Saab Dealers Looking to Other Brands in Order to Survive

Now that Swedish automaker Saab Automobile has filed for bankruptcy, its 900 dealers are left looking for a new brand to represent.

Guilford Saab of Guilford, Connecticut could soon become a Fiat or Maserati dealership.

General manager Tom Backes says he has also spoken with Mitsubishi about taking over the dealership but has found no takers. “Some,” he says “have said, ‘We’re not expanding,’ and others have said, ‘We’ll take a look at it.’” The process of changing brands can be a slow and frustrating one.

More than 200 Saab dealerships worldwide gave up on Saab some time back and now the surviving dealerships are scrambling to find new automakers to partner with.

The dissolution of its dealer network will make it all the harder for Saab to find a new financial backer and emerge from bankruptcy intact.

University of Cardiff automotive industry research center president Garel Rhys says, “Often these dealerships have a loyal clientele who might switch brands. They’re often in very good locations and well-established. So I’m quite optimistic about the prospects of Saab dealerships.”

Volkswagen AG and Mitsubishi Motors Corporation have already picked up a number of former Saab dealers and their loyal customer base.

Volkswagen’s Spanish brand, Seat, has expressed an interest in picking up former Saab dealerships. The company’s Brand Manager Ake Lundberg said, “We’re absolutely interested in talking to Saab dealers.” He said Seat plans to add 50 stores in Saab’s home country.

According to Saab National Dealer Council chairman Kurt Schirm, he along with Saab’s other 187 U.S. dealers are all entertaining the possibility of taking on an additional brand. Schirm, who is also the president of International Motors Saab in Falls Church, Virginia, says the thought has been in his mind for the past couple of years.

Schirm faces a particularly tough situation since Virginia prohibits dealers from owning more than one store of the same brand within a certain geographical area.

Over the past few years, Schirm had cut his staff to 28 and has made additional reductions in recent weeks.

Saab dealers have been on shaky ground since General Motors began shedding money-losing brands in late 2009. Hummer, Pontiac and Saturn were phased out as the company worked to cut its losses. Saab narrowly escaped the same fate when it was purchased by Dutch sports-car maker Spyker Cars NV.

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