December 18, 2009: the day Saab nearly died

It was exactly a year ago today that I wrote an entry entitled GM will close the Saab brand.

  • Saab Sale Cannot Be Concluded
  • Brand to be Wound Down

Detroit. General Motors announced today that the intended sale of Saab Automobile AB would not be concluded. After the withdrawal of Koenigsegg Group AB last month, GM had been in discussions with Spyker Cars about its interest in acquiring Saab. During the due diligence, certain issues arose that both parties believe could not be resolved. As a result, GM will start an orderly wind-down of Saab operations.

“Despite the best efforts of all involved, it has become very clear that the due diligence required to complete this complex transaction could not be executed in a reasonable time. In order to maintain operations, Saab needed a quick resolution,” said GM Europe President Nick Reilly. “We regret that we were not able to complete this transaction with Spyker Cars. We will work closely with the Saab organization to wind down the business in an orderly and responsible manner. This is not a bankruptcy or forced liquidation process. Consequently, we expect Saab to satisfy debts including supplier payments, and to wind down production and the distribution channel in an orderly manner while looking after our customers.”

It was black day and seemed like the end to what had been a 12-month roller-coaster ride.

Of course, it was not to be. Spyker persisted. Saab were sold and here we stand today with Saab designing, producing and selling new cars as an independent company.

I think just this once, on this one-year anniversary, that it’s worth remembering where Saab have come from. Accordingly, I asked a few people what they remember from December 18, 2009.

Their answers are below, as is my own.

——

Victor Muller – CEO, Spyker Cars, who was trying to buy a car company at the time….

It was hell. I got the message from Scott Mackie (from GM) late on the 17th that the deal was off and on the 18th, we had what looked like a complete collapse. Earlier on the 17th, everything was cruising along OK and we were very close to closing the deal. Then I got the call, with them saying they’d hit a road block and were going to close the company down.

I was livid. I was in total disbelief. I made as many calls as I could just to try and understand what was happening.

The next day, on the 18th, I was at Schipol airport waiting to fly to Stockholm because we were going to close the deal in Stockholm. GM were saying “were going to issue the press release today saying we’re closing things down” and I had to tell them “don’t you dare do anything before I get there.” That flight was the longest two hour flight of my life.

Of course the press release was written. Later that day, Jan-Ake went with the minister back to Trollhattan. I flew to London with Vladimir Antonov and all I remember is being completely and utterly wrecked. We’d had weeks of negotiations and hard work. We hadn’t slept. We just sat in the plane and looked at each other with hollow eyes.

After sleeping on it, I woke up the next morning and made some calls, basically saying that the only way to proceed would be to remove Vladimir from the team and he literally said to me “Whatever it takes”. This guy was a real hero, after going through what he went through that day, he just said “whatever it takes” so that the deal could be done.

That same day we revised our offer, removing all points of contention. It put a lot of pressure back on GM because there was a willing buyer still in the room, putting up everything that they wanted. If we were going to go down, it was only after having thrown absolutely everything at this.

The 17th December to the 7th January was a black time. Except for a small period on Christmas Day where I watched three hours of TV just to escape, I cannot remember a single good memory from that time.

Here we are, a year later. It was worth every sleepless night.

Jan-Ake Jonsson – President and CEO, Saab Automobile

I woke up in Stockholm as my mobile phone rang at 6.45 am. The day before was, as usual, late with work so I ignored the phone. 5 minutes later it rang again and I looked at it and the display said Nick Reilly (from GM Europe).

From there on it was a tough day, where the focus for me was around communication with all the people that had worked so hard for the success of Saab.

A tough day that I would like to forget.

Magnus Hansson – at that time, Global Product Manager, now Regional Director, Nordic.

Dec 18, 2009. A day I will never forget. Started out in eager anticipation as we were all looking forward to the sale of Saab finally being closed in Stockholm later in the afternoon. Exhausted after a long process but looking forward to a celebration, a Xmas break and then ready to go full speed after New Years with all the fun ahead of us.

In fact, we had planned a Friday evening year-end party with the Global Product team I was heading at that time. Little did we know just how much we would be needing the beers that night…..

