Thoughts on the sale of Saab Automobile

The deal to sell Saab came through in the late afternoon for me here in Australia. There were a couple of conference calls back to the office and a few emails here and there, just to try and share the moment with my colleagues back in Sweden. It’s hard being so far away, sometimes.

I wanted to provide some personal thoughts in a more timely manner, but bottom line……. I had to sleep on this one.

Right now, I have mixed feelings for a number of reasons. They’re much more positive than negative, but I can’t say it’s a case of parades and marching bands inside my head right now.

Strap in. This is another long-ish one.

——

The good news – the overwhelmingly good news – is that Saab survives and gets a chance to fulfil the promise that it’s had for the last couple of years. I forget the number of times that I’ve spelled out exactly why Saab should be given this chance, but it goes a little something like this:

Product: We have the biggest product portfolio we’ve ever had, with cars that are going to meet the marketplace better than ever, and more new product on the way very soon. Some of the technical innovations we’ve got coming are very, very exciting indeed. Some will be firsts for Saab and some will be world firsts. I’m so very happy that Saab fans will get the chance to see them.

Plant: We’ve got an extremely flexible and modern plant in Trollhattan that forms a big part of who we are. We are Swedish. We do things well. And this is where it all comes together. We’ll take that manufacturing know-how and share it with our new manufacturing facilities as they’re developed in China, which is a very exciting development for the future of this company.

People: Every company’s biggest asset is its people and Saab’s are second to none. Competitors were trying like crazy to take our people during the course of this year. They got a couple of them, too, but the overwhelming majority of them wanted to stay and be part of the Saab story. We talk of the Saab Spirit and I’m sure a lot of people think we’re nuts, but it’s very real and quite compelling. It’s about being part of a small company that confounds the critics and punches well above its weight. It’s about delivering things that are done a certain way for a reason. The lure of fulfilling that mission is a strong one.

Brand: There’s no doubt our brand has taken some punches in the last 6 months or so, but we know that we still have a lot of people on our side. We’re still a global premium carmaker with a sales presence in over 50 markets around the world, with 60+ years of history. We still have an identity as a design-driven carmaker from Scandinavia and that won’t change regardless of who our owners are.

These factors have been in place all along and despite that fact that nearly everybody (including quite a few nobodies) wrote us off in the last six months, we knew that we were an attractive proposition.

A fully functional car company with a global presence and excellent design and technical capability doesn’t come along every day. “Potential” can be one of the cruellest words in the English language, but there’s plenty of it unfulfilled here at Saab and finally, we’re going to have the resources we need to fill out that vision.

——

So why the mixed feelings?

You would think that someone who’s seen the Godfather trilogy as much as I have would understand the distinction between ‘business’ and ‘personal’. For me, though, it doesn’t get much more personal than this particular business.

Right now I’m smouldering over the treatment this company has received at the hands of some and I’m trying to figure out how to bury that and move on into the future.

I’m also feeling quite saddened at the treatment of our Chairman and stand-in CEO, Victor Muller. It’s been heartening to see many in Saab community thanking him quite sincerely for his efforts in relation to this company.

A lot of people in the press and the opinion pages, however, have painted him in a very bad light and it tempers my happiness to think that his reputation has been sullied by what’s happened here at Saab. There have been accounts in certain media circles that paint him in the same light as a snake-oil salesman, as someone syphoning off Saab’s money and leaving the company for dead, or worse. All of them absolutely false. These images have raged for nearly two years now and have placed an incredibly bright light on Saab, magnifying every little thing that happened here. I don’t think there has been another company in Sweden that’s had to work under such intense scrutiny in the last two years and it’s certainly arguable that that scrutiny has influenced people in both the general public and in some official circles.

Personally speaking, the future of Saab Automobile matters to me more than the business future of Victor Muller. I was a Saab enthusiast long before I ever heard his name. But that doesn’t mean that the reputation and characterisation of Victor Muller doesn’t matter to me.

Victor Muller saved this company from liquidation back in 2010 by having the vision, courage and tenacity to pursue a deal to buy this company when everyone, including it’s owner, said it was to be closed.

