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Saab Production Resumes in August, But Maker Still Faces Major Challenges

Putting the emotion back into a “passion brand.”

by on Jul.07, 2011

The first Saab 9-4X crossovers rolled into U.S. dealer showrooms this week.

With cash in hand to pay both workers and boycotting suppliers, Saab will re-start its Swedish assembly line on August 9th, the automaker confirmed, though company officials acknowledge Saab still has a tough battle ahead if it hopes to reverse the financial problems that nearly shut it down over the last three months of frantic deal making.

While the maker continues to look for additional revenue sources to help ensure it won’t run into another cash crunch, the upcoming challenge will be to not only resume production but get buyers back into the carmaker’s 199 U.S. showrooms, said Tim Colbeck, President and Chief Operating Officer of Saab Cars North America.

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“Our priority,” he said, during a small briefing for Detroit journalists, “is to instill confidence in the brand.”

There hasn’t been much of that in recent months.


First Drive: 2012 Saab 9-4X

The Swedes deliver their first crossover.

by on May.13, 2011

The new 9-4X should be reaching U.S. dealers this month.

Sometimes current events have a way of creeping into even the most routine aspects of daily life.  The run-up in fuel prices forces us to rethink every journey we take, even if it’s just a mundane run of weekend errands.

For Saab, the national demand for more fuel-economical vehicles should be good news as it replaces its old 9-7X sport-utility vehicle with the more modern, efficient and, frankly, much more fun-to-drive 9-4X.  Unfortunately, even here the headlines might creep into the buying decision for many potential customers.

The Swedish automaker experienced something of an unexpected miracle, in early 2010, when the Dutch-based Spyker Cars acquired the brand from General Motors, which seemed intent on shutting Saab down. The long-struggling marque seemed to be on the mend, this year launching more products – including the 2012 Saab 9-4X – then at any time in its history.

Unfortunately, a cash crunch has disrupted production of some Saab models – though not the new crossover.  Saab seemed to have dodged the bullet and lined up yet another white knight when it agreed to sell a chunk of the company to the Chinese automaker, Hawtai.  But as we were ready to post this review that deal appeared to be coming undone.

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Even if Saab can put Humpty Dumpty back together – and there’s no question the maker’s Chairman Victor Muller is a remarkably resourceful entrepreneur – it’s possible the recent uncertainty will convince at least some potential buyers to steer clear of Saab showrooms.  It’s hard to argue against such concerns.  Even the most inexpensive automobile is a major purchase, and at $50,000 or so for the Aero edition, $40,000 for the base, once you pay for freight, taxes and the typical adds-ons, the 2012 Saab 9-4X isn’t cheap.

That said, anyone looking for a roomy, comfortable and well-appointed SUV who doesn’t at least take a look at the new Swedish offering is making a mistake.  All the drama aside, the new 9-4X is a worthwhile and compelling product.


Saab Anxiously Awaiting Rescue Plan Approval

Muller expects answer next week – but delay could “unravel” things for Swedish maker.

by on Apr.22, 2011

Saab executives, including Chairman Victor Muller (c), and design chief Jason Castriota (r), at the NY Auto Show.

Nearly three weeks after a supplier boycott forced Saab to halt operations at its headquarters assembly plant, the maker is anxiously waiting for formal approval of its rescue plan – and fretting that a long delay could cause its operations to “unravel.”

The shutdown has cost the maker significant lost production even as it aims to build up global inventory.  But Saab Chairman Victor Muller told in an exclusive interview that he believes the Swedish maker could recover those losses in a matter of months – if and when it gets the go-ahead for a plan that would pump millions of Euros into its cash coffers.

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“Well, I’m still hoping” to get an answer within the next few days, said Muller, admitting, “I don’t know” why a proposed rescue plan has not gotten the necessary approval from the European Investment Bank.


Next-Gen Saab 9-3 to Get Hybrid-Electric All-Wheel-Drive

System will boost mileage, improve performance and offer torque vectoring.

by on Mar.24, 2011

The Saab Phoenix concept shares platforms with the next-generation 9-3.

The next generation Saab 9-3 will introduce the Swedish maker’s first hybrid drivetrain, senior company officials confirmed during a conversation with, a system that will provide an electric alternative to the current, mechanically-driven Saab Cross-Wheel-Drive system.

The new system will use the current Saab V6 to drive the front wheels of the new 9-3 but a motor and clutch assembly to power the rear wheels, explained company managers during a discussion of future product programs.

The hybrid drivetrain is expected to yield a number of advantages, including both improved mileage and better performance.  But it will also eliminate the need for a driveshaft running from the 9-3’s transverse-mounted engine to the rear axle.

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The new 9-3, due to launch in 2013, will primarily operate in front-wheel-drive mode, several product managers explained.  But when additional power is needed, the hybrid system will add torque from the rear axle.  The electric motor will also be used under less-than-optimum driving conditions as a sort of independent all-wheel-drive (or, as Saab prefers cross-wheel-drive, system).


Saab Ready to Launch New 9-4X

New crossover critical to survival plans, maker acknowledges.

by on Feb.16, 2011

Saab's first-ever crossover, the 9-4X is finally heading to dealer showrooms.

The first Saab 9-4X crossover scheduled for retail sale has rolled off the assembly line at a General Motors plant in Ramos Arizpe, Mexico.

Saab Automobile chief executive officer and president Jan-Ake Jonsson was on hand to see regular production begin, just three months after the 9-4X was unveiled at the 2010 Los Angeles Auto Show.

“This is a great day for Saab,” said Jonsson who survived the maker’s brief insolvency before Saab was sold to Dutch automaker Spyker, a year ago. “The arrival of the 9-4X is another important step in the fulfillment of our business plan. This sporty and distinctive product will significantly broaden the appeal of our brand.”

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The 9-4X gives the newly-independent company access, for the first time, to the growing, mid-size crossover segment. An earlier attempt to target the large SUV market with the 9-7X fell far short of expectations, in large part because there was little differentiation between the Saab model and similarly-sized GM offerings.