A Conversation With Brightwell

March 1, 2012 in Editorial, News

As I sat at my desk yesterday, I received an interesting phone call. On the other end of the line was none other than Zamier Ahmed from Brightwell. In the last month we have been playing a bit of email tag and he had said he would like the chance to chat and all of a sudden the phone rang and there he was. He started by saying that it was with great regret that Brightwell had completely pulled out of the bidding for Saab. In the past 15 days, he and his team had been working around the clock to get their bid together and quite often I was receiving emails from him at what would be 3am his time. I have to tell you that at 38 years old myself, 3am is not an hour that I have seen in some years now.

I have seen many comments about Brightwell in different threads and media outlets about how they were not big enough or experienced enough to take on Saab. Zamier is quick to point out to me that he is a business man and that when his company picks an investment, they are very careful and selective and their history shows that they have a record of quick turn around’s with the companies that they have been involved with. Brightwell didn’t just one day think, hey let’s buy Saab and they exhausted a great deal of time and expense trying to get the best possible outcome for Saab that they could.

Their bidding did hinge on GM’s willingness to work with them to create immediate revenue from production and sales. Brightwell understood the importance of having production of the 9-3, 9-5 and 9-4X to supply vehicles to dealers and the public as they completed the new 9-3 on the Phoenix platform, which he figured would take a minimum of 18 months. This is a great point to consider because they knew they needed time to complete the new 9-3 and didn’t want to lose more dealers and customers as they worked to finish the all new Saab.

This company understands the importance of Saab’s heritage and the importance of the people that make Saab, Saab. Zamier stressed to me that Brightwell wanted to make sure the people of Saab were taken care of on all levels. In January, Zamier attended the We Are Many event with the Dutch and said he saw around 2000 cars and people that day and as a car enthusiast he has never in his life seen anything like that and was very moved by it. Saab fans are like no others is what he told me and told me once again the story of a man who approached him and said “If you can, please save Saab because Saab saved me”. We can never think that the events we attend or the personal stories are not noticed, because in this case, this man had a number of stories of things that made Saab different to them.

In the last little while people have been asking him “why Saab”? Without skipping a beat, his answer is simple, the people, the quality and the achievements of Saab. He then tells me the story of a video he saw on Saabs United (so yes they watch our sites and see what we all talk about), in the video they showed a BMW dropped upside down and the steering wheel and everything collapsed into the car and the Saab they did the same to, the doors could still open after the drop.

When asked about the trustees of the bankruptcy, Zamier had nothing but good things to say about them. “Every question we had was answered by the trustees”. The trustees throughout the process have been well informed and had answers for all of the questions Brightwell had throughout the process and he goes further to say the trustees were exceptional.

Brightwell has been selective in who they talk to in the media and have a good understanding of what to trust in reports of what is said and isn’t. I bring this up because the recent comments from James Cain in TT. When I asked about Cains comments, all he could say is that based on where the report came from, he trusts TT and believes that is what Cain said. Brightwell will not engage in a tit for tat with the comments that GM made through Cain. From the onset of Brightwell’s interest in Saab, they have always had the intention of acquiring the entire assets of Saab and revive the operations. They were in dialog with GM at the highest levels and their bid hinged on cooperation with GM on licensing that would have made GM money on licensing agreements and on every car built. GM’s action completely baffles Zamier and myself, he explained it to me as if the captain of the ship looks out and sees someone in the water and turns the lights off and keeps going rather then throw a life line. The other part that is confusing is the fact that as a businessman like Zamier is, it makes no sense that it would be in the best interest of shareholders to not make money off of Saab. As a shareholder, you want to see returns and if there is an opportunity to make money, they should be for it. I take it a step further myself and considering the position GM was in with needing to be bailed out, I don’t think they should have the right to not make money where it’s available. Unlike the Chinese 100% ownership structure, GM should not have the same kind of concerns about IP.

At the end of the day, Brightwell is out of the bidding for Saab. They will continue to look at other investments that will evolve the quality of life. Brightwell is a company to watch in the future and are tied to so many different fields. One of their important investments is in the electric vehicles for Turkey where gas is at $4 a litre and a lot of people can’t afford to drive. They want to build an electric vehicle that is affordable for everyone and they will continue down that path. I have to say that Zamier has been a pleasure to talk with through this and has been open and honest. I want to thank Brightwell for all their efforts and wish them a successful future in the automotive world and I for one don’t doubt that they have what it takes and we haven’t heard the last of them.

