IMPORTANT NEWS: National Electric Vehicle Sweden has agreed to buy the assets of Saab Automobile and the sale is expected to be finalized during the summer.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Saab's current and future platforms

All the current Saab models use platforms or architectures developed under GM or by GM. But it differs to which extent this technology is owned by GM or Saab.

The oldest Saab in the fleet, the Saab 9-3 which was launched as model year 2003 and reworked in 2008, uses the first generation Epsilon platform. According to Swedish technology news site, Ny Teknik, only parts of the technology in the current Saab 9-3 is owned by GM. Saab has the rights to most of the technology, and can use the technology owned by GM without paying license fees.

The Saab 9-5 which was launched as a model year 2010 car, is entirely based on technology owned by GM. Much of the technology was developed by Saab when Saab was owned by GM, but Saab still has to pay license fees to GM to use the 9-5 technology.

The new Saab 9-4X launched as a model year 2011 car, is also entirely based on technology owned by GM. And it does not just use GM technology, it is also built by GM in Mexico for Saab. So Saab doesn't even own the tools needed to build the car.

The fact that GM owns all technology used in the 9-4X and 9-5, and some of the technology used in the 9-3, is of course the reason why GM's blessing is needed to sell Saab to the Chinese companies Youngman and PangDa. Without GM licenses, Saab can't build cars in the near future. And no cars means no incomes and a dead brand.

But then what about the next generation of Saabs?

I have already published an article about how the next generation Saab cars will be built on Saab's own Phoenix platform which has been in development since 2008. And also an article about the Phoenix platform actually still using some GM technology. But now let's look more into that. Here Ny Teknik is also our source of information.

The first car scheduled to use the Phoenix platform is the Saab 9-3 replacement. If everything goes well, the car should launch sometime in 2013. About half of the components and technology of this car comes from external suppliers and subcontractors. Including a number of compenents and systems from GM. These are components and systems the developers at Saab have taken from the Saab 9-3 and 9-5 and that they from experience know to be good and reliable.

These GM systems are so called competition-neutral components. Which means that the technology is no longer unique and gives no competitive edge. GM has the rights to these components because GM owns the tools used by the components suppliers. And therefore GM also decides who can buy the components.

The reason why Saab decided to use these systems, except for the obvious reason that they know them from the current Saab cars, is because Saab saves a lot of money by buying finished components as opposed to Saab developing and building the components.

When we look at the Saab 9-3 replacement, less than 10 percent of the components or 500 part numbers, are GM components.

This means that if Saab is to build the Saab 9-3 replacement based on 10 percent GM components, Saab needs GM to approve the sale of these components. On the other hand, if GM says no, Saab needs to find new suppliers or develop the parts itself. And since the parts are more or less off the shelf components, it should not pose any big problem. Except that it would of course increase the cost and delay the launch date of the 9-3 replacement.

So to conclude: Saab can not build any of the current models without GM's blessing, but future models based on the Phoenix platform can be built regardless of GM.

Another aspect that has not been discussed here is engines deals. Currently Saab buys all its engines from GM, and in the 9-3 replacement we know that Saab will buy the base petrol engine from BMW. If both GM and BMW says no to selling engines to a Chinese-owned Saab, then Saab even needs to go shopping for new engines. But from where? And how will that increase the cost and delay the 9-3 replacement?