By on April 7, 2011

Earlier this week we learned that Saab can not pay its supplier bills until its Russian sugar daddy, Vladimir Antonov, gets Swedish government approval to buy into the company that owns it. Now, suppliers are speaking out, telling Automotive News [sub] that the brand and its owner, Spyker Cars, owes “tens of millions” of Swedish crowns (10m crowns equals about $1.6m). A representative of the Swedish suppliers association explains

There is a perception in the media that there are discussions on extended credit times and such. But it is not about that, it is about the fact that Saab must pay its bills. If they cannot sort out their financial situation, things look very bleak.

With a “desperate” hunt for investment underway, Saab’s only hope appears to be Antonov, who says he has $71.5m to invest, an amount that should cover the $4.7m+ supplier debts. Meanwhile, work at Trolhattan has been stopped for at least the rest of the week. But even if Antonov gets Swedish government approval to invest, another, equally dire problem appears to be materializing: a dispute over the use of the name “Saab.”

The Saab brand is currently owned by Spyker Cars, a dutch-registered company. But Spyker Cars recently sold its Spyker sportscar business to an Antonov-owned firm an announced its intention to rename itself. The assumption has been that Spyker Cars would rename itself with some variation of the Saab name, but according to Thelocal.se, that assumption faces a serious obstacle.

Spyker has since indicated it wants to change its name to something that more reflects its new focus, but Swedish defence contractor Saab AB remained cool to the idea of Spyker using ‘Saab’ in its new name.

Instead, Spyker plans to vote to change its name to Swedish Automobile at its upcoming annual meeting, scheduled for May 19th.

But, as Saabsunited.com points out,

it is unknown if they are fully free to use the name SAAB, or if they have to always ask Saab technology AB if they want to use it differently.

With no money and no name, Saab is finished. If, on the other hand, Saab Technology AB has no claim to the Saab name, other options are opened. A Wall Street Journal commentary by Alessandro Pasetti suggests another possible outcome: a Chrysler-style takeover by the bottom feeders at Fiat. Pasetti sets up the challenge by explaining the hopelesness of Saab’s situation

Under a very bullish scenario, we estimate that even at steady normalized long-term 10% growth of sales—a rate never consistently achieved by any auto maker on the planet—combined with a break-even earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization in 2011 and mid-teens operating margin expansion afterwards, the group will not be able to service its debt obligations by 2016. That’s precisely when the majority of its debt comes due, according to Saab’s financials.

More realistically, any viable business plan, in the light of the cyclical nature of the auto business, should hinge on a cash injection.

The upshot? Even if the name issue works out and Antonov invests, Saab will need more money. The solution?

As remote an option as it may seem, Fiat could strike a deal, structured along the lines of its Chrysler involvement. It could renegotiate the company’s European Investment Bank loan, putting in relatively little money but providing plenty of know-how for a 20% to 30% stake and leadership in the business.

The Italian auto maker is widely expected to increase its stake in Chrysler to 30% and take a majority stake in Detroit’s third largest auto maker in the next twelve months pre-IPO. Admittedly, Saab would be no game changer for Fiat, but it could become a short-term loss leader to help promote both Chrysler and Alfa Romeo, which is attempting a U.S. comeback. Saab offers a decent distribution network in the U.S., with sales of around €160 million (about 19% of total sales), so cross-levering Chrysler/Alfa and Saab’s distribution networks would make sense.

Meanwhile, trimming European exposure (78% of sales at €639 million), would help cut the highly uncompetitive cost base at the Swedish car maker. Its fixed and variable costs structure put it at a disadvantage not only to European mass auto makers, but also premium manufacturers like Daimler AG’s Mercedes and BMW in Germany.

The model pipeline is weak, but Saab brings fleet customers, which constitute a key part of its customer base. Logistically, moreover, Saab is attractive and, perhaps equally importantly, it offers a back door to China, where Fiat has historically struggled to make a breakthrough. On March 25, Saab announced a partnership deal with China Automobile Trading Co. Ltd. Russia is also on Saab’s radar.

Interesting… but not exactly comforting. Fiat’s got plenty of challenges without taking on another charity case. Fiat certainly seems like a likely candidate to “rescue” Saab, based on its experience getting a bailed-out Chrysler for no money down, but whether such a scenario would mean an end to Saab’s problems is hardly a sure thing.

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38 Comments on “Saab Story: No Money, No Name?...”


  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Nicely photoshoped in jet in the pic.  Need to beat us over the head any harder with the “Born from jets” meme?  I buy an Areo wagon if they throw in a shipping container of parts so I know I’ll be able to keep it running for long enough to make it worth my while.