Victor Muller will most likely be remembered by many as the person at the helm when things went bad for Saab in 2011. I’m sure he’s not entirely blameless, too, but Saab’s executive consisted of a team of people and the truth (as I see it) is that we struggled to get out of the culture we had lived in for the previous 10 years at an adequate speed. We didn’t sell enough cars, largely because of this failure to adapt quickly to our new circumstances. We had an acute cashflow problem that brought us down this year, but that cashflow problem should not be pinned on one person when there was a team making the decisions.

Hopefully Victor Muller will be remembered as many of us at Saab saw him in the last few months. Not the exceedingly tired guy you heard on the radio yesterday, but as the guy who once again exhausted himself finding a solution that would allow this company to live on. He said he would never, ever give up, and he never, ever did.

It’s been said in these early hours following the deal that Victor will still be around at Saab after the company changes hands, possibly in a consultancy role of some sort after we hand over to a new CEO. I sincerely hope that is the case. Despite what people outside the company might read about him in the papers, he’s a man with an inspiring vision for what Saab could be, an entrepreneurial vision that very few others possess and more than anything else, he fights with every fibre in his being for what he believes in.

——

Back to business…….

This IS a good day for Saab Automobile.

I know a lot of people have been hoping the best for this car company. They’re fans of the brand, automotive writers, and others in the motoring community. I know there are a lot of people hoping that we can deliver on the promise that the Saab ethos offers.

I also know we’ve got a long road ahead of us when it comes to that.

I’m also mindful of the fact that this deal isn’t done and dusted just yet. There are approvals to be obtained and those talks have to happen very quickly.

We also have to get acquainted with our new owners, which will be an interesting process in itself. Aside from their basic corporate presence in China, I personally know little about them except that one offers an incredibly exciting distribution network in the largest automotive market in the world, whilst the other offers a tremendous capacity to develop manufacturing in that same market. Both of these will be key parts to Saab’s growth in the future and it’s going to be fascinating to be part of that journey.

All going well, the hard work for the whole company will begin mid-November. I’m told that’s the time when we should be able to forecast a definite date for the recommencement of production and that’s when the job of rebuilding this brand begins.

To those of you who have maintained your support for Saab, I hope you stay on board with us in the future. This company has changed hands once again, but the vision for our products and the people delivering on that vision will remain and we can’t wait to get moving once again.

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50 Comments

  1. Thanks for this fine writing, Swade!
    I feel confident that this small, brave car-manufacturer will now meet better times and that more people now will begin to discover the qualities off Saab-cars! 🙂

  2. This is very much what I think about it!!!

    And regarding support. Mine is stronger than ever, and not only because I want my ordered 9-3, and maybe two more in Q1 2012, but because after studying the market after alternatives for a Saab car, I couldn’t find any.
     

  3. Your writing is as good as always, Swade, I couldn’t agree more! I really hope that you will stay at Saab, you’re a very valuable asset in the public relations department.

    1. I agree.  I hope the Chinese are aware of the intense following from Saab owners.  I also hope they understand your importance when it comes to the brand.  I have been following your postings since the days of Trolhattensaab and hope to continue following them through the new process.  I am now going to start really saving up for the new 9-3.  Can’t wait. 

  4. “Victor Muller will most likely be remembered by many as the person at the helm when things went bad”
    Not by me. I will remember him as the one that fought with everything he had to save this great company. I don’t think there is anyone that sacrificed nearly as much he did to save the jobs of the Saab employees and a small town in Sweden should name a street after him because their town would have been screwed without him. Not to say the employees didn’t show a great force of loyalty and such because they did, but this man became a target of all the Swedish and global media and shouldered it all himself and didn’t give up once. Thank you Victor Muller, you are a true fighter and I for one was glad to have you fighting for me.

