Withering (and) Stupidity

Saab 9-5 fronts

This is one of the saddest things I’ve read about the demise of Saab Automobile in recent times.

Many of you would know that some of Saab’s classic vehicles from the US were sold recently. Thankfully, those cars ended up in good hands and should be preserved for years to come. You can read more on the collection and it’s preservation over at Hemmings.

That wasn’t the only sale on the schedule, however. The Man-in-charge also sought to sell off all the equipment and stock at Saab’s US headquarters in Royal Oak, Michigan. Ray Wert, from Jalopnik, went along to the auction to observe the goings-on and it sounds like a very sorry tale.

The lobby’s filled to capacity with folks ranging from semi-professional bankruptcy auction scavengers to curious community members who work nearby to me, the one lone journalist.

The “auction” wasn’t much of an auction. One expects an auction to be orderly — and in a bankruptcy, one expects there to be rules designed to help engender the highest possible bid. That wasn’t the case here.
Instead of an auction it was more like a fire sale…

Having worked in a Saab office just like the Royal Oak office, I can well imagine what it would have looked like. How those storage areas and parts would have been arranged. In Sweden, some of those marketing materials would have been available in bundles on the shelves just across from my desk.

The thought of some sweaty bargain-hunters rifling through what was once someone’s very personal space is more than just a little unpalatable. I had people who became good friends working in that office.

It just makes it all the more disappointing that a company with such a wonderful human element like Saab doesn’t exist any more (as we knew it), yet others in the same industry, but without the soul, continue to flourish.

Such is the way of the business world, I guess.

——

The upside of that fire sale is there’s now nothing left in Royal Oak and if someone’s successful in buying Saab, they can open their US offices in the north-east, where they should have been all along.

——

Speaking of which……..

News is popping up around the web that Brightwell are pulling out of the Saab race. Apparently GM didn’t want to play ball. SU covered it and the full story is at Dagens Industri.

I think Brightwell had the resources to do something good with Saab, but I also think they lacked the experience that might have been needed to convince the various movers and shakers to cooperate.

——

Friends in Italy tell me they’ve come across a brief news article somewhere (I can’t find it) stating that BMW were only interested in Saab’s Phoenix platform. This doesn’t make total sense to me, and as the article is yet to be found, I’ll treat it with a small degree of suspicion (though I think BMW are an unlikely buyer).

——

That leaves Mahindra and Youngman as the remaining suitors known to the public, who seem to be seeking to buy Saab as a whole. IMHO, Youngman would be a disaster and they won’t get cooperation from GM anyway. So…..Go Mahindra!

If neither of these companies are successful in bidding for Saab, I think we’ll be able to conclude that Brightwell’s Zamier Ahmed was correct when he said today that GM want to kill Saab off completely. And if that happens, it won’t be because of competition, or concerns about technology.

——

And finally, the stupidity bit.

Why on earth would the Telegraph get someone like this to review an episode of Top Gear?

This episode was the first episode I had ever seen of Top Gear. Until six months ago I couldn’t even drive, and so I felt confident it could have little relevance to my life.

If they’d put the review in context, something like “we’re quite interested in finding out what a thirty-something British mother, slighted by the fact that she’s now up to her ears in nappies rather than cappuccinos and with no discernible interest in cars thinks about a motoring entertainment show” – then I could understand.

As it is, it’s just plain stupid.

——

And speaking of Top Gear, the Saab story from last weekend is available on it’s own, here.

I’m going to watch the full episode tonight.

——

I’d love to go into the political bunfight that occupied the last five days or so of our lives here in Australia, but it’s irrelevant for most of you and well known to the Aussies that visit here.

Suffice to say it made for some riveting television.

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44 Comments

  1. “Until six months ago I couldn’t even drive, and so I felt confident it could have little relevance to my life.”

    What a coincidence. After reading that statement, I had the same feeling about her “review”.

    1. She got some good comments (at least the first day when I looked) and she did understand the bit about safety. That might be enough to entice other non-gearheads to check out not only Top Gear but also Saab.

      A fan writing for other fans will favor inbreeding. But a non-fan writing for other non-fans will perhaps reach more people. I found her angle to be fresh and honest.

