How GM had planned to close Saab

The following is a translated excerpt from the Jonas Froberg book, Kampen om Saab (The Fight For Saab).

It has been printed in the Swedish paper, SVD, today and Martin S has been kind enough to tidy up a GoogleTrans for us. Thanks Martin!!!

It makes for fascinating reading and really gives an insight into the initial stages of what became the fight for Saab’s continued life. Amazing stuff.

And please, publishers…..translate this book!!


Saab image

GM’s Vice Chairman Bob Lutz (right) said to SvD Näringsliv just when the picture on this page were taken in January 2009 that Saab could be closed. By then, GM has already overshadowed five months earlier decided to close down all Saab’s operations in Sweden. In the autumn of 2008 increased the pressure on CEO Jan Ake Jonsson (TV) as GM’s management also decided to lift out of Saab’s upcoming 9-3 from program. Everything was done in silence.

GM’s secret death warrant
Published: 26 September 2010, 12:38

Car giant in crisis GM was several times in silence on the point to shut down production in Trollhättan. In a new book tells SvD’s Jonas Froberg of intrigue and political maneuvering to get Saab to survive.

Detroit 08.30 January 12, 2009

It is hot in the small conference room at the Motor Show in Detroit. The 76-year-old Bob Lutz laughs as he wheeze at his own joke that Americans do not know the difference between Switzerland and Sweden. Of course he knows. GM’s vice chairman and head of global product development is born in Switzerland in a banker’s family.

Now he sits astride and talking just as bushy as he usually does for a small group of Swedish journalists. Everyone is asking about Saab. And something is dramatically different. Previously, Bob Lutz always publicly defended Saab, despite losses. He has talked about the plan forward, and he loves the cars. But despite the good morning mood, he has now suddenly nothing positive to say.

Saab has been a financial disaster, “he says with a parable about a doctor who received multiple injuries and have to decide which ones to be saved.

These doesn’t include Saab. GM’s next general manager saws thus Saab’s business publicly and mention at the end of the interview in a subordinate clause: closure is an option.

GM had already been a month earlier, in December 2008, announced that Saab would undergo a strategic review, but it was now it was clear: the Saab was out in the cold.

Bob Lutz’s statement that GM was ready to close Saab became the top story in the Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet, under the heading “End near?”.

The news was immediately ridiculed in various national newspapers for days. The Saab closure was seen as an impossibility.

With just a little narrow circle knew was that the GM in the greatest secrecy has already decided to close down Saab’s operations in Sweden for six months before Bob Lutz chose to imply the public.

No one knew then that GM six months later would collapse and be nationalized by President Obama who thus wrote American industrial history.

Let us go back and see how Saab’s agony began, long before it became known to the general public.

GM was in 2007 in deep crisis and GM in Detroit wanted to have fewer technological Center of Europe. It said in plain Rüsselsheim, Trollhättan and English Mills Brook, each of which cost a lot of money with all IT and test equipment.

It was Jim Queen, head of global development, which would implement the cuts.

It was now looking towards Trollhättan technology.

Rüsselsheim and Trollhättan organizations were merged in 2004. The five top officials of the so-called “vehicle engineering, which roughly translates as construction, in Trollhättan was all Swedes and bent over where their field: body / exterior, interior, chassis, electrical and engine installation. They were fired.

In came five new managers who would be responsible for the design both in Rüsselsheim and Trollhättan. All of them were Germans and put in Rüsselsheim.

Saab’s heart, technology developments in Trollhättan, weakened step by step and soon got Swedish Mats Fägerhag offer to become head of the five Germans and hence all the GM’s engineering activities in Europe.

But he has to sit in Germany. It was a requirement.

Suddenly Mats Fägerhag was the boss for GM Europe’s largest area of technological development and half of GM Europe’s total 3000 development engineers. Meanwhile, his chief Hans Demant increasingly entangled in her second job – the base for Opel – and soon was appointed to Fägerhag Demant Permanent replacements. In practice, ruled now Mats Fägerhag of GM’s technological development in Europe.

Rüsselsheim Christmas 2007

Just before Christmas, after two months, dampening it down an order from Detroit at GM Europe management: Form a small group in Rüsselsheim to cut costs in Europe hard. Enlist the help of talented consultants. But everything should be strictly confidential and will go fast.