    • 0 avatar
      vvk

      As most SAAB owners will tell you, your opinion of SAAB being unreliable is extremely outdated. SAABs have been above average reliability for many years now.

      That Aero wagon is cheaper, faster, more beautiful and likely more reliable (and certainly more durable) than a number of Japanese models.

      • 0 avatar
        Domestic Hearse

        As a current Saab 9-3 owner, I can say from my own first-hand experience Saab is unreliable with dodgy fit-finish. It drives well, returns great mileage, good dynamics and handling, and is fantastic on snow and ice. But it spends far too much time in the dealer’s service bay with everything from failed sensors and electronics, to recently, broken coil springs. The interior abounds with creaks, groans, rattles and buzzes. Of course, other owners’ results may vary. The dealer has tempted me with fire-sale pricing on a new 9-3 (putting it in the Toyhondassan price range), but my experience so far (and the stories of Saab’s always immanent demise) keep my from purchasing the brand again.

  • avatar
    snabster

    Well, one good article on SAAB and back to the usual.
     
    Let’s see:
     
    1.  4.7M in supplier money isn’t bad.
     
    2.  Doesn’t Svenska Automobile AB, well, turn into SAAB?

    3. SAAB has fleet sales? I’m pretty sure Boulder, CO gave up on those cop cars a few years ago….

    • 0 avatar
      twotone

      Yep, Aspen cops gave up on Saabs back in the 1980′s as well.

    • 0 avatar
      kid cassady

      A large proportion of the Saabs sold in Scandinavian countries, where private purchase of cars is often cost-prohibitive because of enormous federal taxation, are sold to companies as fleet cars for their employees. The United States is not the only country where cars are sold.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul W

      “1. 4.7M in supplier money isn’t bad.”
      It’s at minimum 4.7, it could be over 15, according to the chairman of FKG.

      “2.  Doesn’t Svenska Automobile AB, well, turn into SAAB?”
      Well yes, but somehow you seem to have missed that Saab is a Dutch company nowadays, and they certainly don’t use “AB” to indicate corporative legal entities, now do they? Who knows, maybe SANV will catch on. Could be worse, imagine if it was registered in Germany, you risk swallowing your tongue trying to pronounce SAGmbH!

      • 0 avatar
        gcwieser

        Just make it a gift to Switzerland. Their government would gladly take it over. Oh, and it could be renamed SAAG (for Schweizerische Automobil Aktien Gesellschaft).

  • avatar
    philadlj

    Sounds like Saab needs to make a call to Dave Ramsey.

    Rice & beans….beans & rice…

  • avatar
    NorthwestT

    So why is there a liquidity issue?  Due to the terms of the line of credit? 

    And why wouldn’t they be able to use the SAAB name?  That would actually be newsworthy.  My guess that local.se is confused between Spyker changing its name and SAAB still being used for cars. 

    • 0 avatar
      kid cassady

      There is a liquidity issue because, well, they’re out of cash. The suppliers, who seem somewhat wary of Saab’s future and personally suspicious of the flamboyant (by Swedish standards) Mr. Muller, are now winding up the lines of credit that are normally extended to the company.
      It is worth noting that expecting cash on delivery for a supply delivery is apparently not “business as usual” for any car company, with the major ones often being as much as 90 days late on payment. Any major company as I write this is technically millions of dollars in debt to their suppliers. Saab’s suppliers, for several reasons, are no longer content to extend credit, which has resulted in a crippling condition for them.
      Fiat taking over Saab as a venue for Alfa Romeo dealerships – so long as Alfa Romeo doesn’t entirely become a Chryslerized zombie – would be an interesting move. Many Saab enthusiasts are also Alfisti.
      Finally – it’s sad to see a commentariat dubbed the “Best and Brightest” returning time and time again to these articles with “stick a fork in them, they’re done.” Are you limited to a single cliche? Does it excite you have an automotive landscape with one less car company, especially one with a capable new model just released and another one ready to ship?

      • 0 avatar
        Paul W

        “… with the major ones often being as much as 90 days late on payment.”
        Saab has forced its suppliers to accept 120 days credit.

      • 0 avatar
        NorthwestT

        Interesting.  it seems they should have hundreds of millions left to draw down on the EIB.  Owing something like $3 Million to suppliers doesn’t seem like a big deal.  I just haven’t seen any clear explanation of what the problem is.  Anyway, I’m going to get a 9-5 wagon when they arrive in the fall.   

