Saab manufactured their cars in a number of locations in Sweden, Finland and even Austria. There were also some lesser known locations like Belgium, Uruguay and Denmark. This is the story of Saab assembly by ISIS Motor A/S in Glostrup, Denmark where Saabs were assembled from 1957 to 1963.
This article is mainly based on a translation of an article from the website of the Saab Veterans Association (Saab Veteranföreningen Trollhättan). The original story shows it was written by Gösta Wik in May 1988.
Some background information is provided by Henrik and Steen Worziger whose father founded ICI A/S (renamed to ISIS Motor A/S in 1964). Pictures are from a booklet that was printed when Automobilforretningen ICI A/S celebrated its 25th anniversary and these were provided by Steen to illustrate the assembly process.
Henrik Worziger: Very interesting and in details almost correct history. ICI A/S was actually founded by my father, but the name later, after legal settlement and compensation paid by I.C.I Plc, changed to ISIS Motor A/S. The company seized operation many years ago, but our family still possess pictures from the hey days with local assembly and transport of fully assembled cars from Trollhattan.
In a previous article about the manufacturing of Saab in Belgium (March 1987), it was mentioned that Saabs were assembled in other countries as well, namely Denmark and Uruguay. To make the picture of Saab’s overseas assembly complete, here’s the story of the assembly in Denmark 1957 – 1963.
These two projects in Denmark and Uruguay were opposites in many ways. The assembly in nearby Denmark was a simple SKD with a continuous flow of material from Sweden to Denmark. The assembly in remote Uruguay, which included both SKD as well as CKD, was plagued by many breaks and interruptions due to local trade policy intervention. It is worth noting that Denmark only produced the Saab 93 and 96, while Uruguay manufatured the 96, 95 and 99. Finally, the two countries are opposites in terms of volume. In Denmark, a total of 9630 Saab cars were assembled while the number in Uruguay was about 500.
Also in terms of evidence and documentation of the assembly operations, there are differences between the two countries. With the assembly in Denmark, the written documentation is very sparse and the section thereof is therefore based largely on conversations and interviews with people in Denmark and Sweden who were there at that time. In the case of Uruguay, however, there is abundant material in the form of letters, memos, reports, newspaper articles, and artwork.
Abbreviations used in this article:
SKD = Semi-knocked-down. The body comes painted or unpainted, as a unit.
Other details are supplied in pre-assembled condition.
CKD = completely knocked-down. The body comes in sections and welded and painted in
assembler. Other details of various degrees of disassembled state.
ISIS MOTOR A/S, Glostrup, Denmark 1957-1963
Saab in Denmark 1950 – 1957
When Saab started making cars in 1950, there were many countries that were interested in selling the new Swedish car. One of the primary exporting countries was Denmark. About 30 companies expressed an interest in Saab.
The first Danish national distributor was Nordic Diesel Auto A/S in Copenhagen. They started selling Saab cars in 1950. Sales numbers initially were very modest and only three Saab 92 were imported to Denmark in the first year. One of these Saab 92 was designed for Queen Ingrid.
Nordic Diesel Auto represented Saab from 1950 to 1953 and sold a total of some 30 cars over the years. During the same period, total exports of Saab were 220 cars and the largest export market was Morocco. A linguistic observation to make when the old letters and documents are studied is that people often talk about “vagnar” instead of “bilar”.
In 1954, Nordic Diesel Auto was succeeded by Leon Jorgensen, Copenhagen, who was general agent for Saab until the summer of 1957. Sales increased during this period, particularly in the context of the emergence of the Saab 93 at the end of the 1955. In 1956, Saab sold 56 cars in Denmark and export deliveries from Trollhättan totaled 465 cars from a total production of 6320 cars. That year, they shipped 295 Saab 93 to the United States – which became the largest export market. Other figures from 1956: 29.211 registered vehicles in Denmark while Sweden had 131.724 registered vehicles.