When the news broke I was sitting together with Knut Simonsson (Director, Marketing) in his room and the two of us were bouncing new 9-5 launch ideas & pricing in great spirits (& creativity I might add). Obviously shock, disbelief, anger and then just an incredible emptiness. I felt the Saab spirit stronger than ever in the friendship we all enjoyed but after calming down, I guess all of us felt anger and a sense of unfair decisions & circumstances pulling the rug from beneath our feet.

It really was a lucky circumstance that we had decided to get together for a party that night as we certainly needed each others company that evening. Sharing with warmth all the fun times we had together and great stories on the brand, fun incidents, persons, cars, happenings and our careers. It really was mentally very final & definitive that night, and more as a very tired man seeing all the newspaper headlines the day after…..

On Sunday Knut called and said Spyker has a plan to get back in business and have not given up and that we have work to do in supporting them with due diligences and preparations. For the first day I was still kind of deflated and in the “Yeah right, this is really going to work….” mode but after another day I pulled myself together.

Seeing the dedication in the Spyker team and their commitment gave me back my energy, fighting spirit and revved me up again to do absolutely everything I could, and everything we as a team could do to support Jan Åke, Victor and Spyker again.

One incredible year later here we are with the first “normal” year since 2007 from start to finish ahead of us, brimming with opportunities to recreate and build up the new Saab!

And me, Swade, your Saab blogger.

I can’t remember much about the actual moment. Whilst it was the 18th in Sweden, it was 2am on the 19th when I covered that press release here, and I remember being pretty groggy at the time, then pretty mad as I listened in on a conference call held by GM.

I actually had a call scheduled with Victor Muller for later in the morning and that’s my enduring memory from this time. Victor was indeed as mad as hell. We spoke for around 40 minutes and the thing I remember about that conversation was the enduring feeling that the fight wasn’t over yet.

I had a four-hour drive later that morning for a family holiday but before I left I wrote the following:

There’s plenty to write about this whole situation, but that’s a long drive away from being done. The one thing I will say is that THE FAT LADY HASN’T SUNG ON THIS COMPANY. She’s in the warm-up room, but she’s not on stage just yet.

What a crazy time. Perhaps I was blessed that it all happened while I was supposed to be sleeping (not that I slept much, but still….)

SAAB UP!

Charlie
Guest
Charlie
5 years 9 months ago

I knew it was a black day. Just watched old top gear episodes on Opel Calibra. Perhaps one day we’ll talk about that car and the relationship to he 900ng. Had two heater hoses (15 years old), the orange headlight relay ate my bulb, and I think my turbo is going.

But I think Saab is really about doing more with less, and today I’m still shocked at who good and old car looks. Onward and upwards!

2natw
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2natw
5 years 9 months ago

I have a ton of confidence in new SAAB, Victor knows what he’s doing. These stories are so sad, it was a hard day for everybody. 🙁

74stingray
Guest
74stingray
5 years 9 months ago
Well said to all…. Our alphabet soup of VM, JAJ and SW really have been through hell during this whole process… along with the employees of Saab in general. It’s been a good year, a few down days but as a community, we’ll get through it all. We have faith in Saab and Saab will live forever. Allow me to take this one moment to say “thanks” to the employees of Saab who stick with Saab through thick and thin times. While it may be a few years before we buy our next Saab, I’m glad your building them so… Read more »
saabista63
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saabista63
5 years 9 months ago

That was a day of gloomy prospects – thank God it was just before Christmas and there was so much to do and to think about – and very soon things began to look brighter again.
And what a breathtaking story it turned out to be!
After all, in retrospect it is still hard to believe SAAB is alive and kicking.
So here’s to the team that is the head and heart of the NEW SAAB – and let’s hope 2011 will be the year of exploding sales figures.

A Merry Christmas to everyone on SU!