  5. Excellent post. I hope there will continue to be a seat in Saab management for Victor Mueller. Given the amount of work he has done to keep this company alive, against all odds, I only have positive feelings towards him. 
    Now I’m going out to try and talk someone into buying a Saab… 

  6. “Saab – to be continued” – when I read that claim on your homepage a couple of weeks ago, I thought what a brave team of enthusiasts this company must consist of. Hopefully all the promises of the future will come true. My honest respect for your believe, willpower and insistency.

  7. Good, now I can concentrate on the 2 Saabs I own and stop worrying about buying a new Saab now to improve Saab’s cash flow. Someone in China can buy that new Saab now. I guess they did.

  8. Well written Swade.  I will always remember Victor as the charismatic person that saved SAAB at the eleventh hour before GM shuttered the plant.  Meeting him at the Owners Convention in Ohio last year with JAJ solidified in my mind that SAAB was here to stay.  I wish things could have worked out along the original plan from this summer, but at the very least SAAB will live on to prove to the nay-sayers that they truly are a great car company.    We all owe Victor a great big Thank You for all he has done to keep our beloved car company out of the dumpster.     Victor Up!!!!!

  9. VM has effectively had to give his baby away to ensure it’s survival – a pretty tough and selfless decision. This has come on top of personal bereavement for him. I admire him even more now than before. I hope all goes well for Saab and for VM (and for SW of course).

    p.s. A Chinese friend a few years ago told me Saab’s were called Saab-a-go in China.

  10. Personally, I think if Victor had not had a passion for Saab we wouldn’t be here today writing about our beloved car company! We have to thank him for all his great efforts and his great vision for the future.

    Dank u
    Mr Muller

  11. A quick question: Is it green light now? Aren’t there any other parts (GM, EIB…) that have to agree on this before the deal with Pang Da/Youngman can take place? The Swedish media have not been very clear about this, hence I’m asking.

    1. That’s true.  If I were Victor Muller, I would already now start working on some Plan Q to throw in if GM or someone else says No. But fingers crossed for that not to happen. 🙂

      1. Not sure. GM still is a share holder (and nobody ever told us what their fraction of all the shares is , could well still be the majority), but these are some kind of special shares and I don’t know if they still have a saying in such decisions. otoh, If Saab went tits-up, that could still have had costly consequences for GM, regarding warranty claims etc. Complex legal questions may pop up.

  12. Good writing Swade.  I have somewhat mixed feelings too:

    I”m very happy that Saab has survived, and I’m happy for everyone that works for Saab.

    I’m sad that Victor has received the treatment that he has, and I’m hopful (as has been hinted) that he’ll remain a part of Saab.

    I’m angry the the Swedish government (through it’s apparent puppet Guy Lofalk)  has achieved what it set out to do. That is, the 100% sale of Saab to the Chinese and the removal of the “Saab problem”.

    I’m guessing that GM will impose so rather strict conditions to protect it’s IP?

    I hope that Saab will prosper under it’s new management.

    Some have already said that Saab has 3-5 years to prove itself or it could become a Swedish MG.  I pray that never happens..

  13. I cut and pasted the following from a comment I made on Facebook, in response to some comments there:  “There is no reason why the quality can’t be BETTER than it is currently. Buicks are made in China that are better than those made in Detroit. And it’s likely that some Saabs will still be made in Sweden and possibly a new line (I’m hoping for an entry level hatchback) can be manufactured in China. In time, more manufacturing and control will belong to the Chinese owners—-after all, they bought the company. I have high hopes for this. I actually love my GM/Saab (2004 9-5 Wagon) but the truth is that while GM poured millions of dollars into Saab and lost—-they never focused on Saab, never understood how to promote the brand—-it was a thoughtless aquisition that I think was just a “me too” after Ford bought Volvo. This time, I believe these Chinese owners will put 100% effort into making Saab succeed as a brand. And given time, the cars will be more interesting and affordable than they are now. I think for us owners, the best possible outcome was/is for the brand to survive—-which will help resale value, provide parts for years to come, places to get our Saabs serviced—-and hopefully some great new models. As for GM, let’s not forget that although they failed, Saab was on thin ice when GM bought them. GM kept them on life support for years. So in a way, we could despise GM for managing Saab poorly, but at least they kept Saab alive.”  And to add to that, it goes without saying that Spyker/Swedish Automobile deserve all praise for being stewards of Saab when everyone else gave up.  I plan to follow Saab’s progress, right here.  Swade:  Keep up the great writing.  This is our lifeline to what’s really happening.