During the second half of 1957, Automobilforretningen ICI A/S, Copenhagen (Glostrup) became general agent for Saab in Denmark . ICI wanted to be the general agent for Saab back in 1950 but received a declined response to its request at that time. ICI was not only involved with cars but also with selling farm machinery (Allis Chalmers) and repaired NATO vehicles, both from Denmark and from other NATO countries.
The letters “ICI” in the company name is the French word ici = here. In other words, “it is here”. Not to be confused with chemical giant I.C.I., they changed the name in the mid-1960s to “ISIS Motor”, “ISIS” after the fertility goddess in Egyptian mythology. It would thus symbolize the company would be succesful. As the name ISIS Motor is better known at home in Denmark than ICI, ISIS Motor is used in this article, even if the assembly operations took place during a time when the company name was ICI.
Børge Worziger Christensen was heading ISIS Motor when he began exploring the possibility to assemble Saab in Denmark in order to become more competitive. There was a significant tariff advantage to import car assembly kits instead of the finished car. The rate of the latter was 12.0% at that time compared with an average of 2.5% for the kit. Furthermore, the Danish labor wages were lower than the wages in Sweden. There already was car assembly in Denmark by other carc companies like Ford and General Motors.
In December 1957, a Saab 93 was transported to Denmark and it was disassembled for the Danish customs authorities. They would be able to classify the various components that would later be included in the installation kit from Sweden.
While preparations for the assembly were made, ISIS Motor offered completed cars for sale. Bent Brock, who retired from Saab Denmark a few years before, was there at that time. He says that in order to cheapen transportation from Trollhattan, they sent up to five drivers in a big Buick to Sweden. The five drivers then drove down in a Saab to Denmark. During the first year, some 90 cars from Trollhattan to Glostrup were transported this way.
Steen Worziger: The SAAB bodies came on a train and were placed on simple rigs designed and welded by ICI. The rigs were pulled forward by hand to the next station on the assembly line. The assembly line occupied only one of the two long buildings. It is interesting that 9600 SAABs were assembled in such a relatively small building with an average workforce of 14 to 21 men.
Assembly at ISIS Motor from 1958 to 1963
Once the tariff-rate issues of kits were figured out, the first shipments were dispatched from Trollhättan in February 1958. The assembly of vehicles was done at ISIS Motor as SKD (Semi-knocked-down). This means the bodies were shipped pre-painted from Trollhättan and transported on train wagons. There were 10 car bodies on one wagon. This was the same procedure as with the assembly in Mechelen, Belgium in 1959-1960.
All the other parts were shipped by truck from Goteborg in two different kits. One kit contained doors, fenders, hoods and so on and the other had items like engines and transmissions. One kit contained all required parts for 30 cars. All parts for the cars were shipped from Sweden with the exception of batteries and tires. Tires were manufactured by the French company Kleber. After some fine-tuning, up to 15 cars were assembled every day.
In the beginning, the assembly took place under very basic conditions in a warehouse vacated by ISIS Motor in Glostrup. The bodies were placed on rigs to allow for assembly of all other parts. After the wheels were attached, the entire car was lowered to the ground with a fork lift. Arne Andersson from Trollhättan, who was present at ISIS Motor when the assembly began, says there was much joy and pride at the company when the first Danish Saab car was finished. As assembly work progressed, they eventually had 12 stations where 21 people worked on assembling cars. Maximum output per day was 15 cars. As this was all final assembly work, it explains the low number of people that were employed. It took about 10 – 15 man hours to assemble one car.
In the spring of 1958, the first train wagon arrived and about 10 car bodies per week were delivered to Glostrup. As a result of lengthy price negotiations and tariff discussions, only about 140 cars were assembled in the first half of 1958. Due to low supply of parts, assembly was mostly shut down during the second half of the year.
The following year, delivery of car bodies and parts resumed at full speed and Trollhättan sent 740 kits to ISIS Motor. That same year, another SKD assembly operation was started at IMA in Mechelen, Belgium.
In 1960, Saab introduced the 96 model and a total of 26,000 cars were produced in Trollhättan. This was an increase of 46% from the previous year. In Denmark, 1910 SKD kits were delivered for 450 Saab 93 and 1,460 Saab 96. Together with a few more finished imported cars from Sweden, total delivery of Saabs in Denmark came to 2503 cars. This was Saab’s number 2 export market after the United States.
