Established publicly in 1949 with the launch of its first model, the Saab 92, Saab Automobile AB is a Swedish car manufacturer with a strong history of safe, sturdy, well-performing cars — unfortunately the same can’t be said for the stability and continuity of those cars’ parent company. Read on for the soap opera-ish story.
The Saab automotive brand was originally established by Saab AB — Saab standing for “Svenska Aeroplan AB”, “Swedish Aeroplane Limited” in English — an aerospace and defense company still active today (and using the Saab name and famous crowned griffin logo). Later the Saab car brand was merged with Scania, a truck manufacturer still active today (also using the griffin logo but at least not the Saab name anymore, just Scania). After that, GM purchased a 50% interest in the company, later buying the whole thing (luckily, GM did not use the griffin logo!). Far from the end, GM sold the Saab brand to Dutch manufacturer Spyker Cars in 2010 and Saab soon after filed for bankruptcy. The story ends, for now, with the purchase of “the main assets of Saab Automobile AB, Saab Automobile Powertrain AB and Saab Automobile Tools AB” and a licensing agreement “with Saab AB regarding the rights to use the Saab brand name for its future vehicles” by NEVS (National Electric Vehicle Sweden), an international consortium formed by Swedish and Chinese stakeholders. Here is the press release on that.
In summary: NEVS can now make Saab cars using the storied Saab factory and testing facility but it can not, legally, use the griffin logo, currently in use by Saab AB (the aerospace company) and Scania (the truck company) who did not grant the rights to it. Sucks for NEVS because the Saab griffin is one of the more recognizable automotive icons. However, it doesn’t suck so much because Saab has been using the wordmark by itself for quite some time, so it’s not that hard of a transition. The new cars will simply not have the griffin logo. But trucks and planes in other parts of the world will. So it will be kind of confusing for a while.
Yesterday, NEVS announced the “new” identity designed in collaboration with Stockholm Design Lab.
NEVS is now extending and further developing the Saab brand in passenger cars with a new visual identity. It is founded on the Scandinavian heritage, where the four distinctive seasons, long distances and extreme road conditions have shaped the Saab passenger cars. […] The four seasons and their respective characteristic road conditions will be visible both using images and together with the brand.
— Press Release
You might think, “This whole big post just for that?”. Yeah, well, branding isn’t always the most exciting thing and this is a very interesting case not because of the resulting identity but for its complicated ownership history and the equity of the Saab identity and how restrictive these issues can be when it comes to identity-building. The brand-spanking-new logo isn’t that new — it doesn’t even look like they tweaked the wordmark at all to accommodate all that four-season imagery — and the logo-as-window approach is as tired today as it was five years ago. But this is the best transition: basically playing down the change of ownership while tiptoeing around the trademark restrictions placed on NEVS and letting costumers know that they are still getting the same Saab they’ve always had. Except not.