Too many Saab stories for just one headline.

True story: I remember a time when I was a young kid growing up in Melbourne. I was playing in our front yard. It was a summer’s day and the ground was dry, but the clouds were menacing. I heard a noise growing louder in the distance and as I stood up, I could see hard rain falling on Mrs Groves’ house, on the other side of the street. The rain moved slowly across the road towards our place and soon I was running towards the house, but I was soaked before I got to the door.

Sometimes you can see stuff coming but try as you might, you still can’t avoid it.

——

There have been a few interesting articles in the last few days that make a few interesting statements when it comes to Saab’s situation – if you’ve got the eyes to see and the memory to put them in context. They speak not only to Saab’s current sale status but also to the way some things happened as Saab struggled for life in 2011.

I should write to Saab’s bankruptcy administrators and ask for a commission. Every time I write that the sale to NEVS is imminent, Youngman submit what one has to presume is an improved offer. It’s not helping, though, because the process just drags on even longer and the only people acting as if Youngman are still a realistic prospect in this process are Youngman themselves.

Everyone else is acting and preparing for the fact that they won’t be buying Saab. Saab Parts AB provides one example.

The head of Sweden’s National Debt Office, Bo Lundgren, was happy to talk on the record last week about what they’ll have to do as Saab Parts AB’s long term owners if that’s how things turn out. They’re even looking at expanding into selling parts for other brands so as to prolong the life of the business. The presumption underpinning all this is twofold: 1) That Saab Parts AB will not be sold (as NEVS don’t want it), and 2) there won’t be any new Saabs like the old ones and therefore, Saab Parts AB’s major pool of customers will dry up within the decade.

Of course, it’s prudent to plan for both scenarios – Saab Parts AB being sold or being left unsold – but every article I read about this last week pointed to the unsold scenario.

Another article shown to me today comes from Bloomberg and is written by Ola Kinnander (who, personally speaking, is my most trusted journo in Sweden). The article is concerned with discussions over the use of the Saab name by a prospective new owner.

I can’t find an online link, but here’s part of what I received via email today:


Saab Brand Said to Be Final Hurdle in Carmaker’s Bankruptcy Sale
2012-06-11 13:09:20.826 GMT

By Ola Kinnander

June 11 (Bloomberg) — The right to use the Saab brand name is the last major hurdle in the sale of bankrupt Saab Automobile to a group led by a Japanese investment firm and a Chinese energy company, two people familiar with the situation said.

The bankruptcy administrators leading the disposal of the Swedish carmaker are trying to secure the right to use the Saab name and logo from defense company Saab AB and truckmaker Scania AB on behalf of the Chinese-Japanese group, said the people, who declined to be named as the talks are private. Saab AB, Saab Auto and Scania, once a single company, own the brand name together and must approve of its transfer to a new party.

“Regardless of who buys Saab Automobile, we need significant information about the plans that any potential new owner may have as it’s crucial that the brand name is taken care of properly,” Erik Ljungberg, Scania’s spokesman, said. “We’ve gotten some information, but some is still lacking.” Scania has met with representatives of the consortium to discuss the brand issue, Ljungberg said, declining to say whether it has also met with other bidders.

Perhaps importantly, in terms of an outcome……

“It’s important that the future owner of Saab Automobile has a similar view of the brand that we do and that the use of the brand name doesn’t conflict with the businesses that we and Scania represent. We still lack some key information to be able to proceed with this.”

Once again, you have a key player in this whole scenario acting like it’s a fait accompli in terms of a sale to NEVS. The only question is whether or not me writing those words again will trigger another raised bid from Youngman :-)

——

At the top of the article I mentioned not only indicators, but also some memory triggers. Let’s get to those. Please note, this section might make some people unhappy, which is OK. Everybody’s unhappy with something when it comes to this whole debacle. This might simply add to a long list for a few readers.

First of all, let’s head back to that article about the NDO preparing to own Saab Parts AB for the long term.