  2. Was interesting reading the comments on that woeful article.

    Comments saying they dismissed Saab’s as Vauxhauls, and now they realised they’re not! Also a lot of people saying the the Saab bit was the best bit and it should be more like that. Seems like TG did an ad for Saab.

  3. Re: sale in Royal Oak: That sale is likely to be the shape of things to come, my friend. This will get nasty and more stupid once Maud and her ilk crack the gates in Trollhattan for the jackals to feed. It will be terrible.

    I agree with the skepticism about BMW’s interest. If they are a buyer, it will be with an eye towards parts and service revenues and the marketing leverage it will give them to convert Saab owners into BMW owners. They aren’t, in my view, going to develop new Saab cars. Not anytime soon, anyway. It would be interesting to see if they could resurrect the new 9-5 and produce it for a short run with their own engine technology.

    1. My fear is that a BMW acquisition of Saab makes so much sense that it won’t happen. A complete FWD platform, a nice brand to slot in between MINI and BMW, the need to attract Audi drivers who don’t want RWD – all at a bargain basement close-out price.

      There are two area in which Saab in really hurting right now, the rapid attrition of the distribution/dealer network and the loss of talented engineers who are finding other jobs.

      BMW can fix those problems quickly, in a way that other prospective buyers cannot.

      Nor do I think BMW would use FWD technology under its own brand. The BMW faithful have been up in arms protesting the prospect of FWD BMW’s as assorted trial balloons have been floated. BMW has done a very good job with MINI and Land Rover as separate brands.

      Like I said, it makes too much sense.

      1. Good points, and I’d say that you’re on the other side of the same coin — that the primary reason for BMW to buy Saab would be solely for the conversion of Saab owners into BMW owners. You’ve just described a different way to go about it.

        What I like about your comment is something that I didn’t know about BMW — that they’re ‘married’ to the RWD setup to keep their buyers happy. In that sense it makes sense.

  4. “GM want to kill Saab off completely. And if that happens, it won’t be because of competition, or concerns about technology.”

    We will see what comes. The “Texas group” is now out at GM. I’ll be waiting for your insight, but I’m still hoping for a different outcome.

      1. For someone with strong opinions, you’ve apparently missed a number of facts along the way. During the ‘bankruptcy’ of GM, the Federal government installed Ed Whitacre, recently retired CEO of AT&T (formerly SBC), as CEO of General Motors. He and his entourage were from Texas.

        1. Correct and they are back in West Texas. Ed Whitacre was on the Texas Tech campus in Lubbock recently. Missed him, but he probably doesn’t want to know who 100%Saab is anyway.

        2. For someone who’s so desperately try to sound sarcastic and witty you’ve apparently unable to grasp my main point: I don’t give a flying **** (<- those are voluntary stars by me, dear Swade) about GM and neither should anyone who has a single brain cell left.
          HINT: regardless of his reasoning Swade indirectly says the same thing, that GM will never help SAAB – which essentially means just what I'm saying for long time now, that GM should shove up their lousy-crappy automotive junk in their corporate backs, nobody cares about them.

  5. ” IMHO, Youngman would be a disaster and they won’t get cooperation from GM anyway. So…..Go Mahindra!”

    That’s a pretty stupid comment – that’s the GOOD APPROACH, AS YOUNGMAN SAID, that they will not wait for GM’s approval!

    I’d rather see them taking over and working on their own model for a year than giving GM a ****in dime.

    #1 – don’t swear on my website.

    #2 – My opinion on Youngman is based on sound reasoning, not newspaper quotes. There are reasons why they haven’t got this done yet and it’s not a lack of money

    SW

    1. 1. Ohh, the first Anglo-Sax0n who cannot take an F-bomb… comes across sort of poseur-ish but hey, it’s your site, fine.