Yours,

saabista63

Martin
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Martin
5 years 9 months ago

I remember that day when I was in office. Just before leaving, I refreshed the SU site and it felt like hell freezes when I read that the deal had failed and Saab was to wind down.
I was thinking about fixing a black ribbon of grief to my Saab but finally I didn’t.
And last but not least, from the convoy day on, my hope was rising again!
And here we are, still alive, still going strong.

zippy
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zippy
5 years 9 months ago

For me one of the most memorable moment of 09 was when Jan-Ake turned up at work to a bunch of cheering Saab employees. I doubt there are any other car companies out there with such loyal and dedicated staff.
18 December was a day I choose to forget but my heartfelt thanks goes out to Victor for keeping his eye on the ball.

Jos
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Jos
5 years 9 months ago

Agreeing with all of the above, and marking a personal note of respect for mr. Antonov, who realized that his stepping out would be the only way to get it done and save those thousands of jobs and this great company… Whatever is takes indeed, even if it means to let go of one’s ego and make way for the good cause.

lala
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lala
5 years 9 months ago

offtopic:
Dekra said in their annual Mängelreport (2010) that the opel insignia is the car with the least amount of defects. A whopping 96,1% of all insignia’s have had 0 defects.
Google should bring up enough articles about it. Anyway, not a bad car to share some components with 😉

Another thing I’m going to ask one more time(no answer yet): what happened to the article about Hirsch stuff in the US from this week? You can see it has been posted trough Swade’s twitter account but it’s gone here….

Nicola
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Nicola
5 years 9 months ago

About that day, I clearly remember some tears coming to my eyes and running silently on my cheeks while writing comments on SU blog…

@lala: I think Insigna could as well have a rear badge stating: “there’s a Saab inside” 🙂

Vector-SS
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Vector-SS
5 years 9 months ago

GM were saying “were going to issue the press release today saying we’re closing things down”

I can’t help but think how much less damage the brand would have gotten had they NOT released the above statement 🙁

Either way, I’m so glad we’re currently out of this mess even though there is still a lot of work to do 🙂

Darryl - New Salem Saab
Guest
5 years 9 months ago
Today is a reminder of what the Saab brand and VM stand for. Saab has a bright future and I am proud to stand here in this dealership and speak to our many Saab fans. I no longer look back as the fears were overwhelming. I now look forward and stand tall and decidedly continue to believe in Saab, its new owners and leaders. They hvae already corrected mnay wrongs and this is just the beginning of the road we have looked to drive on for a long long time. A standing ovation for SW, as he and this community… Read more »
Henrik
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Henrik
5 years 9 months ago
Skål to you too Darryl! This is an example of GM-behavior: “During the due diligence, certain issues arose that both parties believe could not be resolved” Both parties? I can´t imagine Antonovs precense in the boardroom was a problem for Victor? Liars! Swade, I´m glad you took up this piece: “The one thing I will say is that THE FAT LADY HASN’T SUNG ON THIS COMPANY. She’s in the warm-up room, but she’s not on stage just yet.” It stuck with me, I guess that shows how much those words ment to me at the time, after I read that… Read more »
Tim in Denver
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Tim in Denver
5 years 9 months ago

What a story.
Thank you, Victor, Jan Åke, Magnus, Swade, et al for giving us a glimpse of your lives that day.
Sometimes it is tempting to believe that these things are ‘all in a day’s work’ for CEOs, and that it is ‘just business’.
It is most revealing to me to see the emotional commitment invested by you all.
Thank You all over again.
Tim Booker

David C
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David C
5 years 9 months ago
“My life is over 🙁 ” – my wife still calls me crazy when she remembers that sentence, I said it when I got home that day. That was for sure the saddest Christmas season ever.I had just fullfilled one of life goals, to buy my first Saab, which I had for about 3 months at that time, and there was a mixture of feelings going on. Disapointment, anger, disbelief. For almost 2 months it seemed I was living in a Nuclear Winter scenario. Litlle hope surrounded by darkness everywhere, I also remeber a reply I had from Eric Geers… Read more »
Talladegan
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Talladegan
5 years 9 months ago

I really hope someone has sold the movie rights to this, if only because I want to see the scene where JAJ turns up at work to have the workforce cheering him in.