The NDO is an arm of the Swedish Government. That’s the same Swedish Government that basically did nothing to help Saab during the company’s troubles and yes, it’s the same Swedish Government that vowed not to end up owning a car company.

OK, this is a parts company rather than a car company, but the principle remains intact. Not only do we see them now owning the parts company, they’re planning on expanding its operations so as to prolong its life.

On one hand, I’m quite happy for them to be thinking this way. I have former colleagues and friends who are now working for Saab Parts AB and their associated offices around the world. I’m pleased that the NDO is doing something that will secure their collective futures. I also accept and understand that the NDO owns this company not by choice, but by necessity. It’s right that they try and build value into the company.

However, it’s ironic that a government so opposed to helping Saab for the sake of gaining some political capital now owns, and will seek to build up, part of the Saab business that they were so reluctant to get involved with.

Saab didn’t want, and never asked for, government ownership in Sweden. All Saab wanted was some help and cooperation. The cost of that help and cooperation would have been many times less than the costs now incurred by the Swedish Government having to support, subsidise and/or re-train so many displaced Saab employees. The only scenario under which the Swedish taxpayer would have been out of pocket was a failure by Saab, which is exactly what the government helped to bring about by their politics and to no small extent, by their negligence.

The Swedish Government? May the fleas of a thousand camels infest their armpits!

The second article that interested me was one that included a quote from FKG, a supplier industry body in Sweden.

The head of the Swedish automotive suppliers’ association FKG, Fredrik Sidahl, told Sweden’s Sveriges Radio that he would be disappointed if Saab’s new owners planned to build electric cars.

“We had hoped that it would be a buyer who intended to continue to build some Saab models,” he said. “If it is electric cars, there is no volume production.”

Again, I had some friends that worked for companies that were suppliers to Saab. They suffered along with Saab employees when the bankruptcy came, some of them losing their jobs even before it came.

BUT……

I personally find it hard to sympathise with Mr Sidahl about FKG’s situation. I don’t have time to look back at all the articles from the time to see if it was FKG or CLEPA (or both), but my memory is seared with statements by supplier groups just after Saab’s factory shut down back in April 2011. Statements to the effect that Saab/Spyker couldn’t be trusted. Statements saying that the company was unreliable, etc.

There was one particular representative from one of these supplier groups who seemed to relish every opportunity to talk our business down. This hurt a lot because the Swedish press reports were already at a fever pitch when it came to Saab stories. Saab had a cash shortage at the time and payments did fall behind. We acknowledged that, took responsibility for it and tried to rectify the situation (remember, it was a much smaller and much more manageable problem at the time of the initial shutdown and could have been fixed).

The response to our attempts? The Swedish government stonewalled prospective deals that could have assisted our cashflow and our suppliers decided, acting in solidarity as a single group, that they wouldn’t deliver any parts to Saab.

Of course, the longer it dragged on, the more precarious the situation became and as that happened, suppliers could be justified for their position.

But in those initial stages after the shutdown, a time when Saab could have traded their way out of this problem (sales were starting to grow again and new models were imminent), what we got – amongst other things – was an endless thrashing from the head of one supplier group and a group action from suppliers to not deliver parts. This was part of (not all of) the initial momentum that drove Saab into a downward spiral leading to a more severe business climate and eventually, to Saab’s bankruptcy.

Bottom line: I’m sorry that those supplier organisations are in a difficult position, but they did point the gun at their own foot more than once.

Swade

Ex-Saab blogger, multiple Saab and Alfa Romeo owner and football tragic.

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36 Responses

  1. maanders says:

    Preach it, brother Swade!

    • maanders says:

      Now, can your figure out something to write that will get Mahindra to come back and take over all this nonsense? :-)

  2. Simon says:

    The Swedish Government? A pox on their houses.

