The pace of news articles from competing media agencies, be it Dagens Industri or the Wall Street Journal, has been blistering this past week (so fast in fact that I updated this with a late breaking New York Times article). Where there’s usually one or two Saab news articles that make the rounds each week, every morning we’re greeted by the latest updates of old headlines from the day before spun a new way. In an attempt to make it all more consumable and go down easier, I’ve compressed it all into one long snippets, organized around each player and their interest in Saab. Rather than regurgitate news (anyone can set up a news alert for Saab and read what pops up), we’re trying to make it easier for you to find all your Saab goodness in one place while we reflect on whatever insight we’re hearing from inside Saab.
We’d also like to lighten the mood a bit. As I said in the last snippets, in snippets I want to give you a quick overview of what you can expect. This time, instead of doing it graphically I decided that the Beatles might help me out. Let’s just say the thought hit me while on my morning jog with a certain playlist 😉 The lyrics certainly fit.
Liquidity: Money (That’s What I Want)
Saab needs some cash quick- about $150-300 million according to DI. Daniel Barr, head of the Debt Office, is giving same answer as before, “it will take weeks rather than days…in any case, there will be no decision from us this week.” Apparently Vladimir Antonov has contacted five major European banks to borrow 3.6 billion krona (around $570 million) to pay off the EIB loan. At the same time, if VA can come on board with his own investment which he’s hinted would be half a billion ($75 million) for a 29.9% stake. Saab is also in the works to sell Phoenix to potential Chinese customers, which added to VA’s investment would take care of short and through Phoenix sales solve bring some long term liquidity until Saab can reach profitability.
“The EIB loan must be resolved to a loan that is not politically driven. As it is so, the EIB and the Debt Office committed Saab’s assets as collateral for the loan,” said Lars Carlstrom, advisor to Vladimir Antonov. He ‘s also saying that the process can take up to six months to complete. Why the heck it’s taking so long to get the Debt Office to get it done quicker is beyond me– it’s not like they haven’t known that VA wanted into the deal all along, if they eeded to conduct background searches into him, they’ve had plenty of time to do it without waiting for his formal application. Vladimir Antonov has previously promised to put up half a billion ($75 million) as soon as he is approved as the owner of the car manufacturer. In addition to that, he says that GEM, a private equity fund which specializes in emerging companies and markets which helped finance $25 million for the initial purchase of Saab, could possibly come in again for €150 million (they already have a €150 million Equity Credit Line Facility with GEM Global Yield Fund Limited (“GEM”) for a term of 3 years, I think this is what he’s referring to). Between Saab’s other assets, (properties, tools and spare parts sales) the Debt Office has estimated that mortgage limits easily cover the 3.6 billion lent.
Bottom line, there’s money money everywhere but not a krona to spend. They really need to get things tidied up quickly so that they can make this whole thing go away. Victor Muller has a lot of experience with complex financial deals, and I have faith he’ll bang this out (or VA too) just like he got the deal through in the first place. Have a little faith, everyone.
Media Coverage: Help!
When the reports first hit that suppliers had halted their deliveries, the media started an onslaught of coverage, and was willing to speculate any number of doomsday scenarios before getting a clear picture of what was really happening within the company. After looking into it a little more, it’s nice to see them reflecting on the situation and offering a more realistic and hopeful tone for their pieces. What Saab needs right now is as much good will and help from the media as they can get. Don’t kick them while they’re trying to stand up, please. That’s just sick.
Which leads us to a few reports worth a read and critical review (that I’m sure you’ll provide in comments). The first comes from a great translation from Börjesson who posted it in comments earlier, DI’s Håkan Matson says he’s receptive to all the mail he’s been receiving and comments he’s heard from industry insiders. From the Print Edition:
It’s time for some humility
Is the end near for Saab Automobile, or is it just a passing crisis, a question of renegotiating the deals with a few suppliers, get the production started, collect fresh money from Vladimir Antonov and then – above all! – success for the new models, so that Saab Automobile will once more have air beneath the classic wings of its brand?
No one hopes for anything but the latter.
But no certain answers can be had anymore, neither from nor about Saab Automobile. The factory is stopped, unclear for how long. There’s a shortage of cash, unclear how big. Components are withheld by suppliers, unclear which ones.
You could call it a temporary slump, or believe that it’s a game from Vladimir Antonov to appease the National Debt Office to approve him as an owner; in any case, the situation is not good.
Uncertainty doesn’t sell cars, and only sold cars can save Saab.
But the sympathy for the brand is unmistakeable. I’ve sat with the head of R&D at Peugeot/Citroën, Vincent Besson, who has almost lyrically praised Saab, last week I sat with former General Motors Europe chief Carl-Peter Forster who, in spite of my telling him about the supplier problems, expressed a strong belief in Saab, other top figures in the car industry have equally soft spots for the little manufacturer from distant Trollhättan, I get mails and calls from readers, who all express their love for Saab and almost beg us in the media to save the company.
I’m afraid that’s not our job, ours is only to describe reality as well as we can.
With this paper comes an advertisement supplement from Saab, with all the news that are e.g. shown at the spring salon in Nacka this weekend.
For sure, you could ironise over the headline “Welcome to the future” on the fourth page, but you could also point to the price of the 9-5 being lowered (the combi now costs from 295 000 kronor) and to the electric car on the last page, the epower – “Soon on a street near you”.
The fact is that a decision to manufacture, from the outset, 5 000 electric cars is, according to my sources, imminent. You can find sales figures from Britain that gave an increase of 52.5 percent in March.