You couldn’t write a better script but there’s still a long way for us all to go together to a ‘happy unending’.

Let’s all griffin and cowboy up for year two of independence.

100%Saab
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100%Saab
5 years 9 months ago

Victor Muller, Vladimir Antonov, Jan-Ake Jonsson, Magnus Hansson, Steven Wade, and everybody else: Thank you!

Smithy
Guest
5 years 9 months ago

Long live Saab!

&

Long live Spyker!

Anders
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Anders
5 years 9 months ago

Cheers and thanks to all the good people involved!

Andy Rupert
Guest
5 years 9 months ago

Reading the thoughts of VIctor Muller and Jan-Ake Jonsson was very interesting.

That was an sad day but it eventually led to the SAVE SAAB rallies across the globe. Now those are some good memories!

Troels, Denmark
Guest
5 years 9 months ago

I wish Victor Muller, Jan-Ake Jonsson, Swade, all Saab-employees and everyone at SU a Christmas-holliday 2010 so merry and a New year 2011 so happy, that it will fully compensate for the sadness and anger through the Christmas-days in 2009 !!!

Aero
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Aero
5 years 9 months ago

I remeber hearing the news at around 1600 on my way to my sons daycare. I had to sit for 5min in the car just to dry my tears before entering. I explained to my son that Saab is no longer alive. He (2,5 years) did off course not really understand other than that Saab is something special to dad.

On the 19th all turned upwards again after reading about the Fat Lady that has’nt sung yet! And the rest is history!

Quijote
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Quijote
5 years 9 months ago
I’ve always loved Saab, but as many of you know, I also owned other marques as well. This “cinderella” story simply reinforces what Saab is all about. Frankly, having experienced this solidified my love for Saab. In fact, it has now commanded exclusive commitment to the brand. I always root for the underdog. It was a hellish several months, and on that day I remember tearing up in my office with my assistant wondering why this grown man was so heartbroken over a car. Little did she know, to many of us, Saab is much more than a brand. Thanks… Read more »
Henrik
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Henrik
5 years 9 months ago

+1!

David
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David
5 years 9 months ago

This is why I stepped up and got a NG 9-5 this past October. The brand has a long, long way to go but at least I did my small part.

Smithy
Guest
5 years 9 months ago

Very good move David!
Hope you’re enjoying it/her/him/suitable way of addressing a car.

Fredrik M
Guest
Fredrik M
5 years 9 months ago

Ironically, Euro NCAP awarded the NG SAAB 9-5 the important five stars the very same day. The release from Euro NCAP was issued a few hours before the press release from GM. I wonder if everyone working with the NG 9-5 were informed about the “winding down” decision when the Euro NCAP release came?

Rune
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Rune
5 years 9 months ago

Is anyone keeping a list of people responsible for disturbing Swade’s sleep? 🙂

Rune
Guest
Rune
5 years 9 months ago
Finally… The 18th is almost over. One hour left. A year ago I found myself with my driver’s license still revoked. No Saab in my garage. And then they said they would stop production completely. Come to think of it, it was a bit surreal. The day before the convoy is when I bought our 9000. At around that time I also bought an apartment in Mariestad, an hour’s drive north of Trollhättan. And today I have two Saabs. My wife will start with her driving lessons soon. The factory “down the road” is going at it full tilt. I… Read more »
JH
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JH
5 years 9 months ago
December the 18th 2009 was definitely one day I will not forget in a very long time. I remember being very tired when I came home from school. I was following the Saab new very closely at the time, mostly via Saabs United, but so far the news about the wind-down was not official. Since I was so tired I walked into our living room and watched an episode of the old Knight Rider TV series from 1982 to clear my brain. When it was finished after 45 minutes I switched over to the SVT1 TV channel and had only… Read more »
Paddan
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Paddan
5 years 9 months ago

I think the word “believe” as used during this season is very appropriate. Than you, VM, JAJ and SW as well as the other believers that made the independence of Saab a reality. All the best to each of you during this joyous holiday season!

Ted Y
Guest
5 years 9 months ago

Way, way, way OT, but is there no one in the Phillipines that can help this woman?