  3. Flattail says:

    Nice writing, as always. Suck it Swedish Gov’t! Have we heard if M&M ever placed an actual bid? There was a post on SU from someone with presumably insider knowledge of M&M that said they would not pay much for the mess that was left over and the reasons why. Too bad…

    • Troy says:

      I realy hope the best for Saab. I love Saab cars but, I am not for bailouts. GM should have gone out of business fo good. I have a business and if it doesn’t make a profit it’s done, no buts about it. I know Saab was screwed by GM but that’s the way it is. Someone either buy it or let it die. It’s really that simple. Maybe it already is dead and we just don’t know it yet. Seriously, Saab will go down in history as a company that had so much potential. Too bad it never had a chance to reach it because they were so damn close. I hope the parts are still around after a decade because I still plan on driving my 2007 9-5 Aero many decades to come.

      • davidgmills says:

        Yeah but your business does not affect the national economy, the national security, the state of the national level of technology or the environment, or a whole host of other things. Industries that do affect society that way, probably deserve some help from the government.

      • Rune says:

        In addition to what davidgmills said, I would like to draw your attention towards the amount of taxes paid in Sweden.

        Somewhere between 40% and 50% is lost to he government. (see http://www.ekonomifakta.se/sv/Fakta/Skatter/Rakna-pa-dina-skatter/Rakna-ut-din-skatt/)

        I think it is fair to expect a certain level of service from SweGov in return!

        To be more precise, what I would have liked to see last year was (among other things):
        #1: Faster (and more transparent) handling of the Antonov-question (not just “let us wait and see what EIB says” while conspiring with EIB to deny Antonov and drag the whole thing out in time)
        #2: E.g. Germany pays about half the salary of people who would have been otherwise laid off as a consequence of the 2009 financial crisis. AFAICT such an action would certainly have helped Saab.

        Neither constitutes a “bailout”, but both could have saved the company and saved the tax payers a lot of money. Win-win.

  4. Paul says:

    All these calls saying that GM should have been out of business for good, or for Saab that matter, forgets one small but major point: The credit markets had completely frozen up.What killed GM etc.. was that they couldn’t get cash out of banks (and that they had been following the bankers advice for years on how to leverage their assets. Remember GM was once described as a finance company that built cars, that’s not too far off the mark).

    Even Ford said that if they hadn’t leverage when they did, there was no way they would have remained out of bankruptcy. Moreover, if GM had gone down, it would have taken Ford and the suppliers with it (read Steve Ratners book on the issue).

    Of course it would be nice if the home owners got a similar deal to the banks but that’s wishful thinking on my part.

    • Troy says:

      Good point, but. I work with a retired GM employee. He just got a letter stating that he can take a buyout of his pension for $650,000. Funny how a company that was broke less than 2 years ago and still owes taxpayers billions of dollars is buying out pensions before paying back the Government. Chrysler did it. I think GM sucks period. Should have let them die.

      • Paul says:

        And it would be a big mistake to take it. What GM has calculated is that if this person stays on their books, the financial liability is 27 years. So say his pension is $65,000 a year. Then if he takes the $650K then they save 17 years worth of liability. And he’ll find that he’ll be broke if he lived longer than 10 years.

        And for the Government it was still cheaper to sort them out that having 1 million people get unemployment benefit (and no taxes to the government) for the next three years.

        I’m always perplexed about how americans seem to think its ok to screw pensioners and poor. I’ve lived in the states for 12 years and it still shocks me that basic services (food, water etc..) are considered a gift, not a right (e.g. if the economy was so great then why do 44 million require food stamps to stop them from staving? Answer, because they can’t get a living wage).

        • davidgmills says:

          I’ve been an American my entire 62 years. And what I can’t understand about Americans is that they will absolutely be livid if they think their neighbor down the street got an extra $10 in monthly food stamps he shouldn’t have got, but don’t get at all upset about the hedge fund guy who made a billion last year.

          • Amy says:

            I agree completely David. That’s the fascinating part of the Tea Party. Heaven forbid some poor, single mother gets an extra $50/mo out of welfare…. but no worries about the bankers robbing us blind and paying ZERO taxes or hiding their money in offshore accounts. The former results in cries of “government is too big” and “welfare is unpatriotic” but the latter is simply “just business”. The sense of decency, common sense and balance is seriously out of whack and it is based on fear. Of what? I’m not sure.