1960 was a breakthrough year for Saab sales in Denmark. For the first time, more than 2,000 vehicles were registered with a market share of 3.2%. This number would be equal or higher in the coming years except for 1963. But more about that later.
1961 marked a further increase in sales and thus increased assembly activity at ISIS Motor. 2748 kits were shipped from Trollhättan, along with 129 finished 96’s and 163 95’s. Total deliveries amounted to 3040 units. Denmark was the largest export market for Saab that year. It was ahead of the United States where only 2470 cars were shipped. Total exports for 1961 was 8845 cars and Denmark’s share of exports was 35%.
The Danish car market continued to grow and in 1962 recorded 94 000 cars. Saab had a record year with 3333 registrations. By comparison in Sweden, the registrations of that same year was 197,000 vehicles of which 25,190 were Saabs. At ISIS Motor, assembly of Saabs went into high gear to meet the increasing demand and it was up to its maximum capacity of 15 cars per day. Up to the summer holiday, they shipped 1740 kits and 950 cars were assembled. In the second half of the year, the rate of delivery from Trollhättan was down but the result for the full year was 2840 SKD kits. A total of 3776 cars were delivered in Denmark, which also topped the export list that year. It was followed closely by the United States with 3730 cars. Other major export markets that year: Norway with 1300 cars, England with 1100 and both Finland and Holland with 500 each.
1962 started a new SKD assembly operation of Saab in Europe, this time at a Chrysler factory in Rotterdam, Holland. The aforementioned assembly at IMA in Mechelen, Belgium ended in 1960.
Assembly ends in 1963
After the record year 1962 for Saab in Denmark both in terms of assembly and sales, there was a decline in 1963. As a result of tax changes, car sales dropped drastically and registrations fell by a quarter compared to 1962. For Saab, the decline was even more severe, and sales dropped by more than half compared to 1962. Because of this situation, this way of assembling cars was under review. When the decision of assembly was made in 1957, it was for two reasons as mentioned at the beginning of the article. There was an import duty benefit of importing kits as opposed to finished cars and Danish labor was cheaper than Swedish labor.
The EFTA (European Free Trade Association) was founded in 1960, and both Denmark and Sweden were included in EFTA. There was a gradual decrease of duties between member countries, a decrease that was fully realized in 1966. This meant the tariff differences became less and less. At the same time, Danish labor costs moved closer to the Swedish labor cost. It got to a point where it was no longer viable to assemble Saab compared to importing a finished car. This fact, combined with the slowdown in sales, it was decided to close the assembly operations at ISIS Motor for model year ’63/’64. From January to June of 1963, a total of 1250 kits were sent from Trollhättan to ISIS Motor.
As a result of the sharp decline in sales in Denmark during the year, there was an excess stock of Saabs at ISIS Motor. At the same time, the Swedish market showed strong results in 1963. The total market grew by 17% to 230,880 cars. The 12% production increase in Trollhättan could not satisfy the increased demand for Saab in Sweden and it was decided to export cars from Denmark to Sweden.
Of the 1250 cars that were assembled in the spring of 1963, 995 were exported from Denmark. Not all went to Sweden and a small number of cars were sent on to Finland. Most of these Saab cars ended up in Skåne in southern Sweden where they were shipped to dealers. They were stored in barns and greenhouses in the Skanian countryside. A small number (161) of the 1962 model year had also been returned to Sweden. That same year in 1963, SKD assembly of Saabs at the Chrysler factory in Rotterdam ended as well.
Summary of the SKD assembly 1957 – 1963
During the six years of assembly activity at ISIS Motor, a total of 9630 cars were manufactured. The delivery list from Trollhättan:
Of the assembled cars, some were exported from Denmark in 1962 and 1963:
Total cars remained in Denmark: 9630 – 1156 = 8474 cars.
