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The shifting legacy of Saab

17th June 2014 Print

Whatever happened to the reliable, quirky Saab automobiles?

The Swedish automobile Saab was a mainstay of the European automobile market from its inception in 1945 until 2010. After that – what happened?

The Great Recession is what happened and, for the automobile industry in the United State and Europe, that prolonged economic downturn was preceded by long sales slump, as well.

The story of Saab, meanwhile, is hinged to the story of General Motors, which owned the company during the lean years and declared bankruptcy in June 2009. With that as a backstory, GM decided to cut back its business to four core brands, which meant it would explore the sale of Saab, Hummer, Saturn, Opel and Vauxhall brands.

GM ended up keeping Opel and Vauxhall, but closed down Saturn and Hummer after sales negotiations for each of them fell through.

Dutch firm Spyker Automotive took a long look at buying Saab, but that effort was also abandoned. Eventually, having declared bankruptcy itself, Saab was rescued out of court by a holding company called National Electric Vehicle Sweden or NEVS, which joined forces with Chinese firm Qingdao Qingbo Investment Co, Ltd, with the established goal of putting Saab production back on line.

While this effort has run into cash flow difficulties, NEVS inherited the Saab parts and repair business, which is a vital component of the company, perhaps even the most critical component at this point in the game.

And this is where it stands today. But the critical question for loyal Saab owners is what to do with their vehicles with the perception that new parts will be hard to find.

And that's where NEVS and the Internet come into play.

NEVS now runs Saab Automobile Parts AB, which is a “global parts and logistics company” and remains active in 60 countries, with a significant presence in the United States, Britain, Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Australia, France, the Netherlands and Norway, according to the company's Web site.

When you look for rare parts online, you come up with a selection on sale at eBay, but a closer look shows that rare parts were likely hard-to-find parts, anyway, even if Saab had continued production.  As it happens, the selection of “rare” parts on eBay mostly covers cars from model years prior to 1994.

Further, the rare parts scare is always an option for unscrupulous promoters, given the troubles with the assembly line. A seller can jack up the prices for parts and call them rare to dupe unsuspecting buyers.

There is another distinction to be made here. Saab's assembly line is currently inactive, but Saab aftermarket parts cars are available across Europe and online. These parts companies certainly remained in business supplying other manufacturers, even with Saab slowing down or stopping production.

Parts companies don't just shut down in synchronized fashion with the end of an automobile brand. Many automobile brands have shut down before and while there is always a parts scare, parts companies keep an eye on the marketplace. Replacement parts is a major part of their business and they will keep making parts while it is profitable to do so and many will stock significant quantities of parts in anticipation of continued sales.

With fine art, the price of a painting soars when the artists dies – when production stops, in other words. For automobiles, however, Saab fell in the middle ground. They were not rare collector items to begin with, but they were not part of the largest automobile fleets, either. In that sense, then were not a handmade niche sports car, like a Spyker C8 Aileron or a Tesla Model S., where the prices might rise if production stops.

Saab owners, however, were always known as brand loyalists. They'd like to see production ramp up to the company's former glory days. Short of that, of course, they just want to keep driving the Saabs they have parked in their driveways.