Ted Y
Guest
5 years 9 months ago
Talladegan
Guest
Talladegan
5 years 9 months ago

I swa that story earlier Ted…surely there must be someone out there?

vwgtinut
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vwgtinut
5 years 9 months ago

Man there is NOBODY down there. I’ve been down there three times and I’ve never seen a Saab there. (A Volvo once but thats it!). She might try her luck at the Chevy dealer who has sold re-branded Opels down there:
http://chevy.com.ph/
or she could try the Volvo dealer!:
http://www.volvocars.com/ph/Pages/default.aspx
Either way, if she finds someone who knows what they are doing I’m sure it will be expensive.

Rune
Guest
Rune
5 years 9 months ago

She should post a message on one of the Saab forums.

Glancing through the Haynes book for my 9000, I fear she might need a tech 2 reading to determine the ECU’s error code. Or maybe she simply need to change her thermostat again (you never know — second time lucky).

Henrik
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Henrik
5 years 9 months ago

Perhaps remove thermostat completly and test for a while, and make sure there´s no air left in the system, but unfortunatelly it could be the head gasket.

Chris
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Chris
5 years 9 months ago

I remember myself those days looking every couple of hours at SaabsUnited to see if there was a positive result or not. Swade was our only reliable source those days. And the only thing I could do at that time was to keep sending emails every day to GM, the Swedish Government and the Swedish Liberal Party!!! I had sent well over 100 emails! Actually I was getting back responses from the Swedes but never from GM.

Saabs are excellent cars and they truly deserve a better future and better place in today’s car market.

Jeff
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Jeff
5 years 9 months ago

I would call this the equivalent of Saab’s Pearl Harbor day. Took everyone by surprise. Swade you’re a legend for holding us all together and telling us to believe in Victor. All I remember is reminding everyone that Spyker’s motto is Nulla tenaci invia est via

Darryl
Guest
5 years 9 months ago

The phrase i still use and will take to the grave…and my all time favorite was “Keep calm and carry on”. Several times those words kept me from total mental collapse!

Henrik
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Henrik
5 years 9 months ago

I think it origins from the german bombings of London during world war II, Churchill and the government told people to “keep calm and carry on”. Must have been easier said than done!

Rune
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Rune
5 years 9 months ago
Henrik
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Henrik
5 years 9 months ago

🙂 strange, so it was never really used at the time, but yet it´s so well known.

Rune
Guest
Rune
5 years 9 months ago

Perhaps that is what Saab needs? A campaign that is so clever and well done that they don’t actually need to run it? 😛

Igor, Croatia
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Igor, Croatia
5 years 9 months ago
Well… on December 18th, 2009 I was also scanning SU every 5 minutes… or maybe even more frequently… And I was contemplating how those bad news could affect the future of the car I was waiting to be delivered in less than three weeks: my new black 9-3 SS… And, fortunately, December 18th was just the lowest point on the way, and my car was delivered on January 5, 2010, as planned. At the moment it has more than 17000 km without even the smallest problem to report… And of course, Merry Christmas to all aforementioned major players, all our… Read more »
Tim O'Brien
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Tim O'Brien
5 years 9 months ago
Dec 18 – Jan 7 ’09 wasn’t a good time at the time, now in retrospect it was a great time for Saab’s renewal. Frankly Dec 18 was incredibly depressing. I’ll never forget Jan 5th was the day we got together in Detroit for the rally organised by Ryan Emge from Saab History (it may have been the first, and we saw many more worldwide, Thanks to Ryan for organising that) at GM headquarters and I can tell you the news hadn’t improved, the GM PR guys that spoke to us were matter of fact that the deal was over… Read more »
benrp
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benrp
5 years 9 months ago

I must say Swade that that quote about the fat lady being in the warm up room is the one quote, a year later that I still remember to this day, it was good to hear at such a gloomy time in Saabs history.