Assembly of Saab cars at ISIS Motor A/S in Denmark was the third largest assembly operations in SAAB’s history. The largest numbers of cars manufactured outside of Sweden was in Finland. The second largest assembly operations was at IMA in Mechelen, Belgium from 1973-1978 with 24,821 units. Danish assembly numbers totaled 9630. Assembly numbers of the two activities in relation to the total production of Saab in each period, one finds that the Belgian business volume accounted for 4.8% of the total Saab production, while the corresponding figure for the Danish business was 5.8% . When taking these figures in account, the Danish assembly was relatively more important than in Belgium. In this line of reasoning, it can of course be argued that the Belgian operation was of an entirely different scale because it was CKD assembly with a larger share of labor and the equipment. The Danish operation was SKD assembly in its simplest form.
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An enthusiastic team of ICI shop workers at the Saab assembly line with Saab #1000 in Glostrup in 1959. Shop foreman Åkerman holding hand with one of the mechanics on the bonnet: ”We did it”
Saab number 1000 with Børge Worziger (front middle), Svante Holm and others. Svante Holm was Vice President and second in line to CEO Trygve Holm (Verkställande Direktör). Svante Holm was in charge of the entire Trollhättan operation. Bent Brock is to the right behind Børge Worziger.
Steen Worziger: ICI became agent for Klebér, (a Michelin company). As Klebér didn’t have 5.20 x 15 tyres, ICI mounted 5.60 x 15 resulting in the most accurate speedometer ever seen. Acceleration was slightly slower though. Also Danish produced accumulators from Wotan contributed to saving custom duties.
During the years sales rose year by year, except 1963. Less than 150 SAABs where sold in Denmark prior to the take over by ICI in November 1957. From 1960 SAAB came on the top ten list and remained there throughout the sixties, occasionally even as high as number three.
One must to remember that during the years 1957 to 1967, most cars sold was an expansion of the fleet of cars in Denmark. In most cases it was the first time a family bought and owned a car. Of course later on Denmark entered into a more mature market with more replacement sales.
At the end of the sixties ICI A/S – from 1964 renamed to ISIS Motor A/S – had put more than 30,000 SAABs on Danish roads. With the disappearance of the “small” SAAB 96, sales never came as high as in the mid sixties.
With SAAB came a number of products, Bombardier, Hughes, Pilatus (Bombardier), SAAB military gadgets like electronic target recording for training, for shooting range and defense.
It was in a broad sense a very impressive General Agent agreement. And ICI later ISIS sold just about everything that SAAB and partners offered, including 18 helicopters and weapon systems.
Little known but very important showing a high degree of trust between SAAB and my father. Shortly before the general agent agreement was in place, my father was allowed to hand over the first set of blue prints of the jet fighter SAAB 35 Draken to the chiefs of the Danish Airforce.
It was already then a possibility that Denmark would buy their own fighter planes some day, instead of relying on NATO “gifts”. So it happened 11 years later in 1968, but sadly a year after my father died.
Two squadrons of Draken 35 (56 planes) were ordered and subsequently delivered in 1970-75. They served for more than 20 years.
The brochure mentions a few different roads for this location in Glostrup, namely Industrivej and Glosemosevej. According to Steen, the official address was Industrivej 7 in Glostrup, a western suburb of Copenhagen. A search on Google Maps reveals that the buildings that were previously used to assemble Saabs still exist and are currently used by other business. Go there with Google Street View in 2010: link
It is doubtful if the current occupants and people that work there are familiar with or even care about this part of Saab history.
Steen Worziger: Until quite recently, the names and addresses were Industrivej 7 at the corner of Glosemosevej. But some part of Glosemosevej has recently been renamed to Kirkebjerg Park Alle.
The street names in the area has changed. Industrivej as well as Glosemosevej does not exist any longer. The new name is Kirkebjerg Parkvej and the change took place about a year ago.
If you take a look at the aerial picture, you will see how the land and building stretches backwards and that street bending 90 degrees is or was Glosemosevej.
The building in the background was Danish Auto Import A/S also known as Triumph. And the building in the middle on the other side of the rail tracks were a paint cabin, used for both Saab and Triumph.