A development in the Swedish automobile industry illustrates the risks for a company that acquires the tangible assets of another but can’t get control of the trademarks.
Often, much of a purchased company’s value lies in the public recognition of its trademarks. Consider the Saab, an automobile that amassed a loyal following of stereotypically intellectual enthusiasts often accused of “Snaabery.”
A statement this month from the new owners of Saab’s car factories said all new products would from now on be sold as “Nevs,” the acronym of the majority Chinese-owned holding company National Electric Vehicle Sweden AB that acquired Saab Automobile in 2012, after its Dutch owner declared bankruptcy.
But while Nevs got the assets, there were reports that Saab AB won’t extend them the trademark license. So whatever Nevs calls it news cars, it can’t call them Saabs.
General Motors, which acquired Saab Automobile as a subsidiary in 1990, used the “Saab” name and recognizable crowned griffin logo for 20 years, apparently under licensing agreements.
The division was sold to Dutch company Spyker N.V., which declared bankruptcy in 2011. That’s when its assets were acquired by Nevs.
Saab Automobile AB was created in 1945 as a spinoff of Swedish aircraft manufacturer Svenska Aeroplan AB. In 1969, it merged with a truck and bus manufacturer, AB Scania-Vabis, with the new company combining the Saab name and the Scania logo. The automobile division split from Scania before being acquired by GM.
Cut to 2012, when Scania AB said Saab’s new owners would not be able to continue using the griffin logo. Now, without either the name or the logo, the Saab car brand the world has come to know—and in some circles love—will be no more.
That leaves Nevs to figure out if it can earn customers loyalty without the name that’s carried their goodwill for 70 years.
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