Once upon a time, GM’s North American operations spewed red ink across the firm’s balance sheet, with the whole mess kept afloat by relatively strong overseas operations. Now GM makes most of its money at home while its international divisions limp along. No, really: in its just-released Q1 financial report, GM reveals that some $1.7b of its $2.2b global EBIT came from its once-troubled home markets. What a difference a bailout makes!
Tag: High Finance
Lotus is one of those brands that every auto enthusiast loved to lionize, despite (or possibly because of) the fact that it hasn’t made a profit for its owner, Proton, in 15 years. But now things are changing. Lotus itself is in the midst of a makeover, seeking to transition from niche sports- and track-car company to a Ferrari and Porsche-rivaling aspirational brand. Meanwhile, back in Malaysia, its owner, Proton, is undergoing a few changes itself. Having been founded as a state-backed business, Proton may soon be privatized, reports Bloomberg. And as a result, Protons private investors could push for a quick divestment of the firm’s Lotus holdings. One such investor, Gan Eng Peng of HwangDBS Investment Management, tells Bloomberg
It will make sense for them to sell it. Proton and Lotus are not a good fit. They are in different market segments, both in terms of geography and product.
Ever since Steve Girsky an his “merry band of hatchet men” touched down in Rüsselsheim, Bertel has been warning that GM’s European division was about to embark on a serious cutting binge. But our worst fears, namely that Opel could go away entirely, have yet to be realized. Instead it seems that self-destructive mutilation will be attempted first, in order to stem the gushing red ink at Opel where at least €1b in losses are expected next year. Automotive News Europe [sub] reports that the first round of cuts will hit Opel’s Internationalen Technischen Entwicklungszentrum (ITEZ, “International Technical Development Center), as an IG Metall union document foresees some 1,420 product development position cuts (from a staff of some 6,000).
After enduring a rocky relationship with Saab’s management, Guy Lofalk is officially out as court-appointed administrator for the ailing Swedish brand. But although Saab boss Victor Muller had long hoped for Lofalk’s ouster, the news wasn’t all good for his slow-motion “rescue,” as Lofalk’s first replacement had to step down before he even began his duties. Reuters calls the abortive administratorship of Lars-Henrik Andersson Saab’s “latest embarrassment,” but TTELA reports that Andersson’s “defection [was] not based on a pessimistic assessment of Saab.” On the other hand, at least one of Andersson’s colleagues thinks he dropped out because Saab is “screwed.”
In any case Soderqvist seems to be the last remaining Saabtimist in Sweden, insisting he believes in the new plan to save the zombie brand, and he will serve as long as he continues to have faith… so what’s the new plan anyway?
Swedish Automobile N.V. (Swan) announces it is in discussion with Zhejiang Youngman Lotus Automobile Co. Ltd. (Youngman) and a bank in China about an equity interest in Swan. The discussions include a short term solution to enable Saab Automobile to pay the November wages and continue reorganization. The outcome of the discussions is still uncertain. Any possible transaction would be subject to the approval of the relevant stakeholders. [emphasis added]
As always, you can read about the proposed new structure (which has PangDa out of the picture) and why it will solve all of Saab’s problems over at Saabsunited.com. But far more interesting is the English-language interview with Victor Muller, found here (skip ahead to the 38:40 mark), in which Muller explains that GM can block any deal in which an automaker takes a 20% or larger stake in Saab, and that he is essentially Vladimir Antonov’s front man. After all, trying to understand Muller is far more compelling than this latest deal, which can be approved by GM (because it keeps automakers below 20% ownership), but won’t actually solve Saab’s basic problems (for precisely the same reason).
