My Saab column in Auto Motor and Sport magazine

Hi all. Swade here.

The latest issue of Auto Motor and Sport magazine has a Saab section in it and I was invited to provide an article for that section. AMS has given me permission to reproduce the article in the original English for those not yet blessed with the Swedish language (like me).

I hope it gives you some food for thought as you embark upon an historic weekend.

Cross-posted from swadeology.com

——

I officially became a Saab employee at the beginning of April 2011. In the week before I joined the company, we had a brief factory stoppage due to an unpaid account with our freight company. During my first week with Saab, we had some occasional production, and then a stoppage that continued almost uninterrupted until the company declared bankruptcy on December 19, 2011.

The opportunity to work for Saab was a dream come true after writing about them as an enthusiast for just over six years. The job itself was equal parts joy and frustration but I wouldn’t have traded this opportunity for anything in the world.

As I write this, there is still a window of opportunity for someone to step in and purchase Saab as a whole from the bankruptcy administrators. The alternative is for the company’s assets to be broken up and sold around the world. One option gives some hope for the brand, the other makes certain that we’ve seen the last of this innovative company from Western Sweden.

The sad part about this whole episode is that was all so avoidable. I won’t go into all the details here, but suffice to say that there were a lot of short-term, reactionary decisions made both inside and outside Saab. Decisions that could have been different if the people concerned had a longer-term outlook.

Saab made a short-sighted decision to not pay their freight company. That was mistake #1. Suppliers, however, also made a short-sighted decision to act as one and not allow any parts deliveries. The supplier body spokespeople made a short-sighted decision to fight this battle in the media, talking our business down and reducing confidence even further. The authorities made a short-sighted decision to withhold approval of our property sale, which could have saved the day. Before you could say “fully funded business plan”, a very small problem turned into a problem big enough to bring the entire company down.

Consequences?

Aside from the closure of the company and the loss of well over 3,000 direct jobs and maybe another 7,000 indirect jobs, there’s also the loss of fantastic product that people will be no longer be able to buy.

Saab’s former overlords at Opel told our engineers that any attempts to get the Saab 9-3’s CO2 emissions under 120g/km would have been a waste of money. It couldn’t be done, they said. Well, we did it. And not just for the Sport Sedan, either. Saab were due to launch the low-emissions 9-3 SportCombi just as the factory stoppage interrupted our operations.

A car with full 180hp, proper cargo capacity AND tax incentives? No problem.

That was just the beginning, however. There was work underway to bring the 5-meter long Saab 9-5 into the low-emissions group as well. This would have brought major benefits for Saab and its customers in several of the company’s major markets.

Then there’s the 9-5 SportCombi, which was due for launch in the second half of 2011. This model, even without a low-emissions benefit, would have been a major boost for Saab in Europe. It was a very handsome, well equipped and a fantastic driving vehicle featuring all the technology that Saab could bring to a modern motor car. If Saab could bring it under the low-emissions regime as well, this would have been a very appealing car for customers.

That’s just the stuff that was ready to go straight away…..

The vehicle that was being developed to replace the Saab 9-3 was ready to blow Saab fans away. It would have been more spacious. It would have had a lightweight engine from BMW, tuned by Saab, as well as a revolutionary all-wheel-drive hybrid system being developed by former Saab people in a joint venture co-owned with American Axle.

The exterior would have incorporated elements of the Saab PhoeniX concept first shown in Geneva in March, 2011, designed by our new head of Design, Jason Castriota, and executed by our own design team based in Trollhattan. The inside of the vehicle was set to return Saab to a richer interior environment, the highlight of which would have been the new IQon information and entertainment hub.

I’ve been in a test vehicle fitted with IQon and I can tell you first-hand that the system was absolutely brilliant. Even in prototype form, it was delivering a new level of functionality in terms of vehicle information, control, connectivity and entertainment. The applications that we would have delivered with IQon would have brought the automotive sector into line with the smartphone market that has caught people’s attention so much in the last few years. All delivered in a seamless, safe and fun-to-use package within the car.

The Saab 9-3 replacement was going to arrive on time, and in doing so, it would have proved something that we at Saab have believed for a long time now – that smart people working together can do amazing things in a timeframe that many experienced heads in the automotive sector say would be impossible.

This vehicle would have meant vindication for Victor Muller, the executive team and most importantly, the extremely talented workforce at Saab. It would have also been a just reward for Saab’s loyal customers and fans, who have stuck by the company through so much in the last few years.

I know Saab is seen differently from within Sweden compared to an outsider’s point of view. Many ordinary Swedes today seem to think of Saab as something they hear about in negative terms, week in and week out. It’s just another struggling company, one that perhaps deserved its fate because it simply couldn’t sell enough cars. Those who didn’t view it that way might have simply thought of it as ‘the other domestic car company’.