        • troy says:

          You’ve got to provide for yourself to survive. Watch out for family, friends, and fellow Americans. Help the less fortunate through donations, volunteering, and tithing. It shouldn’t be entirely on the back of the Government. Government entitlements are getting out of hand.

          • Amy says:

            I can guarantee this: If GM had been allowed to fail it would have taken America with it. Ford, Chrysler, all parts suppliers, all manufacturing across all sectors would have felt the shockwave. You think Detroit suffered with the recession/bailout combo, imagine if the big three failed. It would be a scene out of Blade Runner. You probably can’t imagine because you’re not in the manufacturing world. But I am, and grew up in it. Not to be too dramatic, but if GM had failed, Mexico would collapse, Australia and Europe would be reeling, China would stop having anything to do with us, India would’ve second-guessed any associations beyond finance. I don’t think you grasp the breadth and width of American manufacturing, nor the size and reach GM has amassed over its lifetime. No doubt the collapse would reverberate through all the attorneys, dentists, doctors, banks, churches, schools, grocery stores, local governments too once the big three collapsed and all those “private sector” jobs had no one to sponge off of. Cuz guess what? GM goes down, Ford and Chrysler go too. And absolutely no one is standing around to take their place. It’s not like banking or an internet start up. Manufacturing is a market that contains massive amounts of infrastructure. That is a fact.Who knows what a GM collapse would do to the other automakers- no doubt send them screaming to shut down operations and control damage.
            I guess I’m just suggesting you be careful of what you wish for.

  5. Tulsaab says:

    Well said, as always, Swade. The past year for Saab has been a perfect example of many parties being at best, short sighted, and at worst, malicious, leading to where we are today. I’m crossing my fingers that the DB Schenkers (who stopped delivering to the plant, leading to the work stoppage in 3/2011 which eventually sunk the company) , the Mauds, the Lofalks, the GMs, and everyone else who have tried so hard to sink Saab have had their fun and moved on, and will let NEVS or whoever else keep the brand alive and production in Trollhattan.

  6. Peter says:

    “The Swedish Government? May the fleas of a thousand camels infest their armpits!”

    Where’s the like button Swade?

  7. TTAero says:

    Well put Swade!
    But I for one hasn’t made up my mind yet when it comes to the Nevs. It might not be so far from what SAAB was planning, (Swade?) but without the “luxury” of having an income of selling cumbustion engine cars during the development face.
    So, if they do not “want” SAAB Parts, it might just be a choice of having funds to develop the hybrid cars SAAB was planing and still be around when they are ready for market the cars?

    But this is pure speculation and as I said, my mind is not set yet.

    • Bernard says:

      To be fair, they do not “want” Saab Parts at the current offer price, which is reportedly higher than the rest of Saab combined.

      The NDO is effectively committed to running Saab Parts in the medium term, so this may be a good business decision.
      They can always make an offer on the parts business at a later date.

  8. rask says:

    To be fair, Fredrik was not around when the first bashing started and have been a big supporter of Saab from the beginning since he took the position of head of FKG. I know him from my day’s at Caran (Consultancy group) and upon congratulating him on his new job, I asked him to give Saab a break. And to be fair, he has been very supportive of Saab the whole way. One reason could also that he once used to be a Saab employee and has a soft spot for Saab.

    Fredrik replaced Sven-Åke Berglie who did do quite a bit of bashing in the beginning of the whole payment situation. So I do understand your frustration and your lack of sympathy for FKG.

    But after all, you have to agree that electric car/hybrid operations only with limited production is far less than what we all hoped for…

  9. Markac says:

    I’m quite sure if NEVS was to open a drain, the Swedish government will race to pour taxpayers money down it.

    Please Mahindra, buy Saab now. If you do, I promise to eat curry once a week for the rest of my life!