    1. It was more like “me too” after Ford bought Jaguar.  Ford bought Volvo quite a bit later.  GM might have kept Saab on life support, but it rarely gave the patient enough sustenance to climb out of bed!  History might be kinder and say GM never  actually had the resources to do that.  Perhaps some day we’ll know?

      1. Mark:  Actually, I meant to say Ford’s purchase of Jaguar.  You’re right—-I recall that Volvo was a late 90’s purchase by Ford and if I remember correctly, GM bought Saab around 1990 or 1991, right after Ford bought Jaguar—a deal that was in the works since the late 80’s.  But the point remains that GM just did an aquisition to absorb a car maker—-clearly without having any plan of what to do with Saab.  They didn’t know what or why, only when.  Typical GM.

  14. i agree Victor saved saab and people need to remember all that he has managed to do its amazing the amount of drive he has. He saved saab and it will live on because of him….everyone needs to remember this because he has done some amazing business transactions in order to achieve his goal of a saab that will live on forever as a strong car manufacturer 

  15. I will always have a fond appreciation for Victor Muller. In my eyes, Saab was his child and a 100% sale to the chinese was probably the only option besides complete liquidation. I am happy that Saab will continue, and I am soooooo looking forward to the next 9-3 sitting in my garage. 

    I feel confident that the Chinese have the capital necessary to run saab, and hopefully the insight to leave design, branding and culture Scandinavian as it always has been.

  16. Well done Steve , I hope the new management will see how important you are for the Saab community. I think no other brand has a spokesman in this kind of way. Anyway i have still questions wether this is a good solution but if i see the Volvo sales here in Belgium it gives me peace. I have called my local dealer and he is verry happy with this solution. He still has a lot of cars in order and not a single one of the orders is deleted by the custumors. They all are very loyal to Saab. About Victor Muller i can only say this , without his fighting spirit there would be no Saab anymore. Yesterday on Dutch television they said he would get a new job in the Saab company.

  17. good posting Swade, as allways!
    I feeling a bit relax now when the dust settles, but I must admit, I was looking forward to a global saab company with global ownership. Part chinies, part russian, part dutch and with some small part american.
    That whould sure be a global brand!

    Any how, the trip a head seems like more exciting times. I will keep on following this story and try out the new 900.
    But I can not promise to buy one without trying it out first this time…;-)

  18. I am very reliefed too, I have to say; also that VM could find a solution not (hopefully) financially ruining him, even though the death of father and sister causes certainly more grief.

    But think of the possibilities when Saab becomes operational again! Wow! A Chinese built domestic market car based on the Phoenix platform. Youngman hence getting a development team for the booming car market in China that they presently don’t have, I presume. Which in turn will result in Saab’s development department flourishing. Pang Da getting an alternative to the only premium brand they presently sell, Audi.

    But it doesn’t stop here. Alfa Romeo is in such a dire state. The MiTo is a Mini competitor, the Giuilleta a VW Golf/Rabbit conpetitor, both assembled in Fiat factories, both no true Alfas. The last genuine Alfa, the 159, is out of production as per yesterday, with no succesor in sight and the plant in Naples being converted to produce Fiats from now on. The sucessor to the 166 is evidently also cancelled. The development department dissolved. The museum closed. Alfa is effecitvely dead. While Fiat refuses to sell the brand to VW, maybe they would be more open to selling it to a Chinese company? Like BAIC? BAIC could base a 159 successor on Saab’s Phoenix platform and have it build in Trollhättan; while the MiTo and Giullietta will be continued under an agreement similar to the 9-4x. A small headquarter and design team located in Milano would be sufficient, as the mechanical development would be done by Saab as kind of consulting. For a mere 100 million Euros (assmuning more design shifts than the BLS had over the 9-3), BAIC could get an new car. This might really be successfull! Saab’s premium platform was just too big and heavy for the 159, but the Phoenix is lighter, I believe, and would probably be accepted by the Alfisti (and could be used for a 166 replacement as well).