      2. I’m sure there are a lot of stuff you know and we, simple humans, do not – however this wasn’t my point and neither was yours.
      You said it “would be a disaster” (whatever that means but my bet is on some authority somewhere) and “they won’t get cooperation from GM anyway” which should be evident for anyone who followed the pre-bankruptcy drama… go Mahindra? Unless the Indians, next to China, have something that the Turks, pretty far from China, didn’t have they won’t get anything from GM either so you’re not making too much sense, I’m afraid.
      At least YM already said they do not care about GM and the old guy seem to be waiting for a long time to get his Saab… I understand that there is something they are trying to overcome but personally I still have faith in the old guy, he sounds like he’s planning for the long run (plus his previous ‘investments’.)
      I short my point was if I have to choose between Mahindra banking on GM then ending up with nothing or Saab resurfacing several months later as a Chinese firm, with some updated older (9-3?) model but with a well-financed owner then I vote for the latter one.
      And yes, GM can do me a favor in the future (and unlike you I actually live in the US so my curse definitely means 2-3 new car sales loss for GM over the next 20-30 years. :))

      PS: the BMW rumor seems to be complete “poppycock” (see how nicely I treat your sensitive soul?), where did your friends get this story? There’s not a single source on the entire internet…

      1. #3 – Don’t patronise. The rules around here are pretty simple. Keep it civil. Write as if you were speaking face to face, with the appropriate amount of respect towards someone you’re having a conversation with.

        ——

        If I’ve got to choose between Saab being a memory or going to Youngman then based on what I know, I’ll take the memories. And I know plenty of people who worked for Saab who would most likely say the same – people who dealt with them on regular basis. Be careful what you wish for.

        What have Mahindra got that Youngman don’t? 1) A reputation for running a successful business with something more than the money/authority handed to them by the government. 2) A clue about the car industry, how it works and the consequences of screwing things up. Just the mere fact that they’re in a country where IP ownership is respected would be a head start.

        BMW – not my rumour, just something I explored. European commentators say it’s not new, but SU didn’t claim to get it off the net, anyway. They got it from their offline sources, from what I can tell, which is why you couldn’t find anything about it on the web (aside from the zillion stories referencing the SU story).

        I’m not sure that you saw it, but it’s addressed in this article.

        Look, we all want Saab to survive here. But personally speaking, I’d need to see exactly what Youngman intend to do in order to believe that they’ve got the Saab you and I might be used to at the top of their mind. And they’d need to have their act together a lot more, too.

        1. Wait, what? No patronizing? That’s my best material….;)

          Seriously, Mahindra will be in the mix for the global everyman’s car in fewer than five years in my opinion. Their inability to get their pickup truck legal in the US has driven them back to their drawing boards with a promise to return in less than 18 months. If they achieve that, watch out, world, they’ll be at the door soon.

        2. Speaking of patronizing… don’t you think “don’t swear on *my website*” [emphasis by me] belongs into the same neighborhood…? (FYI being passive-aggressive, which you showcase time-by-time, isn’t much nicer either except I was just writing in response.)

          You’ve already said I’m stupid, and now I’m also passive aggressive. What’s next? Overweight? Too late.

          Your comment about if you had “to choose between Saab being a memory or going to Youngman then based on what I know, I’ll take the memories” – well, I can assure you this is just THE BUBBLE talking. 🙂

          I mean the one you people at SAAB lived in, nothing else – for us, people outside it, this is NOT an answer, this is some sort of snobbish reaction from someone who had the chance to experience it form the inside.
          TL,DR: a living SAAB, even if Chinese, is still a living SAAB – a lot more than a website posting memories of a dead SAAB.

          I understand where you’re coming from, but tell that to a fan of MG. Do you think they’re enjoying what’s being put out with their badge today? Will you be happy if that’s Saab’s future? I can only speak from what I know based on what I saw and the people I spoke to who dealt with YM first hand. My conclusion, in line with theirs, is that they wouldn’t be good custodians for Saab and their actions in the past support this, even if their PR right now doesn’t.

          Anyway… Mahindra – there are more than a couple of things to address and yes, this would be my style face to face as well… 😉

          1. “1) A reputation for running a successful business”

          You mean the one that couldn’t even get his cars/trucks into ANY WESTERN market?

          Mahindra sell heavy machinery in markets around the world and light trucks in Asia, South America, Europe and Australia. By “Western Market”, did you just mean the US? Because Koenigsegg haven’t got approval for the Agera there yet either but they’re no idiots. Neither are Mahindra.