  10. nickX says:

    i just don’t understand nevs’ plans. would nevs sell any automotive product under the saab brand name, while not supporting the brand itsself, e.g. take care of saab parts?
    my guess is, nevs won’t use the saab name, because they don’t care for the saab owner of today. they can’t expect us to buy their product, after they let us down, do they?

  11. Andrew Robertson says:

    So, do the Suppliers come on board with new hybrid type parts?
    Or do they get shipped in from Beijing?
    That’ll shut them up.

    How does the song go again?…”Money, money, money….”

  12. Terry9000k says:

    It has been reported Saab Parts AB is only worth about 1.1bil, even though it’s debts to the NDO is 2.2bil.

    They have little choice but to attempt to expand the business in the future, otherwise it’s value will decrease not increase.
    Looking at the last few years & the demise of elkparts.com, they have a long job on their hands.

    The whole senerio is just becoming ‘to many chief’s & not enough Indians’ [that's not to many chinese {YM}& not enough Indians{M&M}]. but to many Politics & not enough businessman].

    • Rune says:

      Maybe SweGov dragging out the negotiations last summer helped cut the value of Saab Parts?

      It certainly did not make it easier to keep parts stocked…

      To me it looks a bit like bad karma is returning to bite SweGov in the foot.

  13. saabdude says:

    I also find it quite perplexing that back in 2009 & 2010 NO ONE in the Swedish government wanted anything at all to do with owning/running/bailing out/helping SAAB. Yet, now the NDO seem more than happy to run SAAB Parts. Huh?

    Just one more example of why I put ALL politicians right below pond scum on the food chain.

  14. Haakan says:

    Swade,
    just to make sure that I understand you right here…
    you think that the suppliers shoud have not stopped deliveries to Saab despite all the broken promises that Saab made that “the check is in the mail”… we will pay next week…. there is a bug in our computer system…. we will never file for bancrupcy etc.

    Trust and credit is something that you earn, nothing that you can demand like Saab did at the end.

    How many months do you think that the suppliers should have extended Saabs credit and how much should we have put at risk in supporting Saab? Our work? Our companies? The financial safety of our families?

    • maanders says:

      I think his point may be that if the trust had been maintained for a few more months, would Saab have been able to dig out of the hole without going bankrupt?

      Now that Saab has gone bankrupt, everyone lost. The suppliers are having to wait to get some money back from the estate sale. The new owners may or may not have new business for the suppliers. But there was pending demand in Europe based on the good reviews of the low CO2 9-3 models and demand for the 9-5 sportcombi that was about to ship. That combined with good reviews and potential sales of the 9-4X in the U.S. might have turned the corner for Saab and then meaning more business for the suppliers too.

      Of course, nothing was guaranteed, and we know the suppliers were hurting also. The question is would a few more months have made the difference for the future….to be in a better spot than things are now?

    • Swade says:

      Haakan,

      Go back and read that section again. I was talking about the suppliers actions right at the beginning of the stoppage. Suppliers decided together to cease supply very quickly after Schenker stopped delivery. That cut off Saab’s revenue immediately which meant there was no chance of trading our way out without doing an extra deal (which the government wouldn’t allow, as it turned out).

      Of course, as months went on it became harder and harder for everyone and I don’t blame suppliers for withholding then.

      But at first, there was a panic reaction by everyone, partly due to late payment (which was 100% Saab’s fault) and partly due to the fear climate surrounding Saab thanks to a white-hot media environment.

      All I’m saying is – it could have been done differently and I think there would have been a good chance we’d all be better off.

  15. Haakan says:

    Swade,
    please….. Saab was way late with paying suppliers when production stopped in April. Invoices that should have been paid in November or December was unpaid in April. And then suppliers asked about their outstanding invoices calls was never returned or there where a kinds of excuses or promises never came true.

    • Swade says:

      I understand that, Haakan. Schenker and others didn’t decide to take action because payments were up to date and they just felt like being mischievous. They had a grievance and that’s fair enough. But a complete stop by everyone under those circumstances left no options for anyone.