    And what about Jaguar’s plans for an X-type successor? Do they need a platform, too? And where are they going to produce that car? After all, would Halewood still be an option? Well, I digress…

    Anyway, this could be turned into a cluster of smaller car manufacturers, with quite a number of stakeholders.

      1. Well, isn’t it theoretically possible to throw the engine out, more batteries in and keep the rear electric axle only? Beefier motors might pose a problem, might not. Would also be good with quite a rework on the front suspension on that, I guess, but not necessary…

  19. Thanks for your thoughts on this. I want to keep my comment short: There would be no Saab anymore without Victor Muller. He´s a hero. 

  20. It’s quite fascinating to read the difference in tone of most of the comments in this thread vs. those in the SaabsUnited thread entitled 欢迎庞大青年入萨博!, This thread looks to the future with hope (and a little trepidation) and thanks to VM; the SU thread raises numerous questions about GM, NRDC, EIB approvals and trashes Youngman as a bully and unfaithful negotiator. These are all fair questions and only time will tell what the final result will be, but right now, I think we should be optimistic and look to the future with hope. The one thing that seems more than clear is that production for the world market will stay in Sweden. The Chinese had no reason to assume all the Saab debt and obligations just to buy an assembly line and some IP. Sure, Saab engineers and new technologies will help them produce new cars in China for the Chinese market, but if they’re smart (and there’s no reason to think that they’re not), they know that they bought a gem with liquidity problems (which they will provide) that can take its rightful place in the automotive world in a few years. Nothing is forever in this changing world, but it seems to me that Saab got as good as possible under the circumstances. 

  21. Hi Steven,

    Well said, as usual.

    Re; ‘it’s going to be fascinating to be part of that journey”

    I am pleased this is your decision, as I had wondered about your future….!!

    Like most on here & SU, there are still questions, but, this was it or NO Saab.

    As for VM, I like many others have critizised him sometimes. Sometime warranted & sometimes, well, maybe just the heat of the moment.
    The heat over the last few months, has been quite intense for many & as a statement, I must say VM, at the end of the day, came through. He put Saab & the workers of THN first & his situation 2nd. 
    No one out there can even begin to understand that & there you have it……they are all quite now, their mouth’s have stopped working. as they cannot say anything.

    The future beckons……..enjoy the journey.

    Regards……Terry H

    PS: Don’t forget the ‘Bikes’ idea, could be very, very Good.
     

  22. Swade !
    Well written as always!
    Victor Muller is a fantastic person with a tremendous amount of energi and guts!!
    In Sweden there have been and still is, a lot of people who are very very smallminded and spiteful and loves the idea that “the Rich” and even more foregniers, always will try to seal somthing, wht most people dont know.

    It is, like you Swade, with great sadness that I have followed this saga and it is not over yet, BUT Victor and his team at SAAB has given it all they had and I think that the greatest thing to do is to step aside, no matter what it costs for you personally, for the greater good !!

    This is the greatest heritage Victor leaves with us all!!

    I hope he will find new energy in his hart and body to  continue as a free spirit !!

    SAAB up!!

  23. I have nothing to add except to say Victor Muller went all in on his deal to keep  SAAB cars alive , and the jobs that went with it . I could not have done his work and kept my sanity , there is a long list of people who also did the same as I have seen it , Steven included.  Come monday I’ll still be working to repair SAAB cars as I have for the last 35 years , and just mabey the last shoe has droped and we can get back to  ” Driving Forward ”   Thanks , Dave  in Ohio

  24. the solution is not the best that could be. without vm saab will not be the same and the spirit of saab are npt only the cars, the spirit is for me also a man like vm who loves this company, who fights with all his possibilities and with a vm, who understands, what saab is.
    i´m very glad for the employees of saab and i´m also very glad for you steven – bur i think i can read between the lines..
    the way to this solution was not the way of honorable gentlemen form the chinese companies – they waited so long with paying the money they made a contract before, that they now can get saab for some pennies. no, this is not fair and this will damage the name of saab more, than everything else before.
    maybe saab has now a bright future more in the mainstream and also in china – but will this be in the future the company, so many people love? i am not sure about that and my own thoughts will be very much influenced by the future of vm in the new chinese saab company.
    i´m not a chinese and i think we have the right to think as europeans. a company with a part ownership of vm would have been an enormous better thing for the future.
    perhaps, my new 9-5 will be me last saab, because i cannot accept such methods be used from the chinese.

