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Bankruptcy looks to be end of the road for Saab

December 19, 2011 |  8:29 am


Saab Automobile, the quirky Swedish automaker that liked to advertise its heritage as a fighter jet producer, filed for bankruptcy Monday, ending a two-year effort to revive the business after it was spun off by General Motors Co.

Saab Chief Executive Victor Muller personally handed in the bankruptcy application to a court in southwest Sweden, according to the Associated Press.

His efforts to rebuild the company were stymied by GM. The U.S. automaker refused to allow Saab to transfer technology that the Swedish business had licensed from GM to Chinese investors who had planned to rescue the firm.

Muller, a Dutch entrepreneur who owns the luxury sports car maker Spyker Cars, bought Saab in 2010, pledging to restore the Swedish automaker to prominence and preserving about 3,000 jobs, mostly at the Saab plant in Trollhattan.

Now the company is expected to be liquidated.

The bankruptcy won’t cause much of a ripple in the auto market because it was such a small company, analysts said.

“Some enthusiasts in the U.S. will lament its end,” said Aaron Bragman, an analyst with IHS Automotive. “Back in the 1970s and 1980s it was an innovative brand with some unusual power trains. They did turbocharging of small engines long before others did. The cars also had all-weather, good handling capability.”

A segment of auto buyers also gravitated to Saab because it was so different from U.S. carmakers, and even other European brands, Bragman said.

Saab started out as an airplane company in 1937. Originally called Svenska Aeroplan Aktiebolaget, the name morphed into Saab.

It best known aircraft is the Viggen, or Thunderbolt, a  single-seat, single-engine fighter jet built between 1970 and 1990.

Saab’s car division liked to market its jet-precision roots, and even now pitches a “tradition of aircraft-inspired design, independent thinking and innovation that continues to this day.”

Its best-selling vehicle was the 1980s-era 900, which among other things was known for its strong performance in snow and foul-weather driving conditions.

Saab's aerospace company parent sold off a controlling stake in the business to GM in 1990 and the Detroit automaker eventually acquired the rest of Saab.  But GM was never able to leverage Saab's reputation as a builder of wedge-styled, reliable vehicles into its range, and sold off the business as it worked to recover from its 2009 bankruptcy restructuring.

Saab said it currently sells cars in 51 countries around the world through a network of about 900 dealerships. Its models include the Saab 9-3 Sport Sedan, Saab 9-3 SportCombi, Saab 9-3 Convertible, Saab 9-3X and Saab 9-5.


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-- Jerry Hirsch

Photo: The Saab 900 was the Swedish automaker's best selling car. Credit: Saab Automobile