60 responses to A Conversation With Brightwell

  1. I wish they had made a bid as I had great expectations. I believe they truly understand the SAAB brand value and they would treat it with due respect on a premium level, not as sub-brand of some other manufacturer.

  2. I suppose really that is the strong points of YM, (would have been) BH, and M&M, the fact that Saab would have been their flagship global brand. If BMW is a bidder and they get it there is always the chance they’ll try to fit them into a particular niche. Kind of a trade off, the instant recognition of BMW as the parent which would restore some of their image, and of course potentially huge funding. The other side of the coin is the fact that being the under dog makes you want to fight that much harder to prove yourself, something I think any of the small owners will do. Good luck, and God Speed to all the bidders!

  3. A couple thoughts: I really wish the companies bidding would have spokespeople/representatives talking to outlets about their desire to be owners. It’s legal. There is no “tampering” law here. Public perception is important now and in the future. I bring this up because reading the words in this entry gave me a whole different image of Brightwell. This is the most forthcoming I have heard them—and it’s only AFTER they are out of the running. Very little was said here that couldn’t have also been said a couple weeks ago—without disturbing the process in the least. I’ve been part of mergers/aquisitions. It’s okay for a company to publickly express interest in a situation like this—to make complimentary remarks about the company and it’s customers—-to give general overviews of what they hope to accomplish if they can buy the failing company. These types of public statements are routine in these situations. For some reason, with this one—-there is a cloud of secrecy that is thicker than the walls at Fort Knox—-and getting little tweeks of information is like cracking a bank vault. I haven’t seen anything like this previously and I don’t understand it. We’ve heard there are other bidders—-isn’t this sort of thing public information in Sweden? Can’t potential owners talk about things? Is there a gag order in place during bankruptcy proceedings there? If Mahindra or BMW are bidding, why wouldn’t a spokesperson throw us a bone? Hearing from Brightwell two weeks ago wouldn’t have changed this outcome—-but if the outcome was to be different anyway—-if they had won Saab—-I think a better foundation would be laid for the future if they were a bit more transparent during the process. Ditto for all the others.

    “The other part that is confusing is the fact that as a businessman like Zamier is, it makes no sense that it would be in the best interest of shareholders to not make money off of Saab. As a shareholder, you want to see returns and if there is an opportunity to make money, they should be for it. I take it a step further myself and considering the position GM was in with needing to be bailed out, I don’t think they should have the right to not make money where it’s available.”
    I have been saying this in different forms, here, on Facebook and elsewhere and I have been ridiculed for it. Can we now accept that there is some truth to this?

    • I understand your point, however, IF i was a buyer looking to acquire the remains of a bankrupt Company, I personally would prefer my interest is/was kept secret, until the end.

    • Angelo, this contact that I made was made over a number of weeks of emails back and forth. A week or month ago, I don’t think he would have had the time to chat and give an overview of things and he said he wasn’t looking for publicity. I can see the need for someone to handle the PR stuff, but it seems to me that he likes to handle this and doesn’t need a “Cain” to speak for him.

      The last part, the stuff about GM not making sense, I have never disagreed with you on that and some people will disagree just because they can. When it came to the 100% Chinese bids, to me that makes sense, but not in this case.

  4. “Turnarounds” as in the plural form of a corporate turnaround is one word and doesn’t use an apostrophe :D

  5. Water under the bridge.
    Whatever their true intentions, none of this is important any more.

  6. An excellent post, and an informative interview. It was very gracious of Zamier Ahmed to take the time to chat, and I greatly appreciate his candor.

    • very gracious especially given the circumstances surrounding the call. I wish I knew the call was coming and I could have prepared more, but he was great and very willing to talk honestly.

      • Jason;
        Another great post. You are the best writter on SU. Zamier understands that and that is most likey why he called you.
        Can you clear up a key question, will GM agree at least to sell parts for the existing 9-3 model, or did Zamier think that was not possible either?
        Chris

        • Thanks Chris, he actually wouldn’t good or bad say much about GM. All he said was that their was open dialog with GM at the highest level and then it all changed. I did not ask that specific question, I honestly had no clue he was going to call so I wasn’t overly prepared. I wouldn’t expect him to answer that one for me though.