A TTAC tipster sent us a Teknikens Värld interview with Saab’s long-suffering would-be rescuer, Victor Muller, in which the eternal Saabtimist seems ready to admit defeat. In essence, he admits that GM is unlikely to ever approve a plan involving Chinese firms, that the Chinese firms are throwing “money into a black hole” and that all the previous plans are off the table. Of course, Muller does seem to think that some kind of rescue may yet be possible, but he admits
If I doze off Saab would disappear in an instant
If Muller is losing faith, and doesn’t even have a hairbrained scenario to hype, it seems that the end may well be near. But then, the whole rescue of Saab is beginning to be eclipsed by questions about Muller’s erstwhile partner, Vladimir Antonov, who was recently bailed out of British jail, where he was being held on charges of embezzlement and document forgery. But first, to the Muller interview…
What matters in the world of cars? It’s a question we’re always asking here at TTAC, and depending on your perspective, the answer could be almost anything. But for all of their cultural significance, cars are ultimately a business, and if you had to boil down the value of a vehicle to one single attribute, it would have to be profitability. But that’s a tough measure to make, considering automakers don’t typically break out profits by vehicle, let alone by model line. Which is why I was so excited to see a list of the 12 most profitable vehicles since 1990 compiled by Max Warburton of Bernstein Research, and published in Automotive News Europe [sub]. So, what’s the most profitable vehicle in modern automotive history? The answer can be found just after the jump…
If GM needed another reason to let Saab die on the vine, it just arrived: Vladimir Antonov, the Russian banking scion, longtime partner with Victor Muller in Spyker, and erstwhile Saab rescuer is wanted in connection with what the UK Press Association [via Google] calls
a pre-trial investigation into an alleged fraud and money laundering case that is threatening to destroy two Baltic banks.
Bertel noted earlier that Snoras, one of Antonov’s banks, had been forced to halt operations, but the issuing of a Europe-wide arrest warrant for Antonov is an even bigger black mark on the Russian financier. And it adds to an already-impressive family resume: Antonov’s father Alexander was shot seven times in a 2009 assassination attempt that has been connected to a Chechen blood feud, and the family has been accused of ties to organized crime by the FBI and Swedish authorities.
The last attempt at saving Saab failed when GM said it would not supply or license technology to Saab if it were 100% owned by PangDa and Youngman, scuttling the Chinese firms’ bid for outright control of the company. Now the two firms have sent a revised proposal to The General in hopes that they can provide safeguards for intellectual property, allowing them to purchase Saab without losing the link to GM. After all, both the 9-3 and 9-5 rely on GM technology and parts, while the 9-4X is wholly supplied by GM. Rachel Pang of PangDa tells TTELA.se
We have not discussed any changes with regard to ownership structure. We are concentrated on the GM issue… It’s about more commercial terms. We want to meet them and have asked for a meeting. First we must give them time to review our proposal. We are waiting for GM’s response and then we will of course respect it.
Of course, our understanding is that “the GM issue” is the same as the ownership structure issue… and keep in mind, PangDa and Youngman are looking for a meeting, not an agreement from GM. Which means this could drag on a while… and wouldn’t you know it, it’s time for Saab to pay salaries again.
As the world struggles to come to grips with economic uncertainty, Bertel has been reporting that Japanese automakers are abandoning their homeland for lower-cost production centers overseas. Now, with economic turmoil shifting to Europe, it seems that Fiat could possibly be preparing for a pullback from Italy. Two basic factors are driving Fiat towards reconsidering its global manufacturing footprint: first, its struggles in the European market where margins are slim and dropping, second, its battles with Italian unions. Though Marchionne’s latest comments are ambiguous at best, some see these factors pushing the Italian automaker away from the market that gave it birth.
Investors in Redflex Traffic Systems were resigned toward the photo enforcement vendor’s declining US performance at Wednesday’s annual shareholder meeting in Melbourne, Australia. The company has lost significant US market share and profit as more cities reject automated ticketing machines. Nonetheless, large executive compensation packages were approved without the dissent found in past meetings.
Shareholders signed off on a $324,926 salary for chief executive Graham Davie, plus $194,956 in stock for a total of $519,882 — a raise of 3.6 percent. Board member Karen Finley’s salary increased 3 percent to $318,270 plus $196,060 in stock for a total of $514,330. Finley is in charge of US operations which saw a drop in profit from the first and second half of the year of 7.4 percent.
