TROLLHATTAN, Sweden -- Hope and uncertainty grip the people of Trollhattan in western Sweden as they prepare for Saab's separation from General Motors.
Saab, which is the town's largest employer, is either heading for a bright new future under a new owner or is on its way to extinction after owner GM said it will no longer support the loss-making brand.
"People are worried, the last few weeks and months have been tough," said Paul Akerlund, president of the IF Metall Union, which represents blue-collar workers in Trollhattan.
"But there is a lot of fighting spirit here, we shall get through this situation."
How did Saab get here, 20 years after GM bought into the company?
The crisis facing GM has forced it to concentrate on its own problems in North America, and pull out from Saab, which made a loss of about 3 billion crowns ($340 million) in 2008. The company has rarely made a profit under GM.
Last year, Saab's global new-car sales in 2008 were 93,295 vehicles, or 1.1 percent of total GM sales volume, down 25 percent from 2007.
Without new owner, it's the end
A new owner must be found, or Saab dies.
The end of Saab would have a devastating effect on Trollhattan, where Saabs have been made since 1949.
In a town of 60,000 people, Saab employs 4,000 people directly. It also supports thousands of other jobs in the supply and services industries.
Generations of families have worked for Saab, fathers and sons.
"Without Saab, Trollhattan would be a spot on the map, nothing more," says Jan Olander, 52, a Trollhattan native who has worked at the factory for 20 years.
Like the other workers who spoke to Automotive News Europe, Olander is positive about the future.
The factory has been transformed in recent years into one of most efficient in Europe, he says, with lean production, flexibility and high quality levels.
"I am very optimistic. We have had a lot of potential buyers looking at the company and I am quite convinced we will have a new owner presented to us in the near future," Olander says.
He is wary about becoming part of another large automaker again, but he says Saab needs to work with other automakers to achieve scale and share technology.
"To have Saab as part of a big company we can say that was not a good idea. GM was too big for Saab," he says. "I am not angry, (but) a little disappointed the captain of the ship hasn't take care of our business the way they should have done."
New 9-5 brings hope
Workers and Saab's local management place their hope in the new models due to be launched in the next 12 months.
After being starved of new products by GM for many years, it is perhaps ironic that new cars will come as the brand's U.S. owner pulls out.
A new 9-5 premium sedan and wagon are ready for launch, as is the 9-4X crossover.
The delay in launching models is one reason why some workers are angry with GM.
Petra Stoerch, 36, is a team leader in the general assembly part of the factory. She says: "People do blame GM a little. They want us to be out of GM and on our own.
"Most people think we can manage this on our own, we have good products and we don't have to do everything through a worldwide organization."
Workers believe there will be a buyer for Saab, but they worry about whether a new owner will have the carmaker's best interests as their focus.
The brand has attracted interested from Chinese automakers such as Geely Automobile, Swedish supercar maker Koenigsegg, European investor groups and private equity firms, according to ANE sources.
GM has narrowed 27 interested buyers down to two or three and hopes to sign a deal in the early summer.
Workers are particularly concerned about production being moved away from Sweden.
"It cannot be a Saab if it is not made in Sweden," Stoerch says.
Better without GM
Vijya Khunti, 42, who works on the door assembly line, is bitter about the way GM has treated Saab.
She says: "They have treated us very badly we have never been a priority for the company."
Saab lost its way under GM, with some of its premium-ness being lost because of the requirement to share technology with sister brand Opel, Khunti says.
Union official Akerlund, 49, says GM did not really understand Saab.
"I think we could be better away from GM. They think about volume cars, not brand cars. You cannot take a volume approach with Saab.
"I think they had a problem understanding the brand. In Europe, GM would talk about Opel, Opel and Opel again. But if you sell one Saab you make the same amount of money as selling four Opels."
Akerlund has worked at Saab for 31 years, joining the company straight from school at 18. He said people are used to overcoming problems at Saab.
"People cannot think of a day without Saab," he says. "We believe there will be a good end to this story."