Saab and Volvo have been poorly served by their American owners.
At its peak in 1987, two years before General Motors took control, Saab sold nearly 50,000 cars in the US. Last year it sold 32,711.
And Volvo, in terms of profit-to-revenue ratio, was the most profitable auto manufacturer in the world 20 years ago. Now, like Saab, its losing money and its owner, Ford Motor, is trying to sell it.
Saab and Volvo have given more to their owners than theyve gotten in return. Volvos well-engineered platform architectures have been put to good use by Ford. Both companies have been a source of fresh talent.
Saab delivered Bo Andersson to GM. Andersson is a product of Swedens armed forces, and his military-like cost-cutting regimen as head of global purchasing is one reason GM has held on for so long.
GMs troubles with Saab might be traced back to the January 1990 press conference at which the American company was introduced as Saabs 50 percent shareholder. David Herman, an American GM executive installed as CEO, was stumped when a Swedish journalist asked him what the Saab brand stood for.
GM, which later took 100 percent control, never did figure that out. Maybe the Swedes wouldnt have known what to do with the quirky brand either, but they had done pretty well until then.
Volvo is better off than Saab -- maybe because it had 10 more years of independence. Ford bought Volvo in 1999. Volvo seemed to have a decent start as the pride of Jac Nassers short-lived luxury division, the Premier Automotive Group. But the brand has lost its way.
Who would buy Volvo and Saab today?
Maybe Renault and Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn? Renault all but merged with Volvo 15 years ago, but Volvos board of directors didnt go through with the plan.
Truth be told, Id like to see Saab and Volvo once again become smart, independent Swedish companies, finding their way in a world of giants as they had done for so long. After two decades of consolidation and brand-hoarding in the auto industry, there is still scant evidence that size matters all that much.