Outsiders tend to see the brand differently. Saabs have always been different, rare. They’re generally the choice of a buyer who wants certain qualities in a car but who wants that choice to be a discreet one. Long-term Saab customers tend to be very loyal to the brand. More recent customers aren’t quite so attached, but in my experience as a Saab enthusiast, many recent buyers who come into contact with the Saab community find a brotherhood there, something that gives a voice to many of the thoughts they had themselves.

Personally speaking, I’ve always regarded Saab Automobile with a certain sense of awe and a lot of passion. Unlike behemoth companies like Ford, GM or Toyota, Saab was small enough that you could get to know the company and the people who ran it in a personal way. They have always been fighters, innovators, people who were passionate about their work and created machines that made much bigger companies sit up and take notice.

The improvement to GM’s fleet of global vehicles in the last five years is a great credit to Saab’s engineering an safety contributions. When you hear about new GM vehicles with all-wheel-drive, turbochargers, active safety features and more, think of the time Saab engineers contributed to developing them. Saab was a GM center of expertise for six or seven different areas of vehicle development over the years. Perhaps GM blocking Saab’s sale to Chinese interests is not so surprising, after all.

In the early years, Saab Automobile was the offshoot of an aircraft company. It was then the offshoot of a larger heavy machinery company. It was then sold and became the minnow in a big pool of big brands managed in offices thousands of miles away. To them, Sweden was a place to dump their accounting problems in order to gain some tax advantages. It wasn’t a place to build cars. Through all of this, Saab survived, created and innovated. The sad fact is that it wasn’t until Victor Muller and Spyker bought Saab back in 2010 that the company became the sole focus of its owner.

I guess that’s one of the reasons I’ve always loved Saab – for its intelligence and its fighting spirit.

Many of us non-Swedes see Sweden as a place we’d aspire to visit, or perhaps even live in. Saab has been an introduction to Sweden for people around the world. The company has been, in many ways, an ambassador for Sweden – and a very good one, too. Same with Volvo. You can never underestimate what your international exports say about you as a country and it’s very sad to see one of those exports in decline.

So where to from here?

As mentioned above, as unlikely as it may seem to some, there is still potential for Saab to be sold. A buyer would get not only a very efficient manufacturing plant, but also a Phoenix platform that is very close to hosting a brand new vehicle of its own, something that could take years and a lot of money to build from scratch. They would get a talent pool that, whilst smaller than it has been, could quickly be rebuilt with the right resources in place. They will get a brand that has suffered some damage in recent times, but still has a loyal following and 60+ years of heritage that you can’t manufacture (just ask Hyundai, Kia, Lexus, etc).

It might sound unlikely as I write this, but it pays to remember that Saab was in liquidation when it was sold to Spyker in 2010. Whilst the future for Saab may not look particularly rosy right at this minute, it ain’t over til it’s over.

LG Aero
Member
4 years 8 months ago

Swade,
Your wrting skills are just fantastic and Saab has never had a better supporter. Your description of what the NG 9-3 made me lament the missed opportunity to own a great new car.

Niklas G
Member
4 years 8 months ago

+1

maanders
Member
4 years 8 months ago

+1. Agreed. This convinces me even more than before that the 9-3 replacement would have truly been my next new car. Perhaps it may still come to be…

kochje
Member
4 years 8 months ago

Swade, first of all fine that we see you contribute here again.
We can imagine what you have encountered in that year and if there once will be a movie made I am sure they will ask you for the participation in the script.
Hope to hear from you soon again.

Ralph
Member
4 years 8 months ago

Great writing indeed and very good that it can be read by readers of a popular Swedish car magazine.

tobbe
Member
4 years 8 months ago

Good written Swade.

jouni72
Member
4 years 8 months ago

Very well written and almost broke my heart, this king of company just can´t disappear!

oxblod89
Member
4 years 8 months ago

Agree. . . very well written and because of that my heart broke. It is all so very sad that such a great company that under the years contributed so much despite of its size is to be wiped out? What is the point of that?

Carlo A
Member
4 years 8 months ago

Thanks Steven for another great piece of writing ….
Griffin Up!
Carlo

Petteri
Member
4 years 8 months ago

My first thought was I could perhaps skip reading this, as I had already read the AMS Swedish version. However, there was some interesting information already in the second sentence which you cannot find in the magazine, so I ended up reading it word by word.

Also, “center of expertise for six or seven different areas of vehicle development” had turned into “… for six or seven different vehicles” in the translation, which seemed odd but now I understand it better.