The group was small and Mats Fägerhag was part of it. It started working immediately in January 2008. The basis was that all technical operations in Rüsselsheim would be left – no one would be out there.

Since the sketch were three options up for Trollhättan technological development, which then had 950 employees.

• Closure of all technological development – almost all would be out.

• Reduction of between 200 and 300 employees. Then Trollhättan in practice become a resource pool of Rüsselsheim and not allowed to develop complete cars.

• Maintain Trollhattan as it was.

Since Rüsselsheim could not be moved was in fact the third option closed. The discussions were hard on the group’s first meeting in January.

Trollhättan, Rüsselsheim and spring 2008

Mats Fägerhag was on the paper employed by Saab Automobile, but was frequently invited to write on a German GM contract.

“It was understood, Saab will surely cease to exist,” he says in retrospect.

He lived in a villa with his family in König Heim, a suburb of Frankfurt, with 45 minutes drive from the office in Rüsselsheim. He began to call Jonsson two and sometimes three times a week on the way home from work.

They discussed strategies to retain as much as it was in Trollhattan.

“I managed to see to it that the group finally landed on the option,” he says. It would therefore be 200-300 left on technological development in Trollhättan.

Jonsson would not really know anything about all this, but had had informal talks with managers in Rüsselsheim, which was under heavy pressure from Detroit to squeeze costs.

Although the group landed in between the Germans wanted to keep the option open to the closure of Trollhättan.

The group’s report would be presented in a big GM conference in Orlando in the U.S. in April, but GM’s problems had now grown. The report could not be presented.

The global technology manager Jim Queen held periodically global information meetings with all employees in technology development, including 950 development engineers in Trollhättan. Meetings are broadcast live on big screens and the spring of 2008 everyone was watching in Trollhattan.

Jim Queen calling all development centers, one by one from Detroit, as a host for Eurovision song contest calls the different panel groups. First was Holden in Australia: “How are you in Holden?” Said Jim Queen. Then came the presentations of the string from the respective local manager. All boasted unrestrained on their right place – all the managers knew of GM’s plans and shrinkage during the easygoing surface was all ready to cut each other’s back.

The engineers in Trollhättan who was behind much of the technology in the new Opel INPUT – which would be launched later this year – and new 9-5 became increasingly tense on how they would be presented to all colleagues around the world and after a while it showed a map with all Development Center.

Trollhättan was not included.

And there sat close to a thousand engineers in Trollhättan and watched. They had been responsible for much of GM’s new global mid-platform, including active and passive safety, made four-wheel drive and braking systems, front structure, and more. In addition, many Saab engineers have a key role in GM’s new high-profile projects, electric hybrid Chevrolet Volt.

“I think he had already decided to Trollhättan could be closed,” says Mats Fägerhag retrospectively.

Outwardly nothing was noticed. . There was the cheerful noises so far.

. Jonsson sat in GM Europas management team, known as the European Strategy Board, and when he went there was often the substances are transmissions that could be postponed or the engines and future car models that would be deleted.

While this chaos was forced Jonsson have a different focus.

He was really brand manager, but his big job in silence was a struggle to secure future production Saab in Trollhättan. When Jonsson was appointed CEO of Saab Spring 2005 saw some GM executives to the seemingly shy and dutiful Swede as GM-puppet and a safe choice from a GM perspective, after the colorful Peter Augustsson.

They would be wrong.

Outwardly, Jan Ake Jonsson as quiet and cool as usual. But internally, he started in 2005 focused a struggle to win the Saab production to Sweden. He had almost six years behind him in GM as head of light trucks in Europe and was seen not only as a Saab guy from Sweden, but as part of GM.

This he took advantage of.

In spring 2005, Saab’s sales plummeted, especially in Sweden but also in the rest of Europe. Jonsson did the analysis that the mark did not damage the Saabs built in Trollhättan.

“I personally conducted a propaganda battle,” he says in retrospect.

He had sales in figures how much the sale would go down if the new 9-3 arrived in Trollhättan and lobbied and coaxed, especially against GM Europe president Carl-Peter Forster.

