Koenigsegg wasn’t able to buy Saab, so they made an “all-new” supercar instead. But can you tell the difference between the new Agera and the old CCX? Headlights aside, it’s a tough assignment. And in the world of million-dollar supercars, the term “all-new” implies just a little bit more.
Bård Eker has given an open-hearted interview to Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten, referred here at e24.no telling his version on the failed Saab-deal. Eker was one of the investors in the Koenigsegg Group’s bid for Saab, through his company, Eker Group – 49% owner of Koenigsegg Automotive. Here is his hindsight on the deal:
“General Motors made it very hard to buy Saab”, he says. “Saab wasn’t structured as a subordinate, it was completely swallowed into the massive GM body. And while you can remove a lung from a body, you can’t remove all the veins. And GM had not done the required separating job prior to starting negotiations with interested buyers. That was a contributing cause why things took longer time for us too”.
Bård Eker, the Norwegian partner in Koenigsegg Automotive, and Koenigsegg Group, appeared as one of the guests on Friday night’s regular Swedish/Norwegian talk show “Skavland” this weekend (the following, translated conversation starts at 27:09). Mr Skavland, first talking a bit about Eker’s feelings about the broken deal, and how he felt visiting Trollhättan talking to Saab employees after the deal broke, he then asked Eker: “Is there a tiny chance you’ll try again? Saab isn’t sold yet…!” Eker smiles and answers “…we’ll see. Maybe!” laughing, shrugging his shoulders, audience cheering. Skavland: “how would you wanna do it?” Eker: “I don’t know…Seriously – we haven’t given it much thought. We’ll see…perhaps there’s a new opportunity. Maybe someone’ll give us a phonecall” Skavland: “So it’s not definitive that you’re out of the game?” Eker – laughing, glancing at his watch – “..err..how long is this show?” Skavland says: “So, you’ll still want a Saab?”, Eker: “yeah, sure” Skavland: “Alright….?” and shifts to another subject. All the while Eker has a cunning smile on his face.
It’s the day after the Saab-bomb exploded in Sweden, and the media are pouring all over it. Of course, all kinds of “car experts” and “auto analysts” are having their say. Saab workers are expectedly sad and disappointed. And everybody’s blaming everybody and anybody. The unions blame the government, the government blames Koenigsegg, Koenigsegg Group are blaming time and bureaucracy, and the public is generally pretty pissed off with GM. And it all seemed to have come as julekvelden på kjerringa. But what on earth happened? Who pulled the plug? Who said enough is enough? And why now, all of a sudden? The EIB loan was allegedly just around the corner. Will anyone else buy Saab? What about the Swedish government? GM? Does anybody even care? Well, the 500 or so who bought a new Saab in October care – what about their warranties?
Of course, that day could come as soon as next week, when GM’s board holds its monthly meeting. And unless a serious bid shows up post-haste, Saab will most likely be euthanized at that point. In the meantime, GM’s management is happy to keep the Swedish government hanging on. “I talked to GM last night and my impression is that they have not given up hope,” Joran Hagglund, state secretary at Sweden’s Industry Ministry tells Automotive News [sub]. But after the months of wrangling to get the Koenigsegg deal where it was when it fell apart, Sweden’s government acknowledges that “for every day that passes the challenge gets bigger and bigger.” While we await word on Saab’s uncertain future, and worry about how the boys at Saabsunited are holding up, we’ve dispatched our man in Sweden to sort through the hand-wringing and recrimination in the Swedish press and report some key findings. Frankly though, this is feeling like the end of the line for Saab.
A press release [via sys-con.com] confirms that Koenigsegg has withdrawn from negotiations with General Motors over the sale of Saab. Fritz Henderson shares his disappointment:
We’re obviously very disappointed with the decision to pull out of the Saab purchase. Many have worked tirelessly over the past several months to create a sustainable plan for the future of Saab by selling the brand and its manufacturing interests to Koenigsegg Group AB. Given the sudden change in direction, we will take the next several days to assess the situation and will advise on the next steps next week.
Why did Koenigsegg pull out? A brief statement by Koenisgegg is all we have to go on at the moment. “The time factor has always been critical for our strategy to breathe new life into the company,” the firm tells Reuters. Which leaves… BAIC? Absent any other obvious interest in the Saab brand though, GM now finds itself with two messy restructurings in Europe.
Swedish business site di.se has done some numbercrunching, and figured out that GM has lost SEK 35,000,- (eq aprox $ 5,100, at the current exchange rate) on each Saab sold the last 8 years. As many of TTAC’s readers have pointed out in various comments, GM never made money on Saab. Truth is; they lost a total of SEK 39 billion (3.9 billion Euros) during their ownership, according to di.se’s analysis . The last 8 years has been heavy; a loss of SEK 32,2 billion, or 35.000,- kronor on each Saab sold. That’s $ 5.100,- on each car. This year alone GM has had to take an SEK 6.2 billion cost on the ailing carmaker, SEK 5.2 of those are amortization of debts. This is why it’s crucial for Koenigsegg Group that the EU commission rules that Swedish government’s guarantees on Koenigsegg’s loan from the EIB are not subsidies. But since Saab has been on life support for so long, it would be almost impossible to defend Saab as a healthy company, and without the Swedish government’s guarantee, the financial plan from Koenigsegg Group will fail. Maybe they can argue that when it comes to Saab, there are no subsidies, just business as usual.
Saab has not had an easy path to salvation. The Koenigsegg Group has had to provide finances, agree to a price and conditions with GM, get loan from European Investment Bank (EIB),and coax the Swedish Government into guaranteeing loans. Now there’s one more hurdle left, and it’s the same challenge that scuppered the Opel to Magna deal: The EU.
Reports of recent weeks in the Scandinavian media have told us that the EU is thinking the Saab deal over. And when mighty EU thinks, things take time… So, what are they thinking about? They have to decide whether Swedish Govt’s guarantees to SAAB’s loan in the European Investment Bank should be considered subsidies or not. EU countries are not allowed to subsidize unprofitable companies – and the EU has some questions on SAAB’s and Koenigsegg Groups financial plan, and Saab’s results prior to the reconstruction. So the whole thing might stretch into next year until – or if at all – the deal is closed. Incidentally, questions about the anti-competitive nature of the German government’s support of the Opel to Magna deal killed that sale already. But does GM want Saab back as badly?
Automotive News [sub] has more bad news for Saab dealers and customers. Saab’s prospective new owners have put the hit out on 81 of Saab’s current 218 US dealerships. If all goes according to plan, a measly 137 US Saab dealers will remain. Saab’s thin and uneven sales and service network has been an issue for the brand forever, and this isn’t going to make it any better. “The target date to close the sale of Saab is Nov. 30, but it could take until year end, says Mike Colleran, COO of Saab Cars North America in Detroit.” Don’t count on it.