If The Saab Sale Goes Through, Will It Still Be Called Saab?

June 22, 2012
2011 Saab 9-4X

2011 Saab 9-4X

By now, you probably know two things about Saab:

  1. It's not dead (yet).
  2. If it survives, it's going to be an electric car company (maybe).

But if item #2 comes to pass, will Saab continue to be called "Saab"? An article in Detroit News raises some doubts. 

A family history

Saab is a big company. The general public knows it best as Saab Automobile, creator of uniquely styled passenger vehicles. But before Saab Automobile was sold to General Motors in 1990, it had a couple of siblings -- both of whom are still in business. Saab AB is an aerospace and defense company, making everything from fighter jets to missile systems, and Scania (formerly Saab-Scania AB) manufactures commercial vehicles like big rigs and buses.

Although they've become estranged from one another over time, the three companies still own rights to the Saab name. And they all use the griffin as part of their logo.

The problem with Saab

When GM sold Saab in 2010, the company's new overlords at Spyker were given permission to use the Saab name and logo with few questions asked. That's largely because Saab's brand and product lineup weren't expected to change much.

But Saab's performance under Spyker (now known as Swedish Automobile) was terrible. Roughly one year after the sale went through, Saab's assembly lines had stalled, and the company found itself unable to pay workers. It hasn't produced a car since March 2011, and it's become something of an embarrassment to its former siblings.

Which is, in part, why Saab AB and Scania have expressed concerns about handing over rights to the Saab name and logo to Saab Automobile's potential new owners, National Electric Vehicle Sweden. Scania spokesperson Erik Ljungberg says that his company wants to ensure that the griffin logo "isn't used for anything we can't stand behind". And for what may be the first time, Saab AB seems worried that the general public's ideas about Saab the automaker will negatively influence their opinions of the defense company.

What's behind all this?

The straightforward answer to that question is that Saab's reputation is seriously damaged, and Saab AB and Scania want to take this opportunity to distance themselves from their automotive kin.

What's more, unlike during Saab's sale to Spyker, Saab AB and Scania aren't sure what Saab will become in the hands of NEVS. There are rumors that the company plans to keep Saab's exterior designs intact and replace the cars' guts with electric powertrains. But of course, once NEVS owns the company, it can do as it pleases. If NEVS dramatically alters the look, quality, and identity of Saab, it could negatively impact the entire Saab brand, including that of Saab's siblings.

And there may be even more to the story: Scania is owned by Volkswagen, which would probably be more than happy to see Saab's new owners spend a lot of time and money launching a completely new auto brand.

Our take

We have no idea which way this might go. Clearly, NEVS wants to buy Saab because it's a well-known brand. But depending on the strength of their convictions, Saab AB and Scania could potentially force NEVS to scrap the Saab marque and use a new name for its line of vehicles.

Which might bring the potential sale of Saab to a screeching halt.

We'll keep you posted as this long, strange saga continues. In the meantime, if you have any thoughts, misgivings, eulogies, or commendations for Saab, drop us a line, or leave a note in the comments below.

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