  25. i´ve forgotten something:

    i want to thank victor muller and his team for all they did for saab, for all the time they spent for saab and, not the last point, for the spirit they gave saab back.
    my only hope is that they will be also involved in a leading position with saab in the future!

  26. Dear Swade,

    I fullheartedly agree with your comments on Victor. I find it frustrating to see that many people who do not have the guts to be an entrepreneur, are the first to point fingers. I have the same nationality as Victor, and I am proud to be Dutch and that I’m valuing entreppreneurship. If Victor would not have the appetite to take the risk of purchasing SAAB, SAAB would have been history. I hope that Victor will get the rewarrd he deserves. I would welcome him to be chief strategist and to safeguard together with Jason the SAAB values! Further I am not so worried that SAAB would have the same faith as Rover had a decade ago. There is so much value in the SAAB brand, and the Chinese are smart. The Chinese with ever increasing spending power are looking for premium products with its own idenitity. BMW and Audi are succesful. SAAB will be as well. I hope Victor will read this: Victor, goed gedaan! Ik heb diep respect voor je!

  27. What a great day for Saab and all of us.
    For me, VM will always be the one who didn’t give up on Saab – and he was proved right!
    Now I can swap my leased 9.3 convertible into MY car 🙂
    Thanks!!!

  28. Muller did what he could – in the end it was a far cry from what he set out to do. As someone who watched his Saab’s resale value disappear while waiting for production restart for six months – I’m not at all thrilled. He should have sold in July. Frankly, his turbo overheated in the last few weeks, I don’t think he was far from breakdown in the end.

    All the best to Saab in the future, hopefully Swade will find the enthusiasm to root for his new masters.

  29. I really hope that Victor Müller, as well as Jason Castriota and other amazing people I think he’s gathered stays in the company. Too much changes in the management now and it will be hard to get back on track fast enough.

    When we can really say that SAAB is saved, and if it still looks like Victor did more than most of us could’ve done even in his seat, I think we need a Victor Müller edition of that upcoming 9-3. In a similar way, I think we really need a community edition of the 9-5. That save was something at least as special.

    We should all remember that it seems we can get this company through anything. We shouldn’t ever be afraid of the future again. Griffin up, everybody!

  30. I also agree to to you Swade, and I do have a admire Victor for his enormous effort to save SAAB !
    Thanks and all the best to SAAB!

  31. Muller will be remembered as the guy who saved Saab for 2-3 years. Swedish media for some reason is more an more lika a tabloid. You are not allowed to make money even if you invest heavily ourself.

    The big question now is will GM approve of the deal? That is a realy big hurdel in my book…

  32. Excellent story Steven!

    Victor Muller is one of the persons who have been extremely important to SAAB. Without
    him SAAB no longer existed. I really hoped Victor had been able to make his dream come true and to produce the SAAB SAABS he had in mind.

    Even when his own dream fell apart, he fought probably 15 to 20 hours each day to save
    this beloved brand and he fought for everyone involved in SAAB. Not getting your pay check in time asks a lot of you (I’ve been in the same situation for over a year, so I know how you feel).  But at the end SAAB survives, most employees keep their jobs and Trollhättan will
    produce great cars.

    It has been suggested in one of the replies and I am totally in for it: I think we should
    have a SAAB ‘Victor Muller’ edition.

  33. Let’s hope that the Chinese will not just drain the knowledge from Saab for their own use and dump what is left over. We don’t want a second GM story. Well, at least I don’t.
     

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