Behind the Wheel with Phil Lebeau

Saab Sales Collapse Completes Dismantling of Wagoner's GM

Rick Wagoner

What must former GM Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner be thinking?

In less than a year most of what he built in his tenure as GM CEO and before that on the GM Board has been completely dismantled. The final piece coming today with current GM Chair and CEO Ed Whitacre announcing Saab will be wound down.

It's not a surprise. GM had little leverage or will to deal Saab and the Swedish brand is a niche player that has lost its niche.

This, of course, is not what Wagoner and GM had in mind in 2000 when the company bought the remaining half of Saab it didn't own. Back then, Detroit was in an arms race to get global scale and lock up brands around the world. It's the reason Ford bought Jaguar, Land Rover, Aston Martin and Volvo. GM was not going to be outdone. Along with Saab, it bought HUMMER, tried to lock up Fiat, and snatched up disastrous Korean automaker Daewoo for a relatively small sum. Funny, looking back the messed up brand turned out to be the most valuable for GM.

Now, the folly of parts of Wagoner's strategy is clear to see. I say parts, because some of what Wagoner did or tried to do made complete sense- Daewoo being a good example. GM's joint ventures in China were another masterstroke, as was HUMMER, until gas prices skyrocketed.

But Saab never worked for GM. Sure, the brand has a core group of loyal supporters and in some parts of the country (New England) Saab is popular. That said, it was an extremely poorly marketed brand, with a line-up GM failed to refresh quickly enough, and price points above the competition.

So Saab will soon be gone, a Chinese firm owns HUMMER, and GM is a shell of what it used to be. In some ways that's good. More brands are not a positive thing in the auto industry.


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