      • 0 avatar
        Paul W

        “it seems they should have hundreds of millions left to draw down on the EIB.”
        That money is earmarked for special investments, not for running day to day business.

  • avatar
    mpresley

    Now, suppliers are speaking out…the brand…owes “tens of millions” of Swedish crowns…

    Sounds like certain NFL players who are unable to pay the tab for their bling, now that they’re locked out.  This sad story should have been put to rest two years ago, after GM threw Saab under the bus.
     

  • avatar
    gslippy

    Stick a fork in Saab.  GM surely doesn’t miss them.

  • avatar
    Domestic Hearse

    ROCKY: Oh, no Bullwinkle! Saab is in trouble again!
     
    BULLWINKLE: Well, being a moose, I’m very partial to Sweden.
     
    ROCKY: But you’re not from Sweden.
     
    BULLWINKLE: But I do like Saabs. They’re pedestrian and moose crash friendly.
     
    ROCKY: C’mon, we gotta save ‘em!
     
    BULLWINKLE: Watch as I pull a billion crowns out of my hat!
     
    ROCKY: Crowns! They need money!
     
    BULLWINKLE: Swedish crowns! Here goes. Nuthin’ up my sleeve…
     
    SFX: bling
     
    BULLWINKLE: Presto!
     
    ROCKY: That’s not a Swedish crown, that’s a Russian mobster!
     
    ANTONOV: Where I am?
     
    BULLWINKLE: Uh oh…
     
    BORIS: Now look. In addition to stupid truth and car site interbloggers, we’ve got to deal with these two.
     
    NATASHA: Silly moose and squirrel!
     
    ROCKY: Look out, Bullwinkle!
     
    BULLWINKLE: Not to worry. We can escape in this Fiat.
     
    ROCKY: Awwww. I was hoping for an Alpha Romeo.
     
    To be continued…
     
     

  • avatar
    PeriSoft

    Is there some reason so many people seem to actively want Saab to fold?
     
    I mean, I can understand thinking they will, but actually rooting for a business to fail, put people out of work, lose a ton of money, etc… seems a bit bizarre. Is it just the brand’s impetuosity to continue to exist that hacks people off, for some reason?
     
    Is it that Saab was connected to GM, and people around here want GM to fail too? (I’m still not sure about the GM thing either – because they’re connected to the government? Nobody hates Boeing and Lockheed… Makes bad cars? Maybe, but so have Ford and Chrysler… and is that a reason to actually hate them on an emotional level?)
     
    I don’t get it. I see other news posts and comments about other brands being in trouble, but never the active ill-will I see people aiming at Saab; it’s like they want the employees personally punished for GM’s Jets ad campaign, or something. Bizarre.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      Is there some reason so many people seem to actively want Saab to fold?

      The same reason they shot Old Yeller.  Mercy.

      • 0 avatar
        DC Bruce

        You probably weren’t serious, but you’re correct.  In the US, we have something called the “Newspaper Preservation Act.”  It allows, under government supervision, a limited exemption from the anti-monopoly laws for two newspapers in the same city to combine economically, but maintain separate editorial staffs and separate “brands.”  The newspapers have to show that one of them at least is a failing company, but that hasn’t been a problem for decades.  In the 1980s, a number of these combinations were, themselves, in financial trouble; and their owners wanted to simply close down one of the papers (and terminate the editorial staff).  Since these operated under government supervision, they had to get the government’s permission to do that.  For a while, the government insisted on the owners making heroic efforts to sell “the paper” to a third party, even though “the paper” being sold was little more than a brand and an editorial staff.  A couple of “papers” were actually sold that way at below fire-sale prices.  Without exception, every one of them subsequently failed, leaving workers and suppliers empty-handed.  Seeing this, the government wisely dropped the “sell it to somebody for $1″ policy.  It just spread the pain further on to a lot of innocent people.
        If, as a poster higher up this thread argues, there is simply no way, when you “do the math” for Saab to succeed, then keeping it alive is just going to compound the injury to workers, suppliers and dealers.

      • 0 avatar
        mpresley

        One should not be too sentimental about cars.  As Ted Nugent once quipped, “Remember the movie Old Yeller? Everybody loved him. He brought us our slippers. We gave him cookies. But when Old Yeller gets rabies, you shoot him in the #&%$ head. It’s that simple.”

      • 0 avatar
        PeriSoft

        @psarhjinian

        Ah, but that’s the thing – mercy has nothing to do with it. At whom would the mercy be directed in this case?

