For a country of only nine million people, Sweden has certainly left its mark on the world, particularly on the automotive industry. Two car makers, Volvo and Saab, hail from this Nordic nation. Interestingly, both car makers are now part of two American auto giants, but their legendary quality and engineering continues to shape the industry.
Changes in the global auto industry during the 1980s and 1990s meant that many smaller players would have to merge in order to survive. Although Saab and Volvo were building the cars that consumers wanted and needed, their long term survival was in jeopardy. Questions regarding the costs involved in modernizing factories, streamlining production, updating models, and expanding their respective markets became paramount in the decision that both companies made to seek outside assistance. Fortunately, two American suitors were found that have allowed these Swedish automakers to continue production unabated while allowing for a much needed infusion of cash.
Saab – General Motors purchased the remaining shares of Saab in 2000 and the car company has gradually been pulled into the GM fold ever since then. Unlike American divisions such as Cadillac, Buick, and Chevrolet, General Motors is handling their Swedish division a bit differently by giving the automaker a bit more autonomy in product development and market distribution. Still, new Saab models are borrowing heavily from the GM parts bin, with the Saab 9-7x being a chief example of this change. Based on the successful Chevrolet/GMC/Buick midsize SUVs – think Chevrolet TrailBlazer – the new Saab is more refined with a stiffer and quieter ride than its GM cousins. Happily, the powers that be at GM also had the presence of mind to incorporate familiar Saab interior ideas into the 9-7x including: the ubiquitous Saab center console mounted ignition switch, green backlighting, and the grid patterned vents with rubbery knobs. Consumer sentiment so far has been favorable and the new 9-7x has been well received by auto critics.
Volvo – When Ford Motor Company purchased Volvo’s car division in 1999 [Volvo’s truck division was not part of the deal], many felt that an important era in Volvo engineering would come to an end. Fortunately, they have been proven wrong. Even more so than GM, Ford has allowed Volvo to exercise significant independence and has adopted Volvo engineering and safety practices to other Ford models quite successfully. Most new Volvo models are Volvo inspired with the U.S. automaker benefiting by the sharing of important resources. One exception is Volvo’s new CX50 SUV which will be sharing the same platform as the Land Rover Freelander and the Ford Mondeo, but beyond that the rest of the vehicle is all Volvo engineering. Volvo’s influence on Ford has extended to the new Ford Five Hundred sedan, which borrowed Volvo’s front wheel drive chassis because it could be easily converted to an all wheel drive chassis, an important selling point.
In all, both Saab and Volvo have a lot to be proud of. If Ford and GM behave themselves and give the two automakers wide latitude, all the cars within the two company’s folds are certain to benefit. Only time will tell if this proves out.