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Holden to continue with Hummer, but not Saab

Public feeling: Saab enthusiasts gather in Detroit to voice support for the Swedish brand.

GM Premium Brands set handle Hummer until new distributor appointed

18 Jan 2010

By JAMES STANFORD in DETROIT

GM HOLDEN will wash its hands of Saab regardless of whether General Motors sells or kills off the struggling Swedish brand, but could continue the distribution of Hummers for up to 18 months.

While it will provide all warranty and parts support for Saab models for 10 years if the brand dies, Holden is not interested in continuing to distribute Saab cars in the event GM sells the brand.

"If Saab does get sold and continues on as a brand, we will not be the distributor," said GM Holden chairman and managing director Alan Batey.

"They will appoint an independent distributor." In the case of Hummer, GM is close to finalising a deal to off-load the troubled SUV-maker to Chinese company Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machinery which is not ready to set up a distribution network in the short term.

"With regards to Hummer, assuming that deal gets done, we have agreed to continue to supply for Hummer on an interim basis," Mr Batey said.

"That interim basis has not yet been defined but we are talking probably up to a maximum of an 18-month period where we would continue to act as the distributor but that would be on an interim basis until they set up arrangements, be it direct or through a distributor - that is yet to be defined.

"Longer term, GMH would not be involved in the premium brands of Hummer." Mr Batey said Holden would not be required to offer similar assistance to Saab if it was sold.

"Assuming Saab was to find a buyer, my understanding is that Saab (under a proposed new owner) is pretty close to selecting a distributor, so they would be able to move a lot faster than in the Hummer situation."

 center imageLeft: Hummer H3. Below: GM Premium Brands director Parveen Batish.

There are now just four staff members left in the GM Premium Brands division at Holden's Port Melbourne headquarters, down from 18 two years ago when it was preparing to launch Cadillac - a program that was killed so late that the first batch of cars had arrived in the country and was sold off at a fire-sale price.

GM Premium Brands director Parveen Batish will not continue in his current role, said Mr Batey.

"He will probably not be there long-term and he will be relocating either into another part of Saab, if it continues, or possibly repatriation back to General Motors UK which is his home unit," he said.

Saab sold 663 cars in Australia in 2009, well down on 2628 of 1999. Holden stopped importing Saabs and Hummers in the middle of last year as it became clear they would be sold or wound up.

As for the Saab dealers, Mr Batey, agreed with a suggestion they were disappointed.

"They have been very patient," he said. "I think they are disappointed but they knew the writing was on the wall because they could see the sales results and where the company was." The future of Saab remains unclear.

GM has reportedly started the process of winding up the company, but has also stated that it is still considering last-minute bids from a range of groups including Spyker and one led by Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone to find a way to sell Saab and keep its plants open.

A report claiming GM was set on winding down Saab and shift production of the next-generation 9-5 to China, where it would be produced as a Buick, which came out on the eve of the Detroit motor show was attacked by GM president of international operations, Tim Lee Lee, who said it was simply not true.

"There is absolutely nothing to that story. You can just sort of scratch that one out. I think someone has wrongly concluded that since we sold the IP (intellectual property) of the legacy (last generation) 9-3 and 9-5 (to a Chinese company) they automatically see that they would also do the new 9-5 in China," he said.

"If we sold the new 9-5 and the new 9-3 there wouldn't be anything left to sell to whoever is looking at the prospect today, so no, that is not the case." In the week before the Detroit show, a core of about 30 Saab enthusiasts travelled from several surrounding states in a convoy to GM headquarters in Detroit to call for GM to sell the brand instead of simply winding it up. Similar gatherings, which larger turnouts, have occurred around the world.

GoAuto attended the Detroit gathering and spoke to Saab enthusiast and editor of SaabHistory.com, Ryan Emge, who was adamant customers would come back to Saab if it could be run by another company.

"A lot of people have been waiting for GM to sell Saab so they can buy Saabs again. We have been waiting since 1989 for this door to close and a new chapter to start," he said.

"They have companies that want to buy Saab. We won't give up until they dismantle a factory.” Fellow Saab enthusiast Peter Gilbert from Milwaukee couldn't hide his concern that Saab could be about to die.

"This can't be happening. It is the only make of car that I have ever owned. I have been driving them since 1967," he said.

"I have had about five new ones and four old ones."

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