          2. ” with something more than the money/authority handed to them by the government.”

          Beyond being factually wrong (the old guy wasn’t delegated whatsoever but quite the contrary apparently he was rebuffed multiple times before the factory went into the ground)…. PLEAHHHSE.
          I mean… really? Just to make sure I got you right: you’re talking about GM, Chrysler or the bank/shareholder money-wasting Fiat, Mahindra etc versus the Chinese old guy who managed to get ahead in a damned anti-capitalist Commie system 20 years ago, with a *loan* (you know, from a bank), convincing a Western Neoplan to work with him then becoming successful?
          It reveals such a thinly-veiled bias that it would be quite offensive were it not too, as a matter of fact, so laughably false actually… latter makes it just a harmless hypocrisy.
          And no offense it’s not only wrong but I think it also shows you have little clue about how Commie systems worked/works (FYI spending my first ~20 years of life under one, then the good part of the next decade reporting about the changing economy in the evening news, I am fairly confident about this part.)

          Pang is deeply connected and a Party member. It’s one of the reasons Saab was keen to have them part of the tri-party deal, despite the downside. How do you think the deal progressed through the various levels of approval without a hitch even when China was downsizing the number of companies and shutting doors to new JV’s? How many empty factory buildings do YM have there right now? It’s not bias, it is what it is.

          3. “2) A clue about the car industry, ”

          Though worded in your (usual?) passive-aggressive manner it’s largely true, I give you this.

          4. “how it works”

          Khm – sure you didn’t forget they are making buses, cars etc?

          That they crank out some poor quality passenger cars for the local market in no way qualifies them for building a car for the world market. Absolutely not. They can get this expertise in, sure, but they don’t have it right now. Not by a long shot.

          5. ” and the consequences of screwing things up.”

          If I remember correctly YM *IS* churning out thousands of buses every year o they must have at least *some* idea about screwups, don’t you think?

          6> ” Just the mere fact that they’re in a country where IP ownership is respected would be a head start.”

          HAH! You must be very naive if you really think India is in any way better positioned than China and I mean in *ANY* regard…
          FYI graft in India is so HUUUUUGE, so pervasive at every level of the life that this alone makes your whole concept about ‘real business’ a joke. Just one story: http://www.economist.com/node/21547280
          Corruption is MUCH, MUCH-MUCH BIGGER in India than almost anywhere in the industrialized world (sans oil/diamond/etc-based kleptocracies) and certainly FAR worse than in China. It’s so bad that literally nobody can do ANY business without paying of everybody in the chain: from the ‘maharajahs’ in politics through every state official who has to put a stamp on something or even just verbally approve anything to the last neighborhood police chief or traffic person or service installer to make sure everything will go smooth.
          There is a big controversy about India in the international press for about a year now and most analysts now simply admit that Indiai, as it is today, literally too corrupt to become the next economic powerhouse of the world: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/3416fa84-32ee-11e1-8e0d-00144feabdc0.html
          India is a country which deployed a smart marketing over the past ~20 years (when the current PM, then-economy-head-honcho Singh introduced first market-oriented reforms) which paints India as a modern, market-oriented economy and its rapidly modernizing society but in reality it’s a totally étatist, crazy-regulated economy, with all sorts of lunatic rules that put China’s Commie-ruled strict investment scheme into shame – did you know that until very recently you couldn’t even open a store there? 🙂 Well, yes, now you can own your store/chain but only if you sell one brand – because you can only get up to 50% ownership in a store chain that sells multiple brands…
          On top of this it is really only the top layer of the society which get to live in their decent neighborhoods and they are just steps away from the rest of the 990M+ who still just ‘survive’ amid mind-boggling, horrific conditions every day.
          I have nothing against India nor like the Chinese more (heck, you can imagine how much I *hate* Communism!) but you are really fooling yourself and everybody if you think India, with people brushing their teeth next to months-old decomposing corpses in the Ganghes River, the feces on the street everywhere etc, is any better positioned to host a car company than China.