        Employees of Saab? If I were employed at Saab, losing my job would not seem merciful. Its continued hanging-on would at worst allow me time to find new employment.

        Saab’s suppliers? Maybe you’d make this argument, but they’re selling product; they could always refuse to sell more. As someone who runs a company, I prefer to retain the option rather than have my customers summarily fold.

        Saab owners? No, clearly not; they would rather see the brand survive for obvious reasons.

        TTAC commenters? This would seem the obvious answer – but again, it turns out to be no. After all, if Saab died, what would those who continually harangue Saab have to harangue about?

        So, given that – what mercy would see a company go under? Perhaps getacargetacheck, given his apparent concern for Saab’s investors, is worried for Vladimir Antonov. Well, you and mpresley need not worry – I’m pretty sure that Mr. Antonov is a big boy who can take care of himself; your bullets need not be wasted in his defense.

        And as for DC Bruce‘s qualms regarding same – even if Saab is doomed, shifting some oligarch rubles to Swedish technicians in the interim is unlikely to cause the horror you fear.

        As someone who has been an employee of a walking-dead business, and also an owner of a walking-dead business, those businesses’ obnoxious insistence on survival against all odds did neither me nor my employees any harm at all. In fact, given that we all kept our jobs (and our suppliers kept their customer), I’d say it may even have been a net plus that the company fought to survive rather than flopping over and dying when the going got thick.

        I find it odd that a group of such hard-nosed capitalists are so opposed to the idea of a business fighting like hell to survive. Isn’t that what it’s about? Isn’t that the point? Or should there be some central steering committee that decides when to shut down companies that don’t have an obvious path to success, whether or not people want to invest?

        The same logic being used to so forcefully exhort Saab to keel over and die could easily be applied to any long-shot situation – which, in case you have forgotten, is pretty much any startup business. Hell, Saab has a significantly better chance of surviving in some form (by which I mean, with its facilities and staff largely intact) than your average startup company. So do you guys oppose funding startups, too?

        Right now, Saab is just an automotive startup. Except it has a fifty year brand history, a factory, experienced personnel, proven and complete technical package, a product that’s already being sold, a dealer network, and a significant bit of loan guarantees and cash for the taking.

        If you’re going to start a car company, it’d be tough to get a better situation than that. So there you go – you’re Vladimir Antonov, and you’ve got however many bazillion dollars hanging around. You could start pretty much any business from scratch and they’d have about the same odds of making your money back as investing more in Saab ‘the startup’.

        It starts to look a bit different when you don’t come in with a clean-slate mentality. And at this point, that’s what it is.

        Do you think the sales history under GM hegemony, or Saab’s yield to past investors, means anything to a guy like Antonov? Is he going to assume that the path of the company will be exactly the same in the future under Spyker as was in the past under GM? Why would it be? You don’t invest in something because you think you’re going to keep going on exactly the same path; you do so because you think your action is going to affect things in a positive way.

        Arguing that Saab has no future because it has no past is patently absurd. And as far as whether it has no future at all – well, I’m guessing two things about Antonov: One, he’s not an idiot. And two, having millions and millions of dollars at stake, he presumably knows more about the situation than TTAC commenters.

        I suppose it could all be a front for some kind of criminal activity, but honestly, it seems like an awful lot of (high-profile) work to defraud/extort/extract a relatively small amount of money from a fairly obvious location. If it were me, I think I’d stick to huge but invisible oil and gas investment for that kind of thing, rather than tiny but obvious car companies.

    • 0 avatar
      getacargetacheck

      Because Saab Auto has been a money loser with zero prospects (aside from GM’s failed attempt) for over 20 years, maybe more.  It’s one thing to love your old 900 and picket to “save saab.”  It’s another thing to lose capital year after year for a car company that doesn’t have enough going for it.  Shoot the thing please!

    • 0 avatar

      Um, mpresley, let me remind you that you just made that point on TTAC, the official blog of those that refuse to let the panther die in peace. Point not taken. Plus, people get sentimental about cars all the time, its what makes a car person and true car nut.

    • 0 avatar
      eldard

      Is there some reason so many people seem to actively want Saab to fold?
      Schadenfreude? Guilty as charged. :D

    • 0 avatar
      Athos Nobile

      I don’t want to see Saab dead. I have finally being able to see their cars in the street, and the NG900/93 would be a very good family car for me.
       
      Somewhere there should be an explanation about why those suppliers are making so much noise on $ 4.7M. That’s 5c coins in this business or around 1400 cars. Los trapos sucios se lavan en casa.