I know I’ll be smiling all the way when I drive my unlaunched 119g 9-3SC to the Finnish WeAreSaab meeting tomorrow.

hans h
Member
4 years 8 months ago

Great writing as always.
The magazine lies at home. I haven’t had time to open it yet, so I did not know you wrote in it.

Good to see you back here, and I hope you will be back in Trollhättan soon, also.

Saab Up! 🙂

MarkS
Member
4 years 8 months ago

Well my friend, I still have hope. It’s also my hope that Saab’s new management will be clever enough to invite you back!

Happy Saabing!

Dannii
Member
4 years 8 months ago

A moribund script (in brackets, that is, it ain’t over until it is over) for sure and a brilliant one at that! Hope someone with dollops of billions of dollars would care enough to read this and flash at the deer in the headlights, proverbially that is.

Ricky
Member
4 years 8 months ago

Congratulations !!!

mike900
Member
4 years 8 months ago

An excellent read, as always 🙂

rune
Member
4 years 8 months ago

When I visited the museum,
when I sit in my 9-5 or 9000
when I took the factory tour

I completely fail to understand how nobody stretched out a helping hand a year ago.

As a systems engineer (admittedly more modest systems than many of those found inside my car) I have to avoid thinking about all that R&D that now is about to go to waste. I fear my head would explode if I started contemplating the full ramifications of a liquidated Saab. There is still hope, but eventually we should spend some effort on identifying those responsible.

hans h
Member
4 years 8 months ago

+99

kochje
Member
4 years 8 months ago

+1

Baver
Member
4 years 8 months ago

Hear hear!

M.A.
Member
4 years 8 months ago

Swade,
Very well written.

Have you ever considered writing a book? If so, I would like to own a personally signed copy.

RS
Member
4 years 8 months ago

Maybe some Turbo pressure should be applied on the bankruptcy attorneys only to sell the company in one piece?
If YM or whomever gets the whole thing I’m ready to wait for the 100% GM FREE Saab for years, as long as its developed and built in Sweden to handle the snowstorms with ease. The longer there are no new Saabs the bigger the demand, right? 😉

OT: I hope the JC 900 will have air vents for the rear side windows like the OG 9-3 and unlike the NG.

rune
Member
4 years 8 months ago
Not sure I fully understand what you mean. Did you read http://saabsunited.saabklubben.se/2012/01/the-essentials-of-a-good-buyer.html ? Are you proposing that they should simply sell to the highest bidder, regardless of what GM has to say? FWIW: The receivers have said (and seems to have demonstrated) that their first priority is to sell Saab as a going concern. If a bidder feels they can get going without GM’s support, then I think they should provide a more detailed plan on just how they propose to do that. Not that I understand how the receivers are able to be so specific in their goals, but… Read more »
RS
Member
4 years 8 months ago

I didn’t say the highest bidder, but the best company for the brands future.
Would Mahindra be accepted by Detroit?! I have no knowledge what their intentions are. We know that RP wants Saab to remain Swedish.
Whoever is willing to buy everything (hire the engineers asap and continue with the JC car) is 100 better than eternal shutdown.
I’m sure the body parts needed for the NG 9-5’s already on the road could be pressed in THN if the brand emerges from bankruptcy.

rune
Member
4 years 8 months ago

GM is quite active in the Indian market as well…

I agree that the first priority would be to finish the Phoenix project and have a product that can be produced in THN. Without GM’s approval, it would require someone with deep pockets.

ivo 71
Member
4 years 8 months ago

Not all that active Rune, they sell about 100.000 cars there, many of them old Daewoo models and Indonesian-built simple utilities adapted for civilian use in India. They sell virtually no cars that could be threatened by the entry of Saab onto the Indian market. I posted GM’s sales figures in India on SU a few weeks ago.

Ivo

AngryEngineer
Member
4 years 8 months ago

You have a gift in writing Swade! Thanks for posting this.

I hope it all works out in favour for Saab in the end…

Haakan
Member
4 years 8 months ago

Interesting.. so what you say is that the person who made the decission not to pay the freight company is responsible for the chainreaction that brought Saab down?
It had to be VA or JAJ?

Haakan
Member
4 years 8 months ago

Edit
I mean VM of course. Not VA.

hans h
Member
4 years 8 months ago

I think VM has admitted as much.
There is an interview with him somewhere here where he says so. I think.

rune
Member
4 years 8 months ago

FWIW: Last summer, when they tried to get the production restarted (lasted about a week 🙁 ), I believe it was during that press conference he referred to having made the mistake in question. The start of an avalanche.

TonymacUK
Member
4 years 8 months ago

Well written and to the point. Like Petteri, I`m enjoying my driving my unlaunched 119g 9-3SC1

Mark
Member
4 years 8 months ago

There’s certainly still much hope for Saab. I’m personally just hoping that if a buyer comes up with a good plan to get Saab operating again, a certain big player can have it’s obstructionist behaviour reined in a bit this time. In fact there needs to be considerable effort and a framework put into place to make sure that this will be the case.

