Saab and MG Rover : Same again, Sam?

Keith Adams

Saab 9-5 SportCombi: 2012's Rover 75 Tourer?
Saab 9-5 SportCombi: 2012’s Rover 75 Tourer?

It doesn’t seem that long since the Phoenix Four, led ably by John Towers, swept in to save Rover from the clutches of those evil venture capitalists at Alchemy. Rover was dead in the water without BMW and, even though the sexy new 75 had been launched, it was taking time to come up to speed. That was over ten years ago now and we all know the outcome – MG Rover died through a combination of funding starvation and mis-management –  five years after its formation, the company’s carcass was being picked over by the Chinese for a reinvention that we’re beginning to see tangible signs of only now.

A couple of years ago, Saab went through the same trauma. Placed on the open market by a disinterested GM, the once-proud Swedish executive carmaker – tiny in world terms – looked like it was going to die. However, then Spyker stepped in. A miniscule Dutch supercar manufacturer backed by wealthy businessmen, who passionately cared about the future of the Swedish carmaker. Its most impressive product – the new 9-5 – had just been announced, although it was taking time to become established.

Two years on and the mainstay – the 9-3 – is about to receive a light facelift, and Saab’s first all-new product – the 9-5 SportCombi (estate to you and me) is also about to go on sale.

It’s hard not to draw parallels between Birmingham and Trollhättan’s finest manufacturers. That’s because MG Rover’s first all-new product was the 75 Tourer (estate to you and me), and lightly revised 25s and 45s, known as the MG ZR and ZS quickly followed. There’s plenty of talk coming from industry observers about a new small Saab – think RDX60 – which will be the spiritual successor of the 96, as well as a new small car – think CityRover – based on, possibly, the MINI, which the company would like to see positioned as the new 92.

However, they’re just vapourware at the moment, and still a couple of years away at the very least.

Does AROnline therefore predict an MG Rover-like future for Saab? Well, there is, at least, one interesting difference: whereas MG Rover picked up a supercar manufacturer (Qvale) to build a new high performance flagship, Saab’s owner, Spyker Cars N.V., has agreed to sell its interest in the Spyker sportscar marque. It’s too early to say right now, but we’re very much hoping that history isn’t about to repeat itself.

Keith Adams


  1. A really interesting piece. I wish them all the best, although the parallels with MGR are uncanny.

    I certainly think I’d more tempted by a Saab than an MG6 if I was in the market for a new car in the near future.

  2. Saab Automobile AB are clearly keen to partner-up with another car maker – if not BMW, then perhaps Proton or Brilliance – or Tata Motors? A Saab Nano perhaps?

    The problem will be finding a sufficient incentive for the partner to want to work with them.

  3. Let us wish them all the best as we need distinctive Swedish marques such as Saab and Volvo to offer escapism from the dominant sea of German marques.

    I, for one, hope that Saab doesn’t forget its heritage and, when funding allows, possibly looks at bringing out a new model heavily influenced by the classic 900 of the late 1980s and 1990s. Getting back into rallying would also help Saab’s image, too.

    However, perhaps now is, at last, a good time for both Saab and Volvo to talk to one other about future collaborative ventures, regardless of their current ownership status – particularly as they both use front-wheel drive platforms, have enviable expertise in the field of turbocharging and don’t have such an active model renewal programme compared to most other manufacturers.

    Good luck to them both!

  4. @Alex Scott
    Interesting, a rehash of the Saab 9-2X using the current underselling, underwhelming Impreza hatchback as a base? 9-1? The rumoured replacement for the 96?

    I suppose that, at least, they could collaborate a bit more with their rallying heritage.

    The most ridiculous Saab ever sold was the 9-7X – it was a rehashed GMC SUV.

    I hope Saab doesn’t go the way of MGR. I’ve always been a fan and they are much needed by those of us who may wish to buy an executive saloon but see Audis and BMWs and as too ‘vulgar’.

  5. I’m sure we’re all eagerly awaiting the RWD V8 9-5, expensively developed to sell in three figure numbers.

    I noted the eerie MGR parallels some time back, with the current 9-3 as Saab’s HH-R, drawing heavily on GM components and less appealing than its predecessor.

    Are BAIC waiting for the moment to pounce on the trademark and what IPR they don’t already have?

  6. Oh, so Spyker is now a British sports car manufacturer then…

    I can’t see the Saab story ending happily. The Saab that GM bought was a much more capable company than the rump left behind by GM (another Rover parallel) and, in a world of automotive giants, how can a minnow generate the cash to replace its models?

  7. Unfortunately, so much damage has already been inflicted on the Saab brand (poor residuals, very poor reliability, insipid ride and handling, slipping quality) that the parallels with MGR are all too apparent. Sadly, as a result, the credit which Saab had built-up with the pre-GM cars has all but run out…

    HOWEVER, I still think there may be a way back, provided Saab up the quality, keep on introducing innovative engine/turbo/environmental developments and partner with a decent tech partner. The Subaru suggestion to me is a good one – tailor Saab’s sharp styling, safety awareness and aircraft inspired interiors with clever, environmentally friendly Flat 4 diesels and sharp handling FWD Subaru-based (not 4WD) chassis and there may be some merit in marketing Saab as a bit of a left-field choice, in the same way it used to be. Saabs were always seen as an architect’s or teacher’s cars – it needs to be more cerebral than a BMW or Merc – it might just work.

    I see more of a future for Saab than I did for MGR after the Phoenix 4 takeover, I’m afraid…

  8. There are some differences: the Swedes did not have a tousled motoring TV presenter rubbishing their latest cars and providing constantly negative press on Swedish automotive brands is not a national pastime.

    I believe that Saab’s following is largely intact, even in America where they sold a Subaru with a Saab grille, and this is not bad base to build upon. The market repositioning is beginning to take place – hopefully, towards that left field which Simon Hodgetts mentions above.

    Saab’s difficulties will stem from not having much of a foothold in China and India (let’s not bring up BAIC with its old-Saab cast-offs on that note), which may mean those volume numbers won’t head up too quickly. However, I hope to see good things for the 9-4X, as far as the Americas are concerned, and the ur-Saab revival might do for Saab what the R50 MINI did for that brand.

  9. That picture of the BAW C71 makes me giggle. There’s a crowd of people looking the other way and a VERY uninterested girl just glancing over at it. Business as normal for the old 9-5 then ;).

    Anyway, on a more serious note, I really hope Saab survive. I’ve driven a Vauxhall Insignia and think that, as a base, it won’t be any worse than the last 9-5 when launched. I know that sounds odd, but the last 9-5 kept on selling so the formula works on some level at least.

    My Dad and his business partner have owned five Saabs between them. Three 9000s and two 9-5s (one a Griffin).

    All the best, Saab! 🙂

  10. No, I don’t see the parallels. Saab’s following is not confined to the UK and they have a significant foothold in the US. The new 9-4 is a world-beater and should yield some valuable revenue to enable the new 9-3 to be developed. I take on board comments about the new 9-5’s build quality, but it is still a much more exciting car to look at than the equivalent Audi or BMW.

    Saab will get there.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.