Joran Hagglund’s book about Saab sale gets briefed

Various news services are coming out with snippets and quotes from Joran Hagglund’s new book about his time involved with the sale of Saab.

This translation is from SvD and was provided by Arild.

Some commentary from my own point of view follows the excerpts.

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Hagglund reveals GM’s hidden agenda

Saab Automobile was supposed to be doomed.

General Motors had early on decided to close down Saab but to the public GM gave a different impression.

That there really was a hidden agenda and an internal power struggle is revealed by the government’s car crises man, Secretary of State Jöran Hägglund (C) – who himself had preferred to see Fiat as the new Saab owner.

With just over a week left before the election Jöran Hägglund choose with a book, which TT has been a part of, to give his view of the 18 months when it stormed the worst around Saab.

While he describes the events from the inside, he gives continuous stabs at the political opposition.

“Foolish, opportune and irresponsible is the adjective that are closest to describe the three parties’ actions.” Throughout the book Hägglund repeats the government choice to not go in as the owner. That was the GM’s wish when the car giant trembled.

“We were frankly furious with them,” said Hägglund.

He and the others in the government’s vehicles work group had been repeatedly surprised by GM’s management’s ambivalence about what it wanted with Saab. The only thing that mattered was the scenario that was most favourable to GM.

When the worst was over and Saab had a second chance with Spyker Cars as the new owner, Hägglund writes in his book that he got “the proof of the existence of different agendas in GM’s top management”.

It was in May when Enrico Digirolamo, then GM Europe’s chief finance officer and the guy who handled the issue of Saab, said that GM already in early 2009 had decided to close Saab and he had had to work hard for a sale instead.

In the spring of that year there was a hunt for a buyer in which GM eventually chose the three candidates Renco Group, Merbanco (which later turned out to be run by an enthusiast who had gone bankrupt) and Koenigsegg Group, which became the preferred candidate for the final negotiation. Chinese Geely and BAIC was rejected.

Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne himself contacted the Swedish government, but did not find favour with GM. The government, however, ranked Fiat highest both industrial and financial, followed by the Chinese companies, writes Hägglund.

After Koenigsegg pulled out, Spyker Cars’ CEO Victor Muller worked hard to get a meeting with the government. The meeting made an impression.

It was like a kitchen fan passing by, Jöran Hägglund sums it up, confirming that Spyker was first stopped because of the Russian banker Vladimir Antonov’s ownership.

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And the following was published in DI.se (I’ve only selected a bit that was additional to the SvD article):

…..But Hagglund believe that GM chief Fritz Henderson’s wife played a crucial role. She drove a Saab convertible fact, and according to Hägglund Henderson could not come home with a closure notice to her.

Then tried to get GM Swedish government to take over much of the ownership, says Joran Hagglund for DI.

In the spring of 2009 Swedish Koenigsegg stepped forward as a buyer.

A little short, according to Hagglund.

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Hagglund’s role in the successful sale of Saab cannot be underestimated. The sale wasn’t going to happen without government support and he became the point man for the government’s efforts.

I really hope there’s an English translation of this book as I’d love to read his point of view.

I don’t particularly like his short-selling of the Koenigsegg Group, because in my estimation they were very serious buyers who were seriously let down by the government departments they were supposed to be relying on. If Hagglund offers no criticism of his own department’s work in the first stage of this drama (i.e. up until late November) then I think he’s probably being a little disingenuous.

Some of you might read the bit about Merbanco with some surprise, but that information was communicated here on the website early this year. Basically, CJ declared personal bankruptcy in November 2009 (IIRC), a fact I became aware of in early January. He was the spokesman for Merbanco, but wasn’t the financial strength in the group and it’s my understanding that his personal circumstances wouldn’t have disqualified him from acting in the capacity he was seeking. Of course, it made for an impossible political situation as far as dealing with Swedish government loan guarantees were concerned and it’s my understanding that Merbanco’s bid for Saab was not seriously considered by the powers that be after this became known.

CJ’s and Merbanco’s continued interest in Saab was, however, still a factor in there being continued competition for the company. From a personal point of view, CJ was very helpful in understanding the processes that were taking place. He was, and remains, a friend of Saab and a friend of this website and his personal circumstances are a technical fact that aren’t material to any of that.

Cowboy Up!

The final thing I’d like to say is thank goodness the Swedish Government didn’t get their way and throw Saab into Fiat’s court. It would have been bad enough being one of a million brands under Fiat’s control, but imagine how much worse it would become after Fiat acquired Chrysler – and I don’t believe for a second that a Saab acquisition would have stopped them from continuing with the addition of Chrysler.

Saab wouldn’t have made anywhere near the progress it already has if it were under Fiat’s control.

Reading just these few notes, seeing that GM quite possibly had plans to close Saab all along, it makes me all the more happy that we didn’t sit around and let it happen quietly. The fact that we fought a pretty good, and very noisy fight means so much more now.

Thanks to Arild and to Jorgen for the translations.

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