There he met on patrol. Forster was in many cases a friend of Saab but while sitting on a chair in which he must take into account all of GM’s factories in Europe. The pressure was enormous on all sides and he had many heated discussions with Jan Ake Jonsson.

All the while the factory continued to be streamlined and early spring of 2007 would be the location decision.

Yes. Trollhättan factory would be allowed to continue.. It was Antwerp, which had drawn the short straw.

But as it crawled forward. There were to be built Opel Astra and maybe some other GM model in Trollhattan. But no 9-3.

It was a Västgöta climax (anti-climax).

It was then that he seriously began to lobby to make a small Saab 9-3. With this, he would get both a broadening of the model range – and Saab in Trollhättan Manufacturing. He stubbornly continued to lobby.

“I thought that if we did not build the Saab here then we might as well close down. I thought it would be a disaster, “he says in retrospect.

But then, in the spring of 2008, suddenly came rumors that GM was about to change his mind about the 9-3 again. Round midsummer it was decided that the 9-3 would be built in Trollhattan, together with another small GM car.

Finally Saab knew what would fill the Trollhättan factory with.

-Now I can count on that jobs are secured for years to come, “said a happy and relaxed Jonsson in Göteborgs-Posten on 19 June 2008.

Now he could take a holiday. The beloved summer cottage by the sea outside Nyköping loomed. There he could relax and read his favorite magazine “archipelago”.

Jan Ake Jonsson’s vacation in the summer house was not as he had in mind. In July 2008, called his cell phone the day it was a management meeting in Detroit – what was called the American strategy board, or just the ASB in the Saab.

There is a colleague from the U.S. who have heard gossip from the meeting and deliver a shock clearance: The next generation 9-3 had been removed from GM’s product portfolio.

“It made me feel very … confused,” says Jan Åke Jonsson later.

The car that he campaigned in three years to get to the Trollhättan factory, which was the single most important piece of Saab’s path to profit – was suddenly gone, just weeks after the decision came that it was manufactured in Trollhättan.

He immediately called the Carl-Peter Forster, who has been with the management team meeting, but not himself called and informed Jonsson.

Forster confirmed.

“It was a very difficult position,” says Jan Åke Jonsson retrospectively.

He decided to keep the news within a narrow circle.

Just a few months later, on 15 August 2008, became Mats Fägerhag drafted into one of his bosses in Rüsselsheim. He saw the same piece out behind the desk and started without chitchat.

-Mats, now it is officially decided.

Mats Fägerhag understood immediately. He needed just listen when he was told that all development activities in Trollhattan would be shut down, to the nearly 1,000 engineers would be terminated immediately and that the production of automobiles in the Trollhättan factory would be phased out eventually. It would continue to produce the current 9-3 and when it was ripe for phasing out the factory would be closed around 2011 to 2012.

Then none of Saab Automobile remain in Sweden.

GM would retain the brand, but Saab-s were developed and produced elsewhere.The only thing that might possibly remain in Sweden was a ‘brand center in Gothenburg, where about twenty people would instill Swedishness in Saab.

Saab Automobile AB would therefore at best consist of 20 persons.

The first Mats Fägerhag did when he left his manager’s room was to fish up the phone and call Jan Ake Jonsson. They began to draw up a plan: Save Trollhätte unit, but also save the Saab. They thought that a Saab but also in Sweden would not work, that the small mark would die a natural death in the GM who also himself was shaken thoroughly.

The plant was less hurry – it had in fact been given respite for a couple of years.

Now we had to act quickly to save nearly 1,000 engineers at Saab’s development. And the Saab.

On the surface, they pretended as if everything was as usual. Internally, was another. Now they put together a Powerpoint materials with one goal: delay settlement. The strategy was: point out the risks.

They pointed to the risk of delays in Opel’s new mid-size Insignia would soon be launched and that even the whole project with the new global platform was in danger.

They came up with cost estimates and indicated that a settlement must be made in small steps. Like ants steps.

In September 2008, went Jonsson and Mats Fägerhag to Frankfurt and presented his bailout plan for the small group, where Mats Fägerhag itself really was. The response was not great.

Everything was still completely in secret.

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