          I was commenting on the car industry, not corruption in general, which I’m sure is a serious problem in India as well as in China. When it comes to the car industry, China is absolutely notorious for ripping off the IP from other manufacturers, JV partners, you name it. That was my point. If you want a race to the bottom to see which place treats its population worse, that’s something I’m not qualified to talk about in an educated manner.

          BMW: sure, got it, I was just surprised you were willing to promote such a completely unsubstantiated rumor.

          As for your last sentence I agree, they need to pull their socks up and start marching orderly but on the other hand I don’t think *their* SAAB needs to match the current (disastrous past 2-3 years’) SAAB or even the one we imagine for ourselves… who knows, maybe they have better ideas? One thing I noticed is that Asians tend to listen more carefully when it comes to Western industries before they take on it – to me that sounds like a very good approach if they were to restart production in Trollhattan, don’t you agree? 🙂

          If they win the Saab bid and make a great thing out of it, then I’ll be popping champagne corks like everyone else. I love the company and I love the city of Trollhattan. It’ll be great for everyone concerned if that happens.

          But based on what I’ve heard and what I know, I cannot conclude that YM would be a good owner for Saab. I know Mr Pang’s saying all the right things in the papers at the moment, which is great. But in actually dealing with things, they didn’t do themselves many favours in terms of the people they dealt with at the company.

          You want to cheer them on? Fine. Go ahead. Just don’t expect me to join in or call me an idiot for not agreeing with you.

      2. Well it is obvious you know nothing about Indian automobile companies.

        There is one who took control of a very old British marque, and has completely turned it around. Not going to tell you who it is…if you are such an expert…you should know.

        Please try a little research/education on the automotive industry before making statements that have no merit.

        Those of us who know Steven, seemingly better that you do, value his informed opinion.

        As one who HAS worked in the automotive industry, both with SAAB & GM…in the US…I know Steven knows of what he speaks.

  6. It was a dreadful article by the telegraph, a lot of commentators have said the Saab piece is on a par with the series ending a few series ago with JC driving an Aston Martin through the countryside – TC at its best.

    What is more interesting in the comments everywhere concerns the young lady standing behind Matt Smith……DING DONG!

  7. “And if that happens, it won’t be because of competition, or concerns about technology.”

    I’d like to see the end of that sentence … but because of … what?

  8. Youngman of China had reportedly already paid tens of millions of dollar to Saab. None of the other bidders paid as much, if at all. This shows Youngman’s sincerity and above all, financial strength.

    Now they have got a plan to circumvent the need for licence from GM which currently underpins Saab cars. Taking all these into account, it seems Youngman’s bid is serious and feasible enough.

    Of course, Youngman, just like any investors, wishes to acquire Saab on bargain basement price. But who cares other than Saab’s creditors and existing shareholders? So long as Youngman can do to Saab what Lenovo and Geely are doing to IBM (PC division) and Volvo, namely nowhere-near-the-top-in-their-industries but alive and well, I’m happy.

    1. ^^^THIS.

      BTW I would be VERY happy if SAAB would far just as good as Thinkpads do under Lenovo – at work I still don’t buy anything else for my business people, TPs are still at the top of the game (of professional/business laptop segment.)

  9. The scene at the Royal Oak sale is one I hate to imagine! I’m still clinging to my hopes of a Saab re-start…the thought of this happening at Saab in Sweden would indeed break my heart. Saab deserves better, and those without a soul, who continue to flourish, only do so on the US taxpayer’s dime…lest we forget.

  10. Hi Swade

    I am always a bit sceptical when potential bidders come out in the press declaring their intentions. It makes me wonder if they mainly look for publicity.

    I just hope the SAAB bid process will be over soon with the winner declared.

    Griffin Up !!!

      1. I would not be surprised if the “winner” is someone that never declared anything ….. or was never mentioned in the press

        Griffin Up !!!

  11. I would not be so quick to discount BMW. They are struggling with how to stretch Mini, yet provide an FWD alternative (even though studies show that many customers are unaware of the driven wheels. Until it snows.)
    36 months ago it would have seemed to be a silly idea, but since then think of the recovery of Jaguar, Chrysler even GM.
    We are enthusiasts but BMW are business men and could very well see a strong business case for buying well and developing the FWD brand thay have desired back to the Rover days – Land Rover was sold a they found that the brand could survive 4wd (the M cars can even survive being turbo charged). Mini was kept becuse FWD was to big a risk for the brand.
    As to whether it is a good idea, thats a whole other post. Money, creative freedom and great product saved JLR – Saab can emulate that success.

