Plucky Saab continues to try to find its way in the world.
Under parent, the Swedish auto maker no longer has sole control of its legacy. Many product and manufacturing decisions are being made for it, not all of them favorable.
Saab has seen its lineup grow, but is not completely happy with the outcome. The Saab 9-2X sport wagon is a barely disguised Subaru WRX, and not selling well.
The new 9-7X midsize SUV does a better job of differentiating itself from the Chevy TrailBlazer from which it hails. At least the ignition returns to the center console, but a turbocharged engine is markedly absent.
Still to come is the Saab 9-6X, based on the Subaru B9 Tribeca cross/utility vehicle.
Another source of nationalistic angst is the long-term prognosis for the plant in Trollhattan, Sweden, that builds most of the roughly 130,000 Saabs sold annually. GM, earlier this year, picked an Opel plant in Russelsheim, Germany, to build the next generation of midsize cars. The Swedish-built Saab 9-3 moves to Russelsheim in 2008. Likely the European Cadillac BLS, which goes into production next year at Trollhattan, eventually will move to Germany as well. And there have been reports Russelsheim will build the next-generation Saab 9-5 by decade's end. The Swedish plant likely will be relegated to production of niche products.
This week GM Europe announced Russelsheim will be home to a new design center to house advanced and production design of vehicles for all brands.
Saab engineers already knew they never again would lead engineering of a new Saab. They instead will form integration teams that will take the prototypes and make them brand-specific.
GM underscores the strategy by announcing a global Saab Brand Center to be established in Sweden, with a design team dedicated to ensuring touches such as Saab's unique night-lighting system in the instrument panel.
It dovetails with GM efforts in North America to trim offerings in its eight divisions in an attempt to refocus and define each brand. It is a stratagem that would not have endorsed the creation of the Saab 9-7X in the first place, as it became the sixth version of the same SUV.
Saab is taking steps to remove some of its own clutter, as well.
The Linear and Arc labels will be eliminated, beginning with the '06 models, and there will be limited use of the Aero designation.
Linear refers to an entry-level model and Arc is a sportier model with higher horsepower. Aero denotes the availability of a high-pressure turbocharged 4-cyl. engine.
Saab admits the names have been applied erratically. The 9-2X has a Linear model, for example, but no Arc. The 9-5 sedan has an Arc, but no Linear. The new '05 9-7X debuted last month with both (for this model year only), but did not meet the criteria for the Aero name.
For '06, the nomenclature should be as clean and simple as Swedish design. And, in stoic Nordic fashion, the brand will soldier on.