This is a long one….
Another week of work has begun here at Saab. Another week to be patient whilst the deals that are in the pipeline are worked out and negotiated. It’s certainly not an easy time for people here. They are anxious, for sure, but they’re still here; that’s the most important thing.
We remain in somewhat of a holding pattern at the moment. We’re waiting for The Deal. While we’re waiting for The Deal, employees are returning from their customary summer vacations, arriving at work and going about whatever business they can. The carpark here at Saab was more full this morning than at any time over the last five or so weeks, a sight that was a pleasure to see on this cool, rainy Monday.
The Deal that our executive team are currently working on is the one that will carry us through this near-term liquidity shortfall and into the future, so that we can re-start production and get back to being a car company again, which would be a nice relief from our present role as a corporate piñata.
Coverage of the situation has been interesting. There are now day-by-day accounts of the legal mechanisms that are in place for our stakeholders in this situation. Those mechanisms are a matter of procedural fact. We’re aware of them and the deadlines they involve, we address them as best we can, as methodically as we can, as the various situations arise. We want nothing more than to be rid of them, to re-establish normal relations with our stakeholders. This is why we’re negotiating The Deal with such vigour.
It’s as frustrating for us as it is for any other interested parties that we can’t talk about it more, but such is the nature of these negotiations. Our stakeholders are either waiting and going about their other business, or in some instances, taking advantage of the various mechanisms available to them to safeguard their futures. We hope to be able to help them set those mechanisms aside in the near term.
In the meantime, there are rumours about this, and rumours about that. One such rumour sent our corporate parent’s share price up 40% last week – which is one reason why we have to restrict communications about ongoing negotiations: we are a listed company. The other reason is that if we respond directly to this rumour, then we have to respond to the next rumour as well. The press can keep taking pot-shots until they get the response they’re looking for. My advice is to be very cautious with what’s written in the press, especially if it is un-sourced.
As an employee, I wait and I look towards the future because whilst the immediate situation is urgent, it’s not one that I can influence (we have people far more qualified on the case already). And despite the urgency of the immediate situation, if one were to calm down and consider the bigger picture, there is still plenty of untapped potential at Saab:
1. The Brand
The Saab name has taken a bit of a beating in the last 18 months but at it’s core, it’s still a very desireable brand.
If you’re a young, emerging company, you can’t create 60+ years of history and achievement overnight. As one of my colleagues here at Saab pointed out a week or so ago, if you were ‘doing a Lexus’ – creating a luxury/premium arm from nothing – you would most likely commission a study into what that new brand should represent, what its typical clientele would look like, where it should be positioned, etc. After spending those millions of dollars, you would end up with a document that more or less would describe Saab.
This company has an intrinsic value that’s boosted even further by our new products, our modern plant and our excellent technical capabilities. When you’ve got all of those things, you’ve got something you can build on, something that will be of interest.
2. The present stuff
For those of you who think I’m living in dreamland, the following are immediate releases that would hit the market just weeks after the factory starts rolling again. All have been mentioned in the past, but their respective launches have all been overrun by our current situation to some degree. We will need to ‘re-launch’ many, if not all, of these products.
The first of these is the Saab 9-4x, which is being produced under contract and distributed right now around the United States. Our ability to effectively market this excellent first entry into the crossover market has been stifled by news surrounding our current situation. This is a huge release for the North American market and should do very well for Saab when we can support it more effectively.
Then there is the low emissions TTiD versions of the Saab 9-3 range. The Sport Sedan version has been out since late last year, but the big news for many of our European markets is that the sub-120kg/km CO2 model is now also available in the popular SportCombi body style. The tax concessions for this low-emissions vehicle are significant and Saab has managed to achieve these concessions with no reduction in power or vehicle size. You cannot overestimate how important this is for many of our markets, particularly Sweden and Great Britiain (two of our top three markets). The low-emissions SportCombi release has been completely lost in news surrounding the business.
And finally, we also have the much-anticipated release of the Saab 9-5 SportCombi. This launch should be happening right now, but of course has been delayed thanks to other matters. Again, the sportcombi body style is of huge importance to many of our European markets in particular, and was growing in importance in the US now that other manufacturers have discontinued their wagon bodied vehicles there.
Three essentially new offerings for our markets – all of which are outstanding achievements and all of them are ready right now. Not next year. Now. This is one of the reasons I remain extremely optimistic about the value of Saab.
3. The future stuff
We have some of the best automotive engineers/partners in the business and there is plenty going on that will come in the near/medium term as well:
ePower fleet to go out – our ePower test fleet is scheduled to go out soon, although the program has obviously moved at a much slower pace in recent months, working with existing resources rather than additional resources.
eXWD – a tentative title, but more importantly, a very exciting innovation due on the new Saab 9-3 when it is released, developed by eAAM, a body owned jointly by Saab and American Axle.
IQon – Android-based connectivity and functionality for your car. This is not just displaying your phone’s internals on a screen. It’s integrated with the car and will transform information and control systems within the automotive sector.
New Saab 9-3 under development – this is the pinnacle. Our new releases in the Saab 9-5 and the Saab 9-4x are both excellent vehicles, but it’s our new entry-level vehicle that many are anticipating. It will feature our new powertrain co-operation with BMW, our new eXWD system, our new IQon system, all wrapped up in a package designed by our award-winning design team.
4. A few other things
Partners in China and new distribution in Russia. – We have several key markets already, but our entry into growth corridors like China and Russia is of significant importance. We have fantastic partners in both regions and the growth potential for our company in the medium term is outstanding.
Victor Muller – It has been extremely disappointing to read some of the material printed about our Chairman and current CEO. Many seem to forget the obstacles he had to overcome to acquire Saab in the first place. Some even suggest that he is draining the company of funds (which doesn’t quite explain why employees have still been paid over the last months) – the defamation that he’s endured has been phenomenal. Victor Muller is part of a team – he’s a key part of that team, but a team member nonetheless – that is working around the clock on this situation. You bet against my boss and his team’s capabilities at your own risk.
Lessons learned – We’re in a tough spot. And if you think we haven’t learned things to apply to the future operations of this company, then think again. The people who work here, they love working here. Maybe their intestinal fortitude is being tested in the current situation, but generally speaking, under more normal circumstances, people want to come and work for Saab. And we all want to do everything we can to ensure the company’s success into the future.