    1. Exactly. They are Germans, these people don’t do anything unless they have a solid plan including exit in case certain things wouldn’t work out as planned.
      That being said the question is if they want another brand so close to their core brand – Mini is nowhere near BMW so it’s harmless any way, cannot influence BMW sales either way (successful/flopping models.)

      1. The clash of sales is a red herring IMO. Sales are sales, consider Skoda. They were held back to avoid competition with VW, yet they prospered and grew because the product was good and what the market wanted.
        Saab would be more likely to attract customers who no longer drive BMWs but now drive Audis and Volvos.

  12. Hi Swade,
    i can’t express my sadness and emptiness about the Royal Oak fire sale,look at those pictures was like to desecrate a tomb,no respect for nothing,just businness,and the thing that hurt me much is that could have been avoidable if Swe gov had had the willingness to solve the issues in time,and not let things go without control.
    And please tell me if i ‘m wrong.
    I’m with SAAB since i was 21,my life grown with SAAB and think to open my workshop’s doors without any SAAB inside makes me feel lost…
    I hope for the best,but it’s not easy…
    Thanks for your help
    Ciao Luca.

    1. Brandon, I don’t see what one has to do with the other. My thoughts on whether it would be good or not don’t have any bearing on how likely it is.

      I didn’t have an assessment of how likely it was then but if I did, it probably would be the same as it is now – more unlikely than likely. That’s just gut feeling, not inside knowledge.

      BMW could possibly benefit from a Saab acquisition, but they’d probably say it’s debatable. And it would cost them money to do so. If GM’s spokes-idiot is to be believed, BMW would not have any access to current GM-based Saab tech and would therefore have to invest a lot more money before they build/sell a single car.

      BMW didn’t get to where they are by making ill-considered decisions (not too many of them, anyway). I’m not sure how much money they’d be willing to risk right now, in what is a very nervous European economic climate. VM’s ‘perfect storm’ has grown and is now working against Saab.

      1. Thanks for the clarification, Swade. I have to say however, coming from you (an enthusiast and insider whose insights I hold in high regard), this makes me very sad. First Brightwell’s departure, now BMW’s “unlikeliness”… I’ve done a decent job of staying staunchly positive this past year or so, but it’s growing increasingly difficult. I don’t want to live in a world without Saab.

        Who knows, perhaps Mahindra, or this mystery Swedish group, has something up their sleeve.

        🙁

      2. ” I’m not sure how much money they’d be willing to risk right now, in what is a very nervous European economic climate. VM’s ‘perfect storm’ has grown and is now working against Saab.”

        I’m not sure about it. It’s a highly profitable company, with (almost literally) infinite resources including cash and now is the time to buy great stuff for cheap. And if they want to beat back VW/Audi then they need more than their current high-end premium lineup, it’s pretty obvious, I think.
        OTOH this is exactly the reason why I am not sure if they would jump into this: would it make sense to position it below BMW…? I don’t know, I’m not privy to those numbers and, correct me if I’m wrong but I doubt you are either.
        I’d love to see it as a premium brand with a 9-5 successor but it won’t happen under BMW, it’s obvious (hey, we saw how well that worked for VM) so do I want to see a ~$25k 9-3…? A lot of people would but I would only go for it if there is no 9-5 and only for a fully-featured model..
        …Germans; they know what they are doing. 🙂

  13. I still think Mahindra was understood wrong when they spoke about Saab and ‘their’ SUV’s. Mahindra didn’t mean that Saab produces SUV’s but that they themself do and Saabs are a great expansion of their portfolio. Mahindra is known for making SUV’s and allroads and can even be seen on the European roads under the name SsangYong. This said, Mahindra is appearantly more then a noselength ahead of YM in getting cars on the Western roads.

  14. Szlevi, you have serious issues. Search out professional help for your anger and insecurities, they are glaringly obvious.