GM interfered with Saab? Where to begin…

Automotive News | August 7, 2012 - 9:53 am EST

Whether or not General Motors injured Saab last year by interfering with a proposal to bring in Chinese investors is an allegation that will have to be sorted out by the U.S. courts. The charge has been leveled in a lawsuit by Saab’s would-be savior, Victor Muller, whose Dutch sports car company bought Saab Automobile from GM in 2010.

Muller and his company allege that GM injured Saab and they want the Detroit company to pay them $3 billion in damages.

Lawsuits and legal assertions aside, it is not the first time GM has been chided for confounding things at Saab. Look no further than the GM-developed Saab 9-7X.

That long-ago misstep opened a lot of eyes that, despite years of involvement, GM was out of sync with the uniquely noncomformist culture of Swedish luxury car-making.

History recalls that Saab needed some new products back in 2005. But a mid-sized truck-based American SUV -- a rebadged Chevrolet Trailblazer with a V-8 engine, no less -- was not one of them.

It was fine as a GMC and a Chevy. It made no sense as a Saab. Maybe on paper it made sense. Saab dealers longed for an SUV to compete against the refined offerings of Lexus and Volvo. And in the mass SUV hysteria of 2000-era America, Saab customers were leaving the brand to buy SUVs elsewhere.

Those were unfortunate times for product decisions at GM. But refinement and sensitive reflection is what Saab really needed at that moment -- not a hand-me-down from GM central planning.

GM had grown impatient with the little luxury brand and it showed in the 9-7X. GM never really got it with Saab, and attempting to control the European automaker was a drawn-out mistake.

But this is not the issue in Victor Muller’s new lawsuit. Muller’s lawyers hope to argue something much more specific and legal in nature, not reflect on the corporate missteps and exasperated product planning of a difficult decade.

Lindsay Chappell is the Mid-South bureau chief for Automotive News.Lindsay Chappell is the Mid-South bureau chief for Automotive News.

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