    • Couldn’t agree more.

  7. I which this lengthily post was about something else than someone that have given up. Thanks anyway.

    • Sorry montahue, I don’t think they gave up as much as they were forced out by a lack of cooperation.

      • That is what i ment. I did not mean Brightwell is “quitters” i just men’t it’s sad they got forced out of cooperation and i think every other that tries will also be nothing more than a lengthily description of defeat at SU.

  8. But for GM this had to be deja vous all over again. Koeniggsegg, Spyker, and now Brightwell. None have/had experience making high volume cars and none have really deep pockets. I suspect if Brightwell had really deep pockets, they would have showed GM the money. From GM’s point of view, did it really want to be in another Spyker fiasco?

    • I don’t know David, I kind of think GM knew what they were doing in selling to Spyker and made it look as if GM had good intentions. I’m not huge on conspiracy theories, but this one just feels to weird for me. Then for Cain to say what he said about allowing Antanov, it just feels bad to me personally. Don’t know if I speak for all the SU crew on this, but that’s how I feel.

      • Here’s my problem. Why is GM bothering to even release statements about this sh!t anymore? They lead on small companies then pull back to waste time (I mean valuable time to make sales), they make junk statements via Cain, they try to make Saab look good, WHY? Saab is declared dead in the US, it was on Top Gear, and yet they feel the need to make statements to the Saab fans saying “HEY WE TRIED!” Yeah you tried so hard. But seriously why? Do they seriously think striking down a small capacity company is going to do ANYTHING to their sales in any market? Do they think lying to die hard Saab fans is going to make them say “Oh well the CTS is ALMOST a Saab!” We’re not that dumb. Like somebody said, the Escalade is considered a “pimps” car, and the rest of the Cadillac lineup is equally distasteful. Nothing like getting knifed in the back a dozen times and EVERY TIME having the stabber pop around to where you can see his face and twist the knife and say “Comfortable yet? Comfortable yet? Want one more turn? How bout now?”

    • But for GM this had to be deja vous all over again” Pathetic comment!

      I thought gm claimed they had problem with chinese only???

      You’re consistently trying to buy sympathy for gm here., aren’t you?

      • Actually, I am not that big a fan of GM either. It is my preference of the three (now two since Fiat owns Chrysler) American companies but that is about all I can say for it.

        I really like Saabs. They are my favorite cars by far because of what they consider to be important in a car. But I don’t care to sugar coat the Saab situation nor do I think a lot of the GM bashing is justified.

        A lot of people here want to blame GM for all kinds of things but GM is huge with far more interests and conflicts to worry about than we will ever know. In hindsight, from GM’s point of view, it was a huge mistake for GM to buy 1/2 of Saab 20 years ago and the other half ten years ago. I am sure GM rues the day those decisions were made.

        But from Saab’s point of view, GM did keep Saab alive for 20 years and then allowed VM to keep Saab alive for another two. The Saabistas show very little gratitude for that. Personally, I am glad GM kept Saab alive all those years even if GM woefully mismanaged Saab while they had it.

        But right now, from GM’s point of view, fooling with Saab is probably not worth it anymore, unless GM can get a really powerful partner out of the deal.

        Spyker was not a powerful partner, Koeniggsegg would not have been, and Brightwell would not have been either. I don’t think GM would see Youngman as a powerful partner either. Mahindra and BMW maybe.

        Now GM is looking to partner with PSA, so unless GM can get another powerful partner with a Saab sale, why carry on the charade?

        If you were GM, would you want another Spyker marriage? It would be deja vous all over again with a marriage to Brightwell.

        • @davidgmills, I don’t understand why you keep beating that drum.

          http://www.saabsunited.com/2009/04/latest-news-from-sweden-10-12-buyers-remain-for-saab.html

          Back in 2009, three years ago now, initial reports said 27 representatives showed up. After the initial weeding, 10-12 interested parties were left standing.

          Out of these, Koenigsegg was picked. As I recall, their pockets weren’t exactly lined with money, but they had enough so that if all the planets aligned perfectly, they might have been just able to succeed.

