Saab, Unsaved

Thor Johnsen
by Thor Johnsen
saab unsaved

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?

But seriously, Saab has a strong following, and there are 8000 jobs on the line, that’ll make a pretty heavy impact on the rather tiny Trollhâttan area if Saab goes bust.

One thing’s for sure – this deal was pretty shaky from day one. Koenigsegg Group was very secretive about their plans, they wouldn’t even tell who the group consisted of, and their finances never really looked secured. And that’s what really lies behind Koenigsegg Group’s official statement: the timeline. Uncertainty about the state Saab would be in when the deal was ready. Both Christian von Koenigsegg and partner Bård Eker keep repeating that time had run out. They had set an absolute limit for November 30 to close the deal. As they could not see any closure date, and the way – and rate – Saab kept bleeding, they probably, simply discovered they didn’t, or wouldn’t, have the finances to turn Saab around.

Unofficially – one speculation in, titled The Truth About the Break, says a source within GM told the newspaper the new 9-5, which shares platform with Opel’s new Insignia, has several expensive, technical problems. In Germany, Opel has had a lot of trouble with the model’s quality (if this has substance, that should be a warning to Buick!) Including those faults, Saab has developed their 9-5 in a hurry, cutting corners in the process. All this according to a GM insider. So Koenigsegg didn’t see any future savior in this model (which it has to be). They were afraid the warranty costs could be too substantial, and the model could be a giant fiasco to Saab instead a salvation.

Some though – more and more during the day – thinks this has all been a PR-stunt by Koenigsegg, perhaps combined with a plan from GM to get their hands on the EIB loan. CvK himself, faced with these allegations, claims that would be a bad and expensive marketing . But hey – now the whole world knows who they are, right?

According to Swedish Radio Ekot disagreements between KG and BAIC on whom to provide which finances into the deal was the reason things fell through.

The Government is being blamed too, for dragging their feet, and failing to provide support – be it loans, or cash for clunker programs – to the Swedish auto industry. And as for the question whether they are going to make Government Motors out of Saab, the answer is a clear no. The government isn’t intended to run a motor company. The Swedish prime minister has also raised the question – a legitimate one, he says – as to which assumptions Koenigsegg Group really had going into this deal. They have committed time, resources and peoples’ hopes that there would be a solution, he states.

So, what happened to the initial 27 interested buyers? Are any of them likely to step up and try cutting a great deal on Saab? Saabsunited likes to think Merbanco could still be interested. They were one of the few potential buyers left in the picture when KG was appointed “winners”, and SU’s favorite buyers.

And how about KG’s inhouse partners BAIC? Beijing Automotive Industry Holding Group joined the party fairly late, and seemed to be the ones who would provide most of the money (if they had agreed). They might be the ones to step into, and close the deal in solo? Not very likely. While being a car company with (Chinese scale) traditions, formed in 1958, they’ve never really manufactured their own cars. They’ve specialized in cooperating with foreign brands – Hyundai and Daimler for instance, and Saab would fit their plans. But to make an offer, and on their own run a business that is so heavily in loss, is something the Chinese company has no experience in, analyst Zhang Xin from Goutai Junan Securities told Reuters. Parts of Saab, yes, but not all.

And are GM willing to keep Saab alive long enough for another buyer to come forward? Or even consider keeping the ailing brand, together with Opel? Is there room for both within GM? There might be an answer to that Dec 1.

Maybe Bård Eker summed it up nicely in a tv-interview: “It was like a plane-crash, you know? When 58 things goes wrong simultaneously.”

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2 of 21 comments
  • Buckshot Buckshot on Nov 27, 2009

    Yes, that´s about correct. Our prime minister is the leader of Moderaterna. You don´t get any further right here in Sweden. We don´t have any extremist rightwings here.

  • Psarhjinian Psarhjinian on Nov 27, 2009
    The entire Swedish political spectrum is to the left of American democrats... The entire political spectrum of just about every democratic nation excepting, perhaps, Austria and the UK, are left of the American Democratic Party, and even in those cases they're not that far off. Sweden is hardly alone in this regard. That's why people like me (who actually are socialists) find the whole Obama-is-a-socialist meme to be kind of surreal.

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