      Let me be clear – Saab’s situation is its own fault. I am not trying to divert any of the blame here. This bankruptcy is ultimately a result of Saab’s own actions and a failed product and sales strategy.

      But other parties to this situation made decisions, too, and those decisions had consequences of their own. Whether it’s the uniform decision to stop supply or the way matters were addressed in public, the supplier side did take certain actions that had consequences.

      In the article I placed a greater emphasis on their public statements and I still think that was an important factor that I hope the leadership of FKG and CLEPA have learned lessons from. I know we’re talking about payments and supply here, but I just wanted to reinject that into the conversation because the supply issue (whilst you and I differ on the extent of it) was much more understandable to me. The public nature of the conversation was not.

      • Swade says:

        Perhaps this is a statement you can agree with:

        If all parties – Saab, SweGov and FKG/CLEPA – could have a chance to do 2011 over again from start to finish, then perhaps they might all have learned a few lessons and they might change a few things. I know Saab need to. I submit that the others might as well.

        • 100%Saab says:

          Alas, no one ever gives you the time back. In the end one can only control their own response.

        • Haakan says:

          I agree 100% that there are lessons to be lernt here. One of them beeing that the suppliers should have stopped deiveries earlier. The supplier contracts with GM or Saab never allowed enough margin for the suppier to be used as Saab bank when financing became a problem. In Apri when production stopped, many suppliers was already taking big risks to loose their entire business. And some did as you know. Suggesting that they should accomodate even bigger risks in April 2011 and keep on suppying is a bit much I think.

          One big failure apart from marketing and prodct strategy was the communication. One thing that made the suppliers very nervous was all the bold statemenst about production numbers, new products just around the corner, how well everything was going when we could see from orders, payments, factory output etc. that it wasn’t. It seams as there was a lot of “make believe” going on at Saab at that time. Messages that might was ringing out well in the media to the general public but I think that everyone that was in the loop saw that it was fiction. This and the announcement that JAJ was leaving (for what ever reasons) was like a big neonsign saying that there where problems. To further exend Saabs credits in this situation just a decission that coud not be taken. Remeber that many suppliers was risking it for the third time in two years. First the reconstruction of Saab where there was a 75% loss, then the bad hisory of credit and overdue invoices already building up and then beeing asked to further exend credit into an uncertain future.

          • Swade says:

            A few questions, Haakan:

            Did you consider stopping deliveries, earlier? If so, what made you decide against it? And how are things going now?

            I can only write articles like these from the perspective I had at the time. I had just joined the company after having followed it for a number of years (as you might know). From what I could see, there was a lot of frustration on the inside, too. Not only did we have to try and cover arrears, we were asked to pay in advance before deliveries, which I don’t think was ever going to be possible.

            Again, as mentioned, I’m more sympathetic towards the financial situation. My main beef was the public statements made by the heads of the supplier organisations. They stoked the fire and made the situation more difficult for all concerned. Stuff like that should have been kept indoors.

            For Saab’s part, as far as communication is concerned, statements were pretty much controlled by the executive leadership team under the guidance of the Spyker board. The information was kept very close to people’s chests. For someone in my position – a communications role, it was very frustrating.

          • Haakan says:

            The decission to stop deliveries was not an easy one and was not taken in a panic mode. I think that it is even fair to say that the decision to keep deliveries was clouded by the personal relations that we had with people at Saab. We wanted to give these persons all the breaks we could give them and we wanted Saab to survive. From a strict business point deliveries should have stopped earlier.
            But as you say that with a failed product, sales, financial, and communications strategy, it was very hard to see how you would have made things work again. I don’t see how you could have traded youself out of the situation.
            All we could see was a partly paralyzed management that did not take the necessary decissions. For instance not reducing the workfore but keeping them on without any production going on. As if production could be restarted within a week, but of course we knowed (as beeing suppliers and knowing about the parts, leadtimes, subcomponents etc.) that starting the production again was just not going to be an overnight thing. It would take months and cost a fortune.