March 1, 2005

Saab “a keeper”, Bob Lutz says

Amsterdam, Netherlands – Saab will remain a General Motors brand but will evolve from its historic independent status to a closely-bonded member of the GM family, according to Bob Lutz, GM vice-chairman for product development.

“We like the brand, and we want to retain it,” Lutz said at the annual Amsterdam auto show last week. “But we will do what is needed to keep the Swedish character of Saab.”

Lutz disclosed that Saab lost US$200 million last year, due to high manufacturing costs at its plant in Trollhattan, Sweden, low global sales and currency fluctuation. Only 128,000 cars were built at Trollhattan and Lutz said that it must be nearly doubled for Saab to attain profitability. “We cannot subsidize a factory building as few cars as Saab,” he said.

Last week, GM officials angrily denied reports published in a Swedish newspaper that said the brand was for sale, possibly to Renault or Nissan.

GM has committed the Trollhattan plant to production of Cadillac’s new entry-level BLS, which shares GM’s Epsilon platform with the Saab 9-3 compact and Opel Vectra. Saab and GM managers are discussing the possibility of sharing all platforms and powertrains with other GM brands, restyling Saab’s 9-5, and adding “Swedishness” to Saabs based on other GM models. Last year, North American Saab dealers began selling the 9-2X, based on the Subaru WRX; the 9-7X, Saab’s first SUV, has been developed from the Chevrolet Trailblazer.

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