Saab Up!

Troels, Denmark
Member
4 years 8 months ago

Very, very good writing, Swade! The right words to be said!
Let´s hope for the best!

Eric
Member
4 years 8 months ago

Swade you made this new 93 sound like Jesus, Saab really needs to show the fans what it would have looked like. If someone buys Saab and restarts production, and the 93 is made, I might find it too hard to not trade in my 2011 93 to support them!

bpsorrel
Member
4 years 8 months ago

Extremely well written Swade, as usual! Brought a tear to my eye, if I’m honest. Let’s pray there’s still a glimmer of hope…

Enjoy the Saab meetings this weekend everyone! Griffin Up!

saabyurk
Member
4 years 8 months ago

As always when Swade is the author, much forethought before putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard maybe).
I hope all parties who are considering purchasing Saab read this article!

saabaudi
Member
4 years 8 months ago

swade,
my congratulation to your so well written article. It´s a tale written with the specific passion of a fighting, long-lasting suffering but never giving up lover and writer of and for the brand Saab.
We, all the Saab enthusiasts will remember for years your work you´ve done for Saab.
I wish you a better and a more sucessful future in the coming years.

900jubileum
Member
4 years 8 months ago

It could not have been better formulated! Tomorrow, we show the world that Saab is still alive! Griffin up!

Rolf Hägg
Guest
4 years 8 months ago
rune
Member
4 years 8 months ago

Tim’s sources at Saab HQ knows nothing about this. Those 48 hours are up btw.

If I understood Tim correctly, he also checked with ANA who operates the only crusher in town. They haven’t heard anything either.

Those 9-5 combis would, as I understand it, normally end up in the crusher anyhow, but I suspect they will live for a little while longer. The receivers have their hands full at this point and I doubt this would be their first priority.

bilen
Member
4 years 8 months ago
Anyone read the paper, AMS, where this is printed? They also have a piece of Lars Carlström which I thought was very good. And it seems as if the doors closed on the partner he represented. Kind of strange because the info we got at Saab was that there was a Indian company interested and it has been named as Mahindra. But it was also this company that Carlström represented and he says that nothing came out of it after they realized that he was “the” Lars Carlström. Another rumor from Saab sources is that why there is no information… Read more »
TurboLamko
Member
4 years 8 months ago

I love reading articles from you Swade 😀 Well done, and Saab is not dead yet so stay calm and carry on!

Thank you Tim for letting Swade write here anytime he wants to 🙂

Christian Berg
Member
4 years 8 months ago

Swade, thank you for these words! It’s not over yet!

StateofNine
Member
4 years 8 months ago

Thank you Swade! So well written.

SNJ
Member
4 years 8 months ago

Great writing as always Steven….. We are Many We are Saab!!

Allan B
Member
4 years 8 months ago

Another very fine article, Swade. Just the tonic we need at this time. When you come to write a book about this subject, I would hope to see some illumination of that key decision not to pay the freight company. Sounds like a dramatic twist in the tale.

Allan B
Member
4 years 8 months ago

… and I too pay tribute to Saabs United for welcoming Swade back into the fold to contribute alongside the rest of the writing team.

CSD_ChineseSaabDriver
Member
4 years 8 months ago

Great article over Saab.

I like the whole text, but the most the last two paragraphs, there is still HOPE for Saab.

lundin
Member
4 years 8 months ago

good one Steven! Thanks.

900_S
Member
4 years 8 months ago

More praise for a well-written article–thanks Swade!

Toby K
Member
4 years 8 months ago

I probably would have bought that new 9-3 🙁
Now I just think I will keep my old 9-3 Aero hatch runnning forever-it still surprises people even today (they say wow is this anew car??) and it is 13 years old, and its quicker and cheaper than any competion, and you can fit a fridge in the back and it handles better in snow and ice.
Well done Saab you desreve another chance.

100%Saab
Member
4 years 8 months ago

For the want of a nail the shoe was lost. For the want of the shoe the horse was lost, and so on. Kinda sums it up for Saab. A very sad story.

Unfortunately, there is no one I can call or email. The Swedes need to solve this one.

Just a thought.

Ron57RC
Member
4 years 8 months ago

It’s good to read more of your thoughtful and thought provoking writing Steven. I look forward to following your work into the future.

Saab is worth saving; let us hope time is on everyone’s side.

Saablime
Member
4 years 8 months ago

Brilliant article, Swade. You have done great service to the SAAB brand through the years. It’s painful to read about the cars in the pipeline. Still hoping for a miracle…

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