Saab's Own Road Comes to an End

GM Consigns Brand to Scrap Heap After Deal Falls Through

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DETROIT ( -- Saab, the car brand whose ads once advised to "Find your own road," will drive into the scrap heap after a deal to sell the quirky Swedish brand unraveled. Parent General Motors Co. said today the negotiations to sell Saab Automobile AB to Dutch specialty carmaker Spyker Cars could not be resolved. So GM will start an orderly wind-down of Saab operations, meaning the brand will follow the same fate as siblings' Pontiac and Saturn.

GM announced plans to sell Saab in January. The following month the money-losing Saab sought protection from creditors in Swedish courts even as news swirled of three potential suitors. One of those would-be buyers, Swedish sports-car maker Koenigsegg, dropped its bid last month.

Storied history
GM did strike a deal last weekend with China's state-run Beijing Automotive Industry Holdings Co. to buy Saab 9-3 and 9-5 powertrain technology and some equipment to manufacture those models. But that proposal does not include use of the Saab name.

Save some eleventh-hour white knight, the Saab name will drive into the sunset in the coming months.

It's an unceremonious end to a car brand born in 1947 in Sweden after World War II from a maker of aircraft engines. GM first acquired 50% of Saab in 1990 and pretty much left the arm and its management alone -- at least for a while.

Some of Saab Cars USA's most breakthrough advertising work came from Angotti, Thomas, Hedge, New York, which successfully defended the account in a 1990 review. Five years later, the agency introduced the distinctive "Find Your Own Road" campaign. Animated by French illustrator Jeanne-Philippe Delhomme, it played to the free-thinking mindset of Saab buyers.

But in 1997, as GM was pushing into brand management and more centralized control, Saab called a review and its then-$50 million account went to Martin Agency, Richmond, Va.

Martin shifted the ad focus from drivers to the cars, taking on BMW's performance and Volvo's safety. The agency's first work also heralded Saab's aviation heritage with references to Saab jet fighters. Martin collaborated with Saab's international agency, Lowe Brindfors, Stockholm, on the global "Saab versus" blitz in 1999 that challenged conventional wisdom.

Ambitious expansion
GM acquired the other half of Saab in 2000 and a year later consolidated the entire Saab account at Lowe Brindfors. But this decade saw a revolving door of leaders at Saab in the U.S., resulting in shifting ad strategies. Between 2000 and 2006, Saab USA had three different ad tags as GM shuffled top management of the brand.

In 2003, critics mocked Saab's new "Welcome to the state of Independence" ad tag, noting that the brand was more dependent on GM than ever. "Born from Jets" returned Saab USA to its jet-engine roots in 2005 ads, when Saab was under new leadership. Lowe, New York, handled both efforts. The account moved two years ago without a review to Interpublic sibling McCann Erickson, Birmingham, Mich., after Steve Shannon was moved from general manager of Buick to the same post at Saab.

This decade, GM undertook the most ambitious product expansion in Saab's history. But the parent borrowed heavily from the parts and systems of its other brands and the models were too close to products of other GM siblings.

GM said today it will continue to honor Saab warranties as well as service and spare parts to current owners around the world.

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