          But after a few months they gave up. Enter Spyker. Spyker, thanks to Antonov, had a little more oomph behind it. Antonov was subsequently eliminated and a deal was signed. After having started tearing down the factory of course, to make sure the production start would be delayed almost half a year.

          Do you honestly not see a pattern here?

          Leading question: What was the cheapest (and less negative) way of shuttering Saab for GM?

  9. As one of my better students would say, at least his hat states, ” I hate haters.” Let’s up drop our GM attacks and deal with the future, Saab’s new owner most likely will have to start from jump street, even on the old 9-3. Does this now make a deal impossible? I pray not. Perhaps Youngman can save the day now.

    • I cannot stop attacking GM. Not after what they have done, over and over against Saab the last 15 years.
      Not when my daily drive is an Opel, reminding me each time I drive it…

      I loathe the beancounting self-righteous concrete-suits in Detroit.

    • This question is important, both to the entity we’ve come to known as ‘Saab’, but also us customers who either bought a recent 9-5 or wanted to buy one.

      GM has taken a stance here that is quite frankly difficult to understand. “Defend their IP”? What IP? Defend it how? By kicking Saab so hard in the nuts that the Chinese buys what is left? How exactly does that defend GM’s IP?

      By turning down BH, GM is moving one inch closer to whatever scenario they feared having YM as an owner. And that in itself is interesting.

  10. Reports here in Australia say that BMW is reacctivating the Triumph brand is this good or bad for a possible SAAB? BMW need production space and Trollhatten has it, BMW unlike Brightwell etc can ignore the current 9-3,9-5 and 9-4x and wait an dproduce th enew 9-3 ie give GM the finger.

    • Being from England, while quite a few are keen on this, I remember Rover in the UK and it left a very bitter taste, we all thought after the chinese fiasco delay and delay to the point of collapse (as Rover was being kept afloat by the UK Government) bought for a 1 pound, BMW came prosmising jobs and investment contiuation of the Rover as a brand but instead asset stripped – sold the tools to the chinese and just kept new mini.
      I hope I am wrong, but it looks to me that they are just looking for production facilities ( as they are over capacity), not to build Saab cars, maybe remodelled minis as Triumphs but I fear if BMW buy Saab as a brand and style will disappear for good. I have concerns with Chinese but I hope Youngman will be different. My personal preference would be M&M they would not want to be outdone by Tata, and feel they would give 110% as an astute business they know the value of the current labour and expertise in Sweden waiting for them. They have the finance to hold station for 18 months – maybe utilise the staff in Trollhattan as a training centre for their Indian car maunfacture. I would expect some production to go to india for a volume 9-1. High end prestige to stay in sweden, just as Tata has with Jaguar.

  11. I’m very curious if GM shareholders would accept any deal where GM would not be making money on their IP. They don’t want Brightwell nor Youngman. That leaves BMW. Unless GM shareholders accept flushing money down the toilet by simply blocking any production start-up with GM stuff still in the car to be outfaced for non GM technology. That is if they want it to be outfaced.
    Smart would be: BMW and GM agree to coop on FWD technology. Trolhatten starts-up with Mini and Saab and becomes the FWD plant for all FWD (non BMW branded) cars. GM would as such continue to make money and the new factory owner BMW has cars to sell on a short term. But then again who am I to suggest? Just a rational thinking human being.

    • Rational thinking has left GM long ago. They do not want to EARN money – they just WANT money. Big difference.
      Perhaps Ed-209 can handle the stairs up to the top levels of the so ironically named Renaissance Center for some “cleaning duties”. ;-)

    • Has GM made any money off of Spyker’s ownership? Come on. If they couldn ‘t make any money off of Spyker, what makes you think they could make any money off of any of the other potential buyers, especially if the 9-5 and 9-4 will be getting old in the tooth by the time production gets started and ramped up. How many 9-5s and 9-4s would the new owner have to sell before GM made money on the licensing of these cars?

