This is a great interview.
Those of you who followed the Saab sale know that Jan-Ake is “the man” and his poise, determination and intelligence shine through in this inteview.
The Original (in Swedish). The quite readable Googletrans:
Jan Åke open for new collaborations
Saab has now begun the tough and exciting fight to take back lost ground and move on. We met our Saab’s CEO Jan Ake Jonsson in August for a call on the current status, future and of course a little flashback – now that the mists cleared. Jan Åke is an experienced marathon runner – but the commercial marathons he implemented and led through the Saab was long and hard. But it’s over now, and Saab is the goal. Now begins the “real” bait cars.
Have arbetsron come back now that the mode and conditions cleared?
Yes, we have definitely had more time to do what we must do, design, manufacture and sell cars. The processes that led to the solution, we commit ourselves hard. This work was from January 2008 when GM said it wanted to sell Saab to the “closing” Feb 2010th We had to do a lot of sales work for GM, who to support and inform all potential stakeholders. We had to engage in discussions with the Debt Office and the European Investment Bank. In principle, the GM took his hands away from us when you decided to sell. Managing all, often parallel processes, and pursue business was heavy. Now it feels good to 100% concentrate our energy on bilverksamheten.
Saab with all the staff have gone through a dramatic time. Have you drawn any general conclusions of the past?
Our media strategy was to keep the media informed when we knew something. We tried to be accessible and always consistent. We are constantly striving to show that we believed in the future and the plan we worked for. The most important thing was that we were all united in our optimism and hope. Boxes, management, new stakeholders – all believed in the solution. Availability, clarity and consistent approach was our strength. It was blowing hard, but all were stable.
In addition to the media how it was with other observers?
There were often outside experts reading the statement on our plan and the future. Not all of them were familiar with or had even been in contact with us. Then it was often free-for-all pundits who were often negative. But yes, there were a number of outside experts who worked hard to be familiar and to give a realistic picture of opportunities and threats.
What was it like working with so many political contacts, and how competitors?
The politicians were slow in the beginning but came back strong at the end. They worked quickly and then allowed the deal went through. Competitors, of course, tried to take advantage of our situation – but that’s life, according to business rules.
Is the feeling and knowledge in Sweden on the automobile industry conditions and situation at the right level?
Actually, it is enough for the whole area of industrial activity there is a lack of knowledge, interest and knowledge in general and politician. The conditions and the competitive situation changes all the time for the industry especially when new players enter the market. Eg I think that awareness of the importance of Swedish ownership is too small. In many decisions on production, research and development into consideration the other aspects than the purely rational. Culture, tradition and social climate is important and this is a domestic property an edge. The current Swedish government is now gradually built up a knowledge of how the industry works and should be handled from the political side and it is good.
In 2006 you said that Saab’s core problem was one of the narrow product segments. Do you agree on to deal with this?
We had a clear and exciting product plan that unfortunately was slowed down. GM’s money ran out. Now it’s full speed. After “closing” February 23 this year, we launched the new Saab 9-5 and Saab 9-4x is now in the pipeline – so the tempo is high. We are running after our plan and we will have a product structure which we believe.
Saab brand is a great asset, but the turmoil has affected the ownership and GM?
GM ownership was enough that we moved a bit more towards the mainstream, but now we are again turning back to the Saab in a unique position. Being unique is key in the prestige segment and we are not trying to make a new Audi or BMW – no we do Saab.
What should the Saab stand for?
Handling, advanced engine technology and design. Driving characteristics shall be such as to create an active safety. On the engine side for small fuel-efficient engines with turbo technology provides the power when needed. The design should be a clear “Saab designs” that are distinctive.
How does it look for Saab in the markets and how you prioritize?
We are committed to make up for lost ground in the U.S., UK, Sweden and the rest of Western Europe. Then we concentrate on growth in Germany, Spain and Italy where prestige cars is clearly interesting and where we have more to download. Russia and China, we will work with but is careful to count volumes too early. In China, we are considering several options including BAIC but nothing is decided.
U.S. has been an important market. Can you get back there?
U.S. is a big market and there is a clear interest in cars that are unique and here we have our opportunity, there are so many buyers who want something other than “mainstream” and where Saab fits into.
Environmental Fuels and fuel efficiency are important competitive factors – how Saab is to where?
These issues are now not only an economic and tax issue but has also become a major question mark. We are in the race and will be very strong. Saab 9-5 diesel emits 139g which is low for a car with such performance. Saab 9-3 comes with engines of 180 hp, which emits 119 g and we will proceed. Ethanol was, unfortunately, only a Swedish solution, but ethanol is still a good way to reduce CO2 emissions overall.
When will the Saab with the electric car?
We do a series of tests on 100 cars along with Boston Power (battery), Electro Engineering AB in Sweden and Energy Agency. These cars are rolling out in early 2011 and will provide useful experience. We believe that electric cars is delayed but in the meantime we are concentrating all our efforts on making current drive more efficient – and this is still a great potential to capitalize on.
As a small producer, you get access to the latest technology in various fields are being developed by contractors?
In our agreement with GM, we have a safety net that gives us the right to under 10 years receive their technical development. Then, the situation among suppliers. Today there is great interest from several suppliers to sell advanced technology early on and this is not limited to companies with common ownership interests. The atmosphere at the international supplier market has become much more open and many suppliers know we have a strong tradition of expertise to be early with exciting development.
Other partnerships to develop?
With both Saab and Volvo Cars has new owners who do not compete with one another will open significant opportunities for greater cooperation with Volvo Cars. Crimp, logistics, research development and maybe even a joint production convertible in the future. The field is open.
Swedish subcontractors would now get a chance in the GM’s name was when GM took over Saab. How has it gone?
I have not seen any statement on this and it has probably not been much. But now Saab has full freedom to choose their suppliers and we are interested in having suppliers close – in Sweden, Trollhättan whatsoever. This is a chance for Swedish suppliers. Now we will determine and there are several foreign suppliers, we want to establish themselves here in Trollhättan.
GM added to the research and Trollhattan Sweden – what happens to it?
The research is currently being experienced here is led and will be led by Saab.
Jan Åke et al radiates calm and confidence. The atmosphere in the office is relaxed, informal and purposeful. It feels that “Saab gang” is underway. Saab has done the impossible many times and will do so again. This will be exciting.