I’m an Australian. I’m proud of where I live and the things that my country has achieved. We’re big in land mass but small in number, yet we still manage to acquit ourselves well when we’re challenged.
Being an Australian, I don’t fully understand the social landscape in Sweden, though I like to think I’ve developed a good layman’s grasp over the five years I’ve been writing about my favourite Swedish export – Saab automobiles.
My limited understanding aside, I thought I’d take this opportunity to write to the Swedes who visit this site, and anyone else those visitors might pass this along to, in the hope that you might feel a little moved to act on behalf of Saab in this most desparate of hours.
Saab have been given a stay of execution by General Motors, who have stated that they will make a final decision about Saab’s fate on December 31st of this year. That’s 23 days away, not counting the Christmas holiday season, so there’s not much time.
Saab have, of course, been in a state of flux for the last 12 months, with their ownership and indeed their very future under a cloud since late last year. All of this time, it’s been evident through polls in newspapers, etc, that the Swedish people are in favour of the government’s hardline stance towards General Motors, and by extension, somewhat ambivalent about the future of Saab.
A recent poll at Dagen Nhyeter indicated that 53% of respondents thought it didn’t matter if Saab survived as a brand.
I just don’t get it.
I understand that the Swedish way is to care more for the people than for the company, and to try and replace those potential job losses with new jobs. But isn’t preserving a viable company the best way to protect those people?
At risk if Saab fails are some 3,800 direct jobs with Saab, as well as maybe 10,000 more in associated suppliers and small businesses who depend on Saab and their workers for their income. That’s for starters.
After that, there’s the erosion in the tax base that these companies and individuals contribute to services in their area.
Then there’s the loss of technological know-how and it’s application in a solid, purposeful industry. Yes, the people with the know-how are still around, but they will disperse and the application of their ability will not be focused as it is now.
Then there’s the potential effects on Volvo, who rely on many of the same suppliers as Saab, as well as co-operative projects between the two companies.
On top of all that is just good old fashioned national pride. I’m an Australian and I haven’t owned a Holden for nearly 20 years, but I’d hate for the company that started right here in my back yard to go under. It’s part of the Australian fabric. Songs have been written about them. One weekend in early October every year is dedicated to the Holden vs Ford rivalry, with the battle fought on Australia’s most revered race track (Mount Panorama).
This is not all about avoiding negative consequences. There’s a whole lot to be gained as well.
Saab ARE a viable company.
Here is something Christian von Koenigsegg said to me in Frankfurt, back in September of this year. It’s something that’s 100% true. Saab have never been the main focus of their owner. In the early days, they were an offshoot of a plane company. Then the smaller brother of a heavy machinery company. Then they were just another brand amongst many and they were out of sight, in a faraway place. Saab have never had the 100% full attention of their owner. They have never been the sole focus of development.
With new models, a lean factory concentrated in Trollhattan and dedicated management, Saab can survive and grow.
They have just released the Saab 9-3x and they have three other new vehicles developed for release in the next 15 months or so. The first of these is the new Saab 9-5 sedan and it’s already been well received at motor shows around the world.
They have a business plan that’s been assessed and stress tested by your Swedish government, the accounting firm KPMG as well as the beancounters at the European Investment Bank. It’s been assessed as being ‘sound, but not without risk’ – which is pretty much the same as every business out there.
They have engineers and designers who are second to none in the world. What these men and women are capable of will astound you and make you proud.
They have an environmental platform that places them well for the future.
They’re not a German car company. I’m not sure why, but I felt compelled to throw that in.
They have one of the most efficient GM plants in all of Europe and have recently won a national LEAN award in Sweden for having one of the most efficient operations in the entire country. Now Sweden is an organised place. I’ve seen how you make people split up their trash at a McDonalds. If Saab have won a LEAN award in Sweden, then you know they’re running a tight ship.
Saab have a rich history, punching well above their weight. They’re a company you should be proud of.
But they have a future, too.
Saab are desperately trying to negotiate a sale of their operations between an as-yet unidentified buyer and their corporate parent, General Motors.
Whilst it may be unpalatable to many, it’s beyond doubt that this sale will involve some level of government assistance. That’s where you can make a difference as a Swede and as a Saab fan. Saab are not asking for handouts. Any loans they receive are expected to be fully secured. They’re not asking for the nationalisation of the company. They just want a fair shot at survival with reasonable terms.
I hope you have enough faith in Saab’s future and enough concern for your automotive industry to consider letting your government representative or the Enterprise Ministry know that it’s an important issue.
Once this company goes, once these jobs go, they will never come back.