Enthusiast first. Employee second. A very close second, mind you. But I’m still here writing this from my flat in Trollhattan, first and foremost, because this is where my heart is (family aside, of course).
Yesterday’s announcement was a kick in the guts once again for 1,600 of Saab’s 3,600 workers here in Sweden. For those who missed it, Saab announced that they weren’t able to pay white collar salaries on time this month. They’re due today. Factory staff were paid on time. White collar salaries will be paid as soon as possible.
So what happened?
As noted in the press release, there are several financial arrangements in place from which the funding that was promised to Saab has not yet arrived in our accounts. There are various regulatory bodies involved in these transfers, in various countries, and for reasons unknown to people at my paygrade, these funds have been stopped at the border.
We had planned on these funds being available as expected, but because the funds transfer has been delayed the payments to staff could not be made.
So where has the money gone up until now?
As you know, we’re concentrating on getting arrangements and payments made with/to our suppliers. Our core goal right now is to re-start production here in Trollhattan so that we can build the cars that our customers have ordered. That’s going to be (and has to be) our main source of cash-flow – building and selling cars – and getting the business back to where we can do that has been our priority.
We have hundreds of suppliers on the manufacturing side and we have had to make arrangements with all of them. We have been making agreements on several fronts. For many suppliers, of course, the payment agreements are first priority and we have been working with them on that issue. For us, getting arrangements in place with regard to delivery schedules is also a high priority as we need to co-ordinate delivery terms for the re-commencement of production.
With so many people to negotiate with and an ever-changing business environment, this is a very complex process. We are making significant progress, however, and we’re very thankful to the many suppliers who have supported us and want to see our business succeed. Our success will be their success, too.
As a Saabnut working on the inside of this company, it’s been extremely frustrating to see all this happen. I can see so much potential in this company. We have great products, we have a great brand, we have a great factory and most of all, we have incredible people.
Sales in 2010 were much lower than expected, and for several reasons. The end result was lower-than-expected cashflow and slower payments to suppliers than we would have liked. This reached a head earlier this year and the consequences included the factory stoppage that persists today.
Whilst 2010 was down on forecast, it ended with several stronger sales months. We started 2011 a little slower but we were starting to build momentum again. The low-emissions TTiD Saab 9-3 Sport Sedan was gaining traction in several key markets. More importantly, the release of the low-emissions Saab 9-3 SportCombi was announced just before we stopped production. This was such a significant car for Europe and the effects of the stoppage are magnified by its delay.
The stoppage has also tarnished the release of the Saab 9-4x to some degree. I can’t tell you enough about how exciting this car is for Saab, but some of the gloss has been removed by recent events. Thankfully, the reviews have been uniformly positive (as they should) and we’re seeing dealers in the USA delivering them to customers within the first week of their arrival.
The stoppage has also delayed the release of the Saab 9-5 SportCombi, another significant model here in Europe, especially here in Sweden. Many have been looking forward to the release of this vehicle and it’s painful for us that we can’t get it out there.
When GM sold Saab in early 2010, the company worked very hard to get the new Saab 9-5 built and released to the marketplace. Aside from a brief stint with the low-emissions TTiD and the recent release of the 9-4x, the Saab 9-5 Sedan has basically been the only new product since Saab’s independence that has made it to market and been for sale for a significant period.
And for a Saabnut like me, I guess that’s the most frustrating thing of all.
We have a lot of great things to show for our time, post-GM. The big problem is that we didn’t have enough time (or more to the point, we didn’t sell enough cars last year to buy enough time) to get those new products to market.
Right now, a Saab customer should be able to walk into a showroom and see the full low-emissions TTiD 9-3 range, the 9-5 SportCombi, and the 9-4x in addition to the Saab 9-5 Sedan and 9-3 Convertible that already existed. These new models and technical evolutions were supposed to be the evidence that the new, independent Saab could move forward after carving itself from GM. We’re thankful to have the 9-4x on the market but there could be so much more. It’s all there. It’s all developed and ready to go.
But right now we’re not able to build it.
A lot of employees are hurting about the fact that their salaries have been delayed for a second month in a row. I can’t blame them. They’ve rendered their services right throughout this stoppage period and it’s a hardship they shouldn’t have to bear.
I still love this place and I still believe in this company. It’s exactly the same as when GM were considering shutting us down: there’s simply too much good stuff – brand, product, plant and people – for this to be left to wither.
For those who have supported us – customers, suppliers, dealers and other partners – we thank you sincerely. We continue to fight. Never, ever give up.
The following was entered into comments by Nic S. It’s an area that I haven’t touched on in my post, but it’s quite relevant. We need our markets – our dealers and salespeople – and I think Nic’s thoughts sum it up nicely.
This situation isn’t just about those involved in Saab in Trollhattan. Pray do also remember the dealers and main distributors who have been fighting their own battles. I have on a personal basis witnessed longstanding Saab dealerships simply no longer being able to support their staff and therefore their businesses. These people have been battling it out, have sometimes even been paying their staff from their own pockets.
Why am I bringing all this up? Because it is my firm belief that Saab as a whole has a product line that stands like a house. This morning I drove a 2008 9-3 1.8T in Norden guise and loved it. Loved the nimbleness, the ease with which that perky engine threw out 150 bhp when asked to do so.
That to me says it all. That Saab was on loan for a foreign colleagu who visited us and needed some wheels. A simple call to my dealer and there it was. Now, we all stand behind Saab, but we also need to stand behind all that make Saab what it is. It has been said before, if we as a community do not do our bit, then perhaps Saab may survive as a brand, but the sales outlets may not. So do your thing and not just show your loyalty to the brand, but also to the dealers and specialists. They all need it, and bloody soon as well.