Redflex has also lost its position as the dominant player in the automated ticketing market to American Traffic Solutions which has used funds invested by Goldman Sachs to buy out smaller competitors and take on their municipal contracts. ATS now boasts the greatest number of cameras deployed.
One of the great mysteries to many inside the auto industry is why is GM’s stock price so low? Though the company had a weak third quarter, its stock price has been stuck well below its IPO price for much of the last year, despite a return to profitability. Though GM faces challenges, few inside the auto industry understand why its stock price remains so low. One theory: the government’s mere continued presence as a major stockholder creates uncertainty around the company. If this is the case, it creates something of a vicious cycle: the lower the stock price, the less likely the government is to sell its shares, leaving it lingering with no exit strategy, in turn driving the stock lower. Though that’s not likely to be the whole story, one thing is certain: the government has been forced to increase its loss estimate for the GM bailout. The Detroit News reports that the Treasury’s losses on GM are now estimated at $23.6b, up from $14.4b. And with an election looming, it seems likely that the White House will sell within the next six months. But will the government’s desire to protect itself politically trade off with GM’s PR? After all, whatever the Treasury’s final loss is, that number will be pinned to GM as a symbol of what it owes the American people. On the other hand, with most analysts insisting that GM stock is undervalued, another year of government ownership could convince investors to bid up the price, greatly reducing GM’s public debt. Too bad electoral politics will probably prevent that from happening….
Saab’s Memorandum of Understanding with PangDa and Youngman expired today, returning Saab to what must by now be a rather comforting, familiar state of limbo. Of course, the MoU in question was already dead, as GM had publicly nixed it, saying it wouldn’t supply parts or license technology to a 100% Chinese-owned Saab. But now, without an official agreement to rally around, Swedish Automobile, PangDa and Youngman are desperately pitching new ownership structures to GM in hopes of approval. Swedish Auto’s Victor Muller tells the WSJ [sub]
We are submitting an information package to GM and we will have to await the feedback that GM has on that package and then we’ll know.
Muller says the lesson of the failed MoU is that GM won’t accept Chinese control, and as a result the new proposed ownership structure is “very carefully crafted” so that none of the three partners has complete control. But since the previous deal, in which PangDa and Youngman would split a 54% stake in Saab, is also off the table, it’s tough to say what Muller’s “carefully crafted structure” entails. And while Saab and its Chinese suitors wait for GM approval that may never come (but don’t tell Keith Crain [sub] that!), it seems both time and money are getting tight. Again. Still.
Do you badly want a new mid-engined Porsche? Is the Boxster/Cayman combo still a bit rich for your blood, given the weak economy? Chances are you have been waiting patiently for news about Porsche’s “Baby Boxster,” the long-discussed, entry-level, flat-four-powered version of Volkswagen’s Bluesport concept. The sad news: you may be waiting quite a bit longer. In an interview with the FT Deutschland, Porsche CEO Matthias Mueller says
There is no decision to develop this car into production. The decision is due soon, but they may well drag on into next year
Why? Well that’s easy: Porsche’s number one priority is to remain the world’s most profitable automaker, with “at least” a 15% operating margin and a 21% return on capital. And it can hit its 200k sales by 2018 goal without adding a sixth or seventh model… thanks to the fact that its fifth model is an entry-level SUV, called the Cajun.
With Saab’s latest MOU with PangDa and Youngman expiring on Tuesday, the heat is on for parent company Swedish Automobile (SWAN) to hash out the many problems and disagreements between GM and the proposed Chinese buyers. And now that it’s fairly obvious that a deal won’t happen, as GM and the Chinese Government seem fairly well set against it, the question is “what next?” How do you plan an endgame that should have been initiated months, if not years ago? That’s the challenge being considered by the few remaining shareholders in SWAN, who are meeting in Holland to pick through the none-too appealing options.