The corporate speak in GM’s turnaround plan submitted to the US Congress says the following:
GM will also immediately undertake and expedite a strategic review of the Saab brand globally.
Just to make sure we’re all on the same page here, that means GM are looking to sell Saab, and maybe they’ll try and do it quickly.
It’s way too early to know what form that sale will take. Will Saab still be able to make its current and planned models under a new owner? Nobody knows, though it stands to reason that GM won’t make much money out of a sale without some sort of agreement of that nature.
What staff could Saab retain in the event of a sale?
There’s so many variables in that question that it’s almost impossible to answer. It’ll depend on who the buyer is, where their operations will be based, what salaries and conditions they could offer and the direction they’d like Saab to take. Saab lost Taras Czornyj in 2006 largely because he didn’t want to move to Germany with many of the other Saab designers. Who knows how many of the Saab designers who did make the move back then are still happy with their decisions.
Imagine you’re a Saab executive and in order to stay with the company that you might have worked for for 20+ years, you’ve got to learn to speak Mandarin. Are you going to do that or seek a job at Opel?
And what of the customers?
For me, personally, I know I’ll be watching quite closely to see who the next buyer might be. Some might cite the example of Tata/Jaguar and the subsequent success of the Jaguar XF as a good sign, but the XF was more or less set in stone when the deal was done. Jaguar’s next products will be the standard by which the deal should be judged.
Saab buyers are generally a fairly discerning type. There’ll be a lot of people watching to see how this sale takes shape. I think the retention of a Swedish base for Saab is going to be crucial in people’s acceptance of the new entity and any buyer who ignores this does so at their peril.
My first reactions this morning were a mixture of anger and relief.
On the one hand, GM have taken from Saab a whole lot more than they’ve given to Saab. They’ve pinched engineering and design talent that they’ll be able to benefit from for years to come. Sure, they’ve sunk some money into the brand over the years, but Saab would be such a small line item on their annual budget that it’s barely a blip on their corporate radar.
If Saab can’t retain some of their talented staff under a new owner, then there’s every chance that GM have literally sucked the company dry and are now tossing them aside, a-la MG Rover a few years ago.
GM ignored Saab for a long, long time. They really only noticed them around 2003 or so when they put their foot on Saab’s throat over some costly model developments with the 9-3.
Now, just when things are looking promising again, they’re willing to toss Saab aside in a gesture as fickle as Rick Wagoner’s $1 a year salary offer. Saab’s reduction to a mere symbol annoys me to no end, especially when GM tout their new adoration for four cylinder engines, turbocharging and flex fuel technologies.
On the other hand, though, there’s a fair bit of relief in all this, too. If there’s a good buyer in the wings and if GM are smart about it, both they and Saab can benefit from the separation. A good buyer might just allow Saab to return closer to its roots, building truly engaging and surprisingly practical Swedish cars.
BRING BACK THE HATCH!!!
If GM can woo a good owner for Saab and if that new owner can get some good models into Saab’s range, then it’s going to be a real win for Saab fans. It’s fair to say that there’s a bit of a stigma in the GM name and I, for one, will be fairly happy to brush that off and regain a little of that state of independance.
That last paragaph might make it sound like I don’t want GM to do well. That’s not correct.
I’ve been a supporter of GM’s ownership of Saab in the last few years and I don’t step back from that for a second. GM’s stake in Saab allowed the name to continue and for that, I’m thankful.
But I’m also mindful of the fact that they’ve done relatively little to advance Saab’s cause in the last 19 years. Saab have been feeding off the crumbs from GM’s table. If a new owner can come along and ensure a better future, then I’ll happily wave goodbye to GM and wish them well for the future.
Bottom Line: Aside from the work they have to do to sell Saab to a new owner, I really couldn’t give a rat’s what happens to GM as a car company, but I hope for the sake of the people they employ that they survive.
My heart is with Saab. No apologies for that.
There’s still room to worry, though
There’s a lot of IF’s in this story and that’s because the future right now is totally unknown.
GM’s review of Saab is 99.9% likely to come to a conclusion that the brand should be loosed from GM portfolio. Whether that means a sale or a shut down and mothballing isn’t clear right now.
One thing to bear in mind here: the Trollhattan plant isn’t a Saab facility, it’s a GM facility. When the Swedish government says that it will work with Saab to retain manufacturing at Trollhattan, that means they’ll work with GM to try and ensure that’s the case.
If Saab are closed down and GM can manufacture some other product there and keep the car industry dollars flowing, then the government will be quite satisfied with that outcome.
As well as closure of the brand, there’s also the prospect of a bad owner coming along. Bad ownership could take many forms and perhaps the worst of them would involve plain and simple ignorance to Saab’s brand heritage and history.
Saab are admired in some circles for their loyal core customer base, but I have a feeling that would dry up fairly quickly if Saab circa 2010 produces econobox trolleys for the budget conscious shopper.
Wait and see
This is all really fresh right now.
I tried three times to get hold of Eric Geers last night, around 10 hours or so before this plan came out. Not surprisingly, he was tied up all day. Now we know why.
Just how much information we’ll be able to get about the process is unknown at the moment, so it’s going to be a wait and see proposition.
Like you, I’m really hoping for a good outcome. Out of every hardship comes opportunity and whilst today seems like the end of Saab to many, there’s also the chance – however slim – that it could be a new and exciting beginning.