Who I’d like to see as Saab’s new owner

Thanks to all who voted in the Who would you like to see as Saab’s new owner poll and shared some thoughts via comments.

The outcome was interesting, to say the least. The three known players had very different results, with Mahindra getting 64% of the vote, Youngman just 15% and the Sino/Japanese electric consortium just 2% of the vote. Any unknown potential suitors gathered the remaining 19% of the vote.

So Mahindra are the popular winner.

Who do I think should become Saab’s new owner? Let me break down my answer into two separate parts for you.

Fantasy owner

We have three known bidders for Saab and perhaps – just perhaps – there might be one or more other bidders who have kept their identity quiet. I should say that in my opinion, the likelihood of there being more bidders who manage to stay completely under the radar to be very small. From an historical viewpoint, the identity of a company contemplating such a significant transaction usually ends up in the public domain.

That said, if there was someone flying under the radar, my hope would remain that it would be BMW. They’ve never confirmed such deep interest as far as I know but if they were interested in Saab, it would be a very outcome. Johan summed it up pretty well in comments:

[BMW are] one of the few owners that would instantly restore confidence. They also have the funds. Leading technology and great fun on both front and back wheel drive.

I can’t add much more than that.

I actually think Saab would give BMW more front-wheel-drive flexibility than Mini. While Mini is an icon in the motor industry, one that BMW has milked very well indeed, Mini is also afflicted by the motor industry’s equivalent of typecasting. A Mini is a Mini and BMW have pretty much exhausted the variations, to varied levels of success. A Saab can be big, small, a sedan, wagon, convertible or hatch with no real betrayal to the brand’s DNA.

But this is living in fantasy land. Best not spend too much time there.

Real life owner

My choice from the known players has to go with the majority vote here – Mahindra.

Mahindra are a strong company with a multi-national business in heavy machinery and they obviously have an interest in building up their passenger car business. Saab is a damaged near-premium brand, but it’s still got a few things you can’t build overnight – history and expertise. They’re elements that could bring much to Mahindra’s existing business.

It’s tempting to look at Tata and JLR and daw parallels, but I’d be cautious in doing this. The challenges with Saab are much bigger. JLR had products developed and no restrictions (that we know of) from Ford on using them. Saab’s new owner won’t have such luxury. I believe that Mahindra do have the broad base and discipline to develop what Saab can offer, however.

The difficult part is that we’re working without much public access to Mahindra, with next-to-no knowledge of their intentions. I’m still cautiously optimistic, however, about what they’d like to do with Saab and their ability to invest.

One encouraging act on the part of the administrators is the retention of a number of key Saab staff. This will make the re-start process easier than what it might have been. Sure, many other key staff have moved on, but I can tell you that there are good people in place.

The others?

Youngman – they’ve played the public relations game quite well. Retaining operations in Trollhattan, etc, etc. They’ve flown influential people to China to see their facilities and they’ve received quite a sympathetic ear from the Swedish press. None of this changes my opinion of their capability. I simply don’t believe, based on my own limited knowledge and brief conversations with people who’ve dealt with them, that they’re capable of running this company successfully, nor do I believe in their long-term ambitions.

I’m quite open to being convinced otherwise, but the little that I know isn’t encouraging at all.

The electric consortium? Let’s not even go there.

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I fully expect Mahindra to win the day and I hope we’ll hear something to that effect in the near term.