  • avatar
    obruni

    why on earth would Fiat want Saab? Fiat has an overcapacity problem in Europe, adding another factory would add to that problem.

    Fiat already has two “luxury” brands in Lancia and Alfa, and i’m not seeing the coverage gap that requires a Saab purchase.

    Chinese or Indian investors seem more likely at this point.

  • avatar

    @PeriSoft: “Is there some reason so many people seem to actively want Saab to fold?”

    If you see zombie on the street do you want it to fold and be properly buried? I mean people get scared and zombie eats the flesh. SAAB died 20 years ago but still walking. Let its soul rest in peace.  I know there are zombiephils but it is against nature.

    • 0 avatar
      mpresley

      If you see a zombie you have to shoot him in the #&%$ head.  It’s really the only way to be sure.  Like the sheriff in Night of the Living Dead said: “They’re dead….They’re all messed up.”

    • 0 avatar
      PeriSoft

      I have to say that – and maybe this is just me – but I have to say that I am not personally worried that Saab will break down my door in the dead of night, crack my head open, and slurp out my brains.

      I mean, maybe that’s something that car companies have a tendency to do, and I’m just not aware of it. And if so, then by all means – it sounds quite dangerous. But just going on the assumption that car companies, financial status notwithstanding, do not feast on the brains of the living, I’m going to have to say that you sound kinda batty-mc.lococrazy there. Sorry.

      • 0 avatar
        mpresley

        I have to say that – and maybe this is just me – but I have to say that I am not personally worried that Saab will break down my door in the dead of night, crack my head open, and slurp out my brains.
         
        Umm…I think he was using an analogy.  And we know that car companies like Saab don’t really suck out brains.  What would be the point of that?  Instead, they go straight for the wallet, and then start sucking.

      • 0 avatar
        eldard

        And we know that car companies like Saab don’t really suck out brains. What would be the point of that?
        Don’t know about SAAB but Saturn sure did. oh, those poor misguided souls who bought one. rofl

      • 0 avatar
        PeriSoft

        Yes, I am aware that Mr. Looking Out was making an analogy. It is the bizarreness of the analogy that I was calling into question with my literal interpretation – for the analogy to hold, there must be some further relation to the zombie analogy. Inside justifies his argument by saying that Saab is a zombie, and zombies scare people and “eat the flesh”.
         
        Since zombies scare (and eat) random passers-by, we can assume that Inside’s analogy feels that behavior analogous to that will occur in Saab’s case. And for the life of me, I can’t see how the zombie company analogy continues through flesh-eating and making people “get scared”.

      • 0 avatar
        Japanese Buick

        Zombie car companies suck the life out of healthy car companies by contributing to over capacity and excessive discounting.  People on here are telling tales of getting Saabs for $10-15K off sticker, how can a car company that actually wants to make a profit compete against that?

        Same problem as the airline industry when relatively healthy companies have to complete with bankrupt carriers who have had their debts wiped out.

      • 0 avatar

        Thank you for mentioning it. It exactly what I meant. Those zombie companies sucked energy and money out of Ford and GM and brought them very close to becoming dead, real dead. Fortunately Nordic people have more common sense and are less emotional than Americans and will not be involved into this scam. Russians are more like American and ready to pony out big money in effort to belong to European aristocracy. Of course neither Russian mob nor American newly rich belong to aristocracy and even have no clue what it means. I am talking about e.g. Bill Ford who almost destroyed his grand-grandfather’s company in vain effort to belong to European club. Antonov is a mobster and 80 mil means nothing to him – and unlike Bill Ford he is not serious and just having fun. Of course he knows he will never get his money back. But he may gain some respect in Russia.

  • avatar
    A D H

    Why do I want to throw up? Because I just bought a new 9-3 Aero Sportcombi. Actually, I don’t care because I got a great car at an acceptable price for my budget. What I don’t understand is why there is such vitriol for Saab product. Our car gets 31 mpg when loaded with 2 adults, 2 kids, and a long weekend full of stuff. It has more cargo room than a Subaru Outback (previous generation) and looks better than an SUV. It handles well and I like rowing through the gears and punching in to the turbo. Similar reliability to an Audi or BMW. Now, candidly, we bought it at $11k off sticker because no one else would.
    I have a wagon, a six speed MT, and a great family hauler. This captain will go down with the ship. Smiling.

  • avatar
    eldard

    Saab would be no game changer for Fiat, but it could become a short-term loss leader to help promote both Chrysler and Alfa Romeo
    Promote to who, exactly?


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