Robert Collin on the GM Crisis and Saab

Robert Colllin is the chief motoring writer over at Aftonbladet, a Swedish daily newspaper.
With things looking somewhat precarious for Saab at the moment, Collin’s written an editorial urging the Swedish government to think long and hard about the consequences of letting Saab hang out to dry.
ctm’s been kind enough to provide a translation:
Why the hesitation from the Swedish government about Saab?
At 5 PM, Tuesday, February 17, when the stock market on Wall Street has closed, the decision about Saab will become public. That’s the moment when General Motors will present its plan for survival to the US Congress.
Of course, GM boss Rick Wagoner can not state that parts of the aid package that the Congress and the Senate approved on Friday will go to GM’s factories in Russia, China, Australia, Germany, Sweden and many other countries. The money must stay in America.
But on the other hand it is not feasible, and no one demands it, that he should close down all operations outside the US. Russia and China are GM’s largest growth markets, although the shows a loss right now. Australia is almost “domestic” to GM, and Opel in Germany showed profit before the financial crisis.
Saab is the problem child with losses year after year. But despite the crisis, it may never have looked more promising for Saab. The ancient 9-5 will be replaced already in the autumn, the small SUV 9-4X is ready for production, and the 9-3X was shown a couple of days ago. It will go into production in Trollhättan this summer.
GM chief Rick Wagoner used the expression “carving out” when I met him in January. He said that GM has to “cut out” Saab from General Motors. Saab has to become independent with its own accounting, not an integral part of GM. But a closure was not on the table, according to Wagoner.
The problem of a closure is not only the disaster for Trollhättan, for the entire Southwestern Sweden – and in the end also for Volvo. Because Rick Wagoner is not the sentimental type. No, it is at least as much about anticipated claims from Saab dealers around the world (the closure of the GM brand Oldsmobile has cost General Motors billions in damages). And about the investment GM has made in new Saab models that will begin to give money back as early as next year.
The Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, promised the automotive industry huge loans. Sarkozy in France are doing the same. Why does the Swedish government hesitate? It’s difficult to understand. Perhaps because the government is playing cat and mouse, and hope to avoid guaranteeing loans from the EU. Perhaps for ideological reasons: they think that companies have to fend for themselves. But I can not believe that the government leaves Saab to its fate.
Sure, Saab is not a large company. It has “only” 4,700 employees in Sweden. But Saab is far greater than the number of employees. Saab is an integral part of the Swedish automotive industry. If the government does not think that Saab is worth preserving – who, then, would think that Volvo Cars, which is making losses right now, should be retained? And what about Scania and Volvo trucks? And the big Swedish automotive parts industry? 140,000 people are working within the Swedish automotive industry and vehicles account for 15 percent of the Swedish exports. And it is about a know-how in automotive and environmental technologies that could be lost forever.
Saab is a small company. And has rarely made profits. But it is one that is necessary to keep the Swedish industrial machinery running. Without Saab, Sweden grinds to a halt. And then it may be too late.

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