The History of Svenska Aeroplan Aktiebolaget or SAAB

Posted on 01. Jan, 1969 by in 1960-1969, Hingham, Massachusetts, New Haven, Connecticut

Here an original and highly detailed press release from SAAB Motors, Inc. covering the history of SAAB in Sweden as well as the United States right up until the date of this release which was in 1969 while they were in operation at 100 Waterfront Street in New Haven, Connecticut..

It is important to note that later in 1969, SAAB merged with SCANIA to form SAAB-SCANIA in Sweden, thus SAAB-SCANIA of America, Inc. was subsequently born in the United States.



The History of Svenska Aeroplan Aktiebolaget or SAAB

From street cars and locomotives, to aircraft, automobiles, computers and missiles — that’s just part of the history of SAAB — Aeroplan Aktiebolaget (Swedish Aircraft Company) — makers of the SAAB automobile.

SAAB, one of the youngest major Swedish industrial concerns, actually began in 1930 with the founding of the aeronautical division of the Swedish Railroad Works Company, which started producing aircraft in the old Swedish city of Linköping. Then in 1937, the SAAB aircraft company was founded in Trollhättan near the Swedish West Coast. These two companies — the Railroad Works and SAAB — were amalgamated with headquarters in Linköping in 1939.

The company’s major effort during the early 1940’s was centered around aircraft, with SAAB becoming the major supplier of planes to the Swedish Air Force during World War II. Their first planes were constructed under license from the U.S. Republic Aircraft Corporation. Just before the end of World War II< the first all-SAAB designed aircraft were built. One of these was the SAAB 21, a unique single-engine fighter-attack plane with a pusher-type powerplant mounted between twin tail booms. This plane was later converted to jet power, thus starting the SAAB line of jet air-craft, which now includes the Swedish counterpart of the U.S. TFX project, the SAAB 37 Viggen. This is a craft designed for use in fighter, attack and reconnaissance roles. Aircraft, including the SAAB 32 Lansen, the SAAB 35 Draken, the SAAB 105 twin jet trainer-executive plane, and the SAAB 37 Viggen, form a large part of the SAAB production, but the manufacture of automobiles has become a major part of its industry since its inception in 1949.

With a giant investment in machinery for aircraft production possibly facing the scrap pile at the end of World War II, and with large manpower resources and plants, SAAB officials, headed by President Ragnar Wahrgren, went looking for new fields of production. Their eyes lit on the automobile.

SAAB automobile production began in 1949 with 300 employees in the automobile division in Trollhättan. The first car, the SAAB 92, was a revolutionary motor vehicle. It was powered by a two-cylinder, two-cycle engine, fitted at a 90 degree angle into a body which — for that time — used quite extreme aerodynamic styling. As all aircraft engineers use wind tunnels like a mathmatician uses his slide rule, they arrived at the body configuration through tests in aircraft wind tunnels.

The original model 92 underwent many changes throughout its life span from 1949 to 1955, while still retaining the same basic two-cylinder powerplan developing 25 bhp. The body was changed to include a larger rear window and luggage compartment accessible from the outside, but the body configuration remained much the same. The 10,000th SAAB rolled off the assembly line in March 1954.

Then in 1955, a new model, the SAAB 93, was introduced. It had a three-cylinder, two-cycle engine of 746 cc developing 38 horsepower. The grille was changed to the now familiar SAAB shield-type design. A total of 20,100 SAAB 92s had been built before the 93 entered the scene.

SAAB In America

In 1955, the then President of SAAB, Sweden, Tryggve Holm, visited the United States in connection with aircraft production, and at a luncheon in New York one day, he made the comment, “if Volkswagon could sell the ‘beetle’ in the United States, why not sell the SAAB 93” — and with that, the wheels started turning to sell SAABs in this country. The sole importers for the United States were Ralph T. Millet (soon to become President of SAAB USA) and one secretary.

The first SAABs arrived on a Swedish ship early in 1956. There were two of them — both green — destined for the first New York Automobile Show which opened during Easter that year. Shortly after, an experimental sports car called the SONETT was imported, which was also show at the New York show that year. With their debut in New York came all of the problems of spare parts and distribution, for which, unfortunately, they hadn’t planned.

At the New York show, they were deluged with questions as to the availability of the car, the price, and the dealer organization. They really didn’t know the price of the car, nor did thye know any dealers from whom it could be sold. In fact, they didn’t even have a company formed, as SAAB’s business in the U.S. at that time was governed by a private concern which was primarily interested in purchasing material for aircraft production.

In June 1956, SAAB Motors, was incorporated as a wholly-owned subsidiary of the factory, with Ralph T. Millet as president, and the first major decision was made: sales of the car should be confined to the New England area. The biggest problem at the time was to get automobiles, although SAAB USA did receive about 15 more cars in addition to those that came for the first show. The first real quantity of cars arrived late in December 1956 with the landing of 100 cars in Boston. These cars were deposited in Hingham, Massachusetts at an old navy shipyard that SAAB was using as the headquarters for their distribution. It was after the arrival of this first shipment that another decision was made which has been important to SAAB: they would carefully inspect and prepare all cars prior to their delivery to dealers. Thus, the first few people were hired to work for SAAB USA, Inc.

In 1957, SAAB imported a total of 1400 cars. Although they had appointed a few dealers late in 1956, during ’57 they concentrated on the appointment of SAAB dealers in the New England area and in New York. The next year SAAB expanded their marketing territory into the New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Ohio areas and achieved sales of approximately 3700 cars for the year.

A further expansion of the market in 1959 resulted in the establishment of two additional distribution points — Carteret, New Jersey (near Port Newark) and Jacksonville, Florida. By now, their dealer organization had grown to about 150 dealers.

The present SAAB USA, Inc. has changed drastically from the days of one man and his secretary. There are now over 350 dealers spread throughout the 50 states in the U.S. — from Maine to Hawaii. 1967 was a record year with 10,700 cars sold and a projected sale of over 12,000 cars in ’68. The V-4, four-cycle engine introduced to the U.S. in ’67 was the main factor behind the rapid increase in popularity for the SAAB automobile. People could not get used to the idea of putting oil in their gas tanks. A new factory is under construction in Finland for manufacturing cars and upon completion, annual production will be over 70,000 cars per year. SAAB USA has come a long way from the first two green SAAB 93s sent here just 13 years ago.

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2 Responses to “The History of Svenska Aeroplan Aktiebolaget or SAAB”

  1. i really appreciate your work to this site.Keep on doping this kind of stuff further also.

    Reply to this comment
  2. Sazzad

    28. Jul, 2011

    Thanks for your excellent work and history of SAAB.

    Reply to this comment

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