      • Good question. It brings up the matter of how much volume one needs to operate a car factory. This relates to differentiation and price positioning. To my opinion SAAB has always been too much run as a niche brand only with a bottom-up cost plus approach towards consumer prices. Better determine where your price point should be and next top down develop the car that goes with that segment. Within its segment differentiate in selling price. You need customers to make the volume to run at break-even plus (fleet owners) and you need customers to make your profit (private owners). Take the 9-5 as example. A car I was planning to buy. However a “dressed up” Vector diesel would cost me slightly more than a dressed up BMW 5 diesel with more horsepower, a better 8 gear automatic gearbox and a better road holding. (I don’t like the BMW design and RWD so I continued driving my 9-3). Yes the 9-5 design is nicer and it’s a SAAB, but the diesel is underpowered (same engine as my current 9-3) and engineering wise the GM platform is not BMW or Audi. The 9-3 should be little under the Audi A4 and the 9-5 a little under the BMW 5. This may be of less importance to private customers, but it’s very relevant for fleet owners. I’m not saying SAAB should be run as if it was Opel. It’s not mainstream nor should it be. I am saying people have been too much with their heads in the clouds, too much relying on brand equity only. Keep emphasizing on Scandinavian design. It’s what makes these cars unique. But don’t forget no brand can survive without having volume as well. Unless you’re Rolls-Royce.

  12. “Reports here in Australia say that BMW is reacctivating the Triumph brand is this good or bad for a possible SAAB? BMW need production space and Trollhatten has it, BMW unlike Brightwell etc can ignore the current 9-3,9-5 and 9-4x and wait an dproduce th enew 9-3 ie give GM the finger.”

    Interesting post on BMW blog – and you can post Triumph vs. Saab.
    http://www.bmwblog.com/2012/03/01/the-spun-bearing-if-not-saab-triumph/

    • Interesting! – even though I dont like the comparison between Saab 9-3 and Toyota Camry/Ford Focus…. :-(

    • I posted on the blog and “Hugo” responded wanting more information on PhoeniX. I could not help him, but told him that there are a number of people here who could. So this is the chance to enlighten readers of the BMWblog if someone will take the ball and run with it.

  13. I think we have to take GM at Cain’s word. They clearly consider whatever IP they put into the products as a strategic corporate asset. Makes me wonder why they went the shared technology route with Saab in the first place if they had their doubts about the viability of the brand.

    I personally feel that the only possible way left for there to be a Saab cars in the future is for them to be picked up by an outfit that has the deep pockets, patience, dedication, knowledge of the premium car market, and the engineering know-how to produce a solid, GM-free quality product in a short time.

    This is not a game for just any old investor. This is a game for someone who knows how to make good cars. That quickly narrows the list to BMW . . . . and maybe PSA, but they seem to be completely out of the picture, sadly.

    It will have to be BMW or no one. Just my opinion .

    Saab: You can drive something else . . but what is the point?

    • I think other may have already said this so sorry if I’m repetitive. I’m not sure that it’s that GM thinks that “whatever IP they put into the products as a strategic corporate asset” is really the reason they’re denying the IP to a future buyer.” If they’re smart (and we all know that that is a valid question), they’re using denial of IP as a tactic for the larger strategic interest of preventing a buyer from resurrecting Saab itself which might well be a dangerous competitor of GM in certain markets, especially China. Why deny it to Brightwell when GM has little presence in Turkey you might say? Well, perhaps Saab survives under Brightwell’s ownership and the help of GM IP, and then, a few years down the road Brightwell decides to start selling in China, or perhaps they license GM free IP to a Chinese partner.

      • IMHO, if BMW sees a bona fide market opportunity for Saab and the numbers add up, they are the only players with the capability to quickly engineer the GM content out of Saab, and replace it with content of better quality.

        • the ironic thing is BMW probably also has a better chance of licensing GM IP than the others. BMW really plays in a different league than GM now. ANd if GM is worried about a resurgent Saab in China , BMW is probably less of a threat than others, and even if they were; GM knows that BMW would have the capability of developing a GM content-free Saab in a few years with or without GM cooperation, so why not license and make some money now that would otherwise be lost.

          • Somehow, I doubt BMW engineers would be any more interested in GM IP than Saab engineers were. The difference is that BMW has the money and the independence to develop their own, without having to care if they piss off GM

      • That is a lot of speculation.

    • Different CEO. Since 2008 GM has had 4 different CEOs if you don’t also include the US President. GM is not doing as well as originally hoped post Bankruptcy.

      Just a thought.

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