstwhile partner and has failed to make the expected impression in its sector – the 9-3 is Saab’s Rover 45. Waiting in the wings is the new 9-5, drawing heavily on the parent’s hardware and pitched into battle against German opposition with vastly larger development budgets. The chronology is rather different but the new big car runs the risk of being Saab’s Rover 75. I could stretch the point by describing the 9-2X ‘Saabaru’ as their City Rover but reckon that the parallels are clear enough.

On the other hand, MG Rover’s helmsmen, despite the vainglorious SV and ZT V8 ventures, never had the charisma or track record of Christian von Koenigsegg, who has shaken up the British and Italian supercar hegemony with far more modest resources than VW-owned Bugatti, who presumed to conquer.

However, in this context, supercars are a mere distraction and a rather tedious one. In the spring of 2000 there were two business plans in place for Longbridge: Alchemy – low volume sports car production, or Phoenix – volume cars, with an eventual manufacturing and technology partnership with another company.

I have looked in vain for any such statement of intent from Saab’s new masters. If Saab really employs only 3400 people it’s either an impressively lean organisation or heavily dependent on GM assemblies. With sales of under 100,000, Saab’s present model strategy – which I once unkindly described as targeting those who could not quite attain the Audi they wanted on the company car list – is patently not working. The new masters will only succeed if they can recover Saab’s highly complex corporate soul and that demands something far deeper than a ‘new 96’ on MINI, Fiat 500 and Alfa MiTo lines.

It is one hell of a brief and, if the answer is facing Audi, BMW and Mercedes Benz with ageing and undercapitalised products, the company will not stave off failure for long. Let’s hope Saab and their new owners find the inspiration to bring something genuinely new to a jaded marketplace. Every true car enthusiast would welcome that and Saab, one of the industry’s great survivors, surely deserves such an outcome.

Keith Adams

Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it to become the world's foremost reference source for all things BMC, Leyland and Rover Group, before renaming it AROnline in 2007.

Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Clsssics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...

Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasable adventures all across Europe.
Keith Adams

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Keith Adams

About the Author:

Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it to become the world's foremost reference source for all things BMC, Leyland and Rover Group, before renaming it AROnline in 2007. Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Clsssics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent... Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasable adventures all across Europe.

2 Comments on "Koenigsegg Saab and MG Rover – uneasy parallels"

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  1. Will says:

    Bit unfair to say those who choose Saab do so because they can’t get an Audi.

    Some want a nice premium car, but without the seedy image that a German badge possesses. This is why the old stereotype of dentists and architects persists.

  2. Jonathan Carling Jonathan Carling says:

    Yes, its a pretty close parallel. As with MGR, there probably wasn’t much alternative. And as with MGR, there won’t be much money for product investment, so they’ll have to rely on continuing to facelift old models and hope someone buys them out. MGR came close to being bought up in more buoyant times but it didn’t work out in the end. What chance Saab?

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