Saab lovers rally to save brand as GM board meets

DETROIT, Jan 5 (Reuters) - Saab enthusiasts rallied on Tuesday afternoon next to their beloved cars holding “Save Saab” signs that they hoped the General Motors Co [GM.UL] board of directors meeting 39 floors above could see.

The gathering of Saabs and their owners in a parking lot next to GM headquarters took place as the board considers whether to kill the unprofitable brand or sell it.

Ryan Emge, who runs the website from Portland, Maine, organized the low-key rally.

“At one point, we all turned around to show our signs to the people at GM,” said Emge. “If the board saw them, I don’t know. I hope they were paying attention.”

Saab has has a devoted following, but the Swedish brand has consistently lost money for GM in its 20-year ownership.

GM reported on Tuesday that it sold only 1,235 Saabs in December in the United States.

In 2009, Saab U.S. car sales fell 61 percent from 2008, compared with a drop of 30 percent for GM overall.

The U.S. automaker is winding down Saab while it reviews bids to see if they are viable. Dutch luxury carmaker Spyker Cars SPYKR.AS is among possible buyers, but GM executives have said that hurdles to close a deal are high.

Spyker’s chief executive, Victor Muller, said last week GM had set a Jan. 7 deadline -- Thursday -- for bids to buy Saab. GM officials declined on Tuesday to comment on the progress of any negotiations or confirm the Thursday deadline.

Saab began as a maker of aircraft engines before World War II and after the war moved to autos and has produced mass assembly cars since 1949.

Emge and the rallying Saab owners said the company can be profitable, if it leaves the GM fold and its new owner provides the resources to develop distinctive models such as the quirky hatchbacks with turbocharged engines that made the brand famous.

“There are so many people on the sidelines waiting for GM to sell Saab,” said Emge, who is 30. “But there has to be new ownership. GM had it for 20 years. It’s time for someone else to take over.”

Among those on hand in the 23 degree Fahrenheit (-5 Celsius) weather was 61-year-old Peter Gilbert, a retired insurance salesman from Wisconsin who drove a 1989 Saab a million miles. That car is now in the Wisconsin Auto Museum.

“Safety and reliability,” said Gilbert on why he drives Saabs, including the one GM gave him to honor the million miles accomplishment in 2006.

Andy Rupert, 39, and his wife Sharon, drove from Cleveland. They say they like Saab because the cars stand out on highways full of look-alike automobiles.

“It’s like a brotherhood,” said Rupert. “When you see someone else driving a Saab, you wave and they wave back. You don’t see that with BMW drivers.”

Kip Moustoukkis, 23, drove up from Illinois. He drives a Saab, he said, “because they’re fun and I love that turbo sound. I’m going to stay with Saab as long as they stay around.” (Reporting by Bernie Woodall; editing by Andre Grenon)