CBD
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CBD
5 years 9 months ago
I’ll never forget that morning that I woke up, made a tea and turned on my computer. I was extremely hunger from a Christmas party the night before and was in no state to receive the news I was about to read. I sat there empty, silent and unable to move. It was one of those moments in life that hit you from nowhere. I remember looking out of the window for a long time, though time seemed to stop around me. That morning I drove down to the dealership and was surprised that over 100 people, all SAAB lovers,… Read more »
Gb9x
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Gb9x
5 years 9 months ago

Worrying times.
But hey (big time) – SAAB is still here and growing.
Minimalist approach is good I think.
GB

RS
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RS
5 years 9 months ago

A bit OT: I just hope they’re running ads like ”-Thank god for SAAB” or ”Time to get a Swedish car for Christmas present this year” in GB? Radio would work very well now when people are stuck in their Jaguars and Beamers. Here’s Saabs chance to get back on the map imho!

Saw a clip on the news yesterday where every RWD and FWD car was pushed to get moving EXCEPT a 9-3SC 🙂

Thylmuc
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Thylmuc
5 years 9 months ago

This press release, also in retrospect, was a desaster. Saab still has not recovered from the impression that this gave, and loss of trust from potential buyers. I assume that the bad numbers we now see despite tge gorgeous new 9-5 can be directly related to that statement.

Rune
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Rune
5 years 9 months ago
But maybe that press release also served as a call to arms for all Saab enthusiasts? GM could have done more to create an impression that they were going to sell, lulling us all into a false sense of security until it was too late. But by then we were all pretty vigilant. Remember the rumours that some of the 9-5 tools were being shipped off from Russelsheim to China? I’d love to learn the full story behind those rumours. At the time I felt someone deliberately leaked that information to cause a public stir. (I washed my 9-5 yesterday.… Read more »
Me
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Me
5 years 9 months ago

Leaving the 18th of Dec behind, this is the Saab I like.
An earlier research from Saab showed that the average family spends just over £500 in presents for friends and family over the festive period and travels more than 200 miles to deliver them.
Well Saab drove only about 100 Miles to deliver the presents, but delivered toys worth £500 to a children’s hospital in London.

It’s X-mas time and every single thing counts.

Henrik
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Henrik
5 years 9 months ago

Excellent, nice with the santa-inspired 9-3 too!

74stingray
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74stingray
5 years 9 months ago

SC in red, yummy!

Jörgen Trued
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Jörgen Trued
5 years 9 months ago
It was a strange day. But I carried on the work for the rally team. I delivered two gearboxes to be renovated and given limited slip differentials. Then every other minute checking SU on the iPhone. But luckliy all our combined efforts on a global scale paid off. Saab was saved by convoys and activities that has gone to the history of automotive business. Never before has a brand been saved like we did! I put my anger and energy into making our two 99 Turbo CC Rally cars for Vladimir Antonov and me. We made it both cars finished.… Read more »
Nate 9-3
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Nate 9-3
5 years 9 months ago

Well said!

saab93f
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saab93f
5 years 9 months ago
Dec 18 was the day my xmas holiday started. I honestly don´t remember much about the day – what I do remember was that I drove to the supermarket to do some next to last minute shopping. All the way I was trying to comprehend what I just had read and what it meant to me. I just wanted to curl up and be left alone but fortunately there was tons to do before xmas so I was “forced” to function. I am just so happy that all that is nothing but a distant bad memory – OTOH I´m so… Read more »
Nate 9-3
Guest
Nate 9-3
5 years 9 months ago

Great read! What a day. I will never forget how sad I was, NEVER! I thought that so much of what I stood for was just stomped on by the evil American hegemonic corporation. Talk about feeling like the little guy!

These quotes need to be on plaques in the SAAB Hall of Fame some day. Would SAAB be the first company with a Hall of Fame, then?

Did anyone think that it was fitting that JAJ’s comments were short, concise and to the point? That made me laugh in it’s own right.

jos
Guest
jos
5 years 9 months ago

On that same day there was this video put up on youtube. Allthough I’m a grown man and don’t likely spill a lot of tears, this sad but beautifull song mixed brilliantly with some images of past SAAB commecrials, that made me swallow many times. (just remembered it because I heard the song in a christmass movie that the kids were playing…)

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