But then, the news wires come tumbling in and you’re brutally thrown back into the grim reality again. How will it really turn out for poor Saab?
What Saab doesn’t need are various idealisations of the situation, advanced self-deception or lofty promises for a blossoming future. Such things become more and more hollow for every day that production is stopped. When on Monday I published an estimate that Saab had barely sold 10 000 cars during the first quarter, it raised the anger of many Saab enthusiasts. But I didn’t do it out of malice, but to describe the actual situation. The Saab fans’ own site, Saabsunited.com, has now added up the sales and landed on 9 197 cars. Denmark and Japan are still missing.
What Saab needs to do is to lay the cards on the table and honestly tell us about the situation as much as they can: a description of sales and targets, talk about future grand projects and cooperations, claims about technical cooperations and selling platforms.
From Saab there are claims that Dutch stock market regulations prevent information, but it could also be that the situation is far more serious than we want to believe.
But why not try some humility, at least for a change?
Because we want you around. Without Saab our lives too would be duller, greyer and certainly less eventful.
I’m definitely with him on that last point, and appreciate that he’s trying to be objective and get us facts. I’m glad to see it and hopes he keeps the constructive tone up. The next one however..
Coming from the Wall Street Journal is a very pessimistic article that is based on their own analysis of the balance sheet at Saab. Alessandro Pasetti has a commentary piece where he tries to crunch the numbers based on Saab’s EIB debt obligations, inventory, and balance sheet, but pretty much dismisses Vladimir Antonov’s potential involvment and the breakeven point for Saab at 80-85K vehicles. I’m posting it here more to diffuse it than to take it entirely seriously, because it ignores the potential impact of 9-4x sales, it doesn’t consider the partnerships and leaner operations it has through R&D, it doesn’t take into account the sale of the Phoenix platform to potential partners (including Chinese), and it doesn’t take into account the current plan (maybe he hasn’t heard of it yet?) to convert and pay off the debt from the EIB loan right away through an external banking consortium on different terms. What it does do is propose that Fiat should buy Saab while ignoring completely that Fiat has its hands full with Alfa and Chrysler to worry about Saab right now. I appreciate Alessandro’s viewpoint, but I wonder if he had all the facts if he’d still express it the way he has. Again, we need less speculative and offbeat commentary from the press and more solid facts based on what the hell is actually happening on the ground.
From up 8th avenue in Manhattan comes an article from the New York times with an interesting claim from a source who wanted to remain nameless that today Saab will have an announcement to make about their financial situation. If true, then we’ll have the information up as soon as we hear about it. There’s nothing else really new in the article, except that the NYTimes is massive, and has one of the largest readerships in the world. Thankfully most people in the US are preoccupied worrying whether or not our Congress won’t reach an agreement on the budget which may shut down the government. Good timing.
Reuters, Bloomberg, and ttela.se so far have been the best sources I’ve found recently (I’ll even through Dagens Industri in there lately)– and Saab needs all the help it can get right now in the media for public perception.
Svenåke and the Suppliers: Tell Me Why
Svenåke Berglie (head of supplier group FKG) explains that he’s still pretty peeved about the situation, not only with Saab but with the various government departments for taking so long to approve Vladimir Antonov. “What we can not understand is why it is taking so long for government departments and levels to decide on these actions that Saab is trying to take, whether for EIB loans or to future owners of this Antonov,” he says, adding that it should be obvious to policy makers that there is little time. “It could be what saves the situation…I think it is very urgent.” he told di.se. Fortunately he has gone from calling Saab’s responses “pure crap” to saying the subcontractors’ trade association has a “good dialogue” with Saab. Clearly, Berglie has no objections to VA coming on board, saying “(VA) is a good businessman and I do not really understand why the’s getting a bad rap just because he happens to have a particular nationality.” He’s hoping that Vladimir is the white knight that saves Saab, “But it is possible that Saab has something else up its sleeve, I do not know,” he added.
“I do not know how much it (the amount owed) is in total, but we are talking about tens of millions (of crowns),” Berglie told Reuters. “There is a perception in the media that there are discussions on extended credit times and such. But it is not about that, it is about the fact that Saab must pay its bills,” he said. Later he told TT that “The debts are surely up over 30 million kronor ($4.7 million).”
Also going on record is Andreas Ljungberg, Director of Commercial Vehicles at International Automotive Components Group (IAC), which supplies dashboards and other components He said IAC was closely watching their cash flow to assess whether to go ahead with future deliveries. “Obviously, we have outstanding payments to the degree where we cannot increase our exposure further,” he added.
Other companies like Lear Corporation in Trollhättan who makes the car seats we all love, had to close its production on Wednesday. Several other contractors that DN Economics spoken to say that their patience is starting to run out. “I have been demands for Saab, which amounts to 500,000 SEK. “On the whole, perhaps it is not so much money for Saab, but for me it’s definitely there,” said “Marko” who’s one of the subcontractors who contacted DN Economics.
In a telephone interview with Ola Kinnander from Bloomberg, Christer Palm, chairman of Swedish automotive supplier group FKG admitted, “We’re starting to get really worried…you can’t have it this way, stop-and-go, stop-and-go. It isn’t making anybody happy.”
Fortunately Gunilla Gustavs says that production should start up early next week.”We’re discussing very intensively with our suppliers to reach an agreement in order to restart the flow of material,” she said Wednesday by telephone. She declined to identify the suppliers or to say how many there are.
Meanwhile in an article from ttela.se, automotive researcher and lecturer from the University of Skövde Mikael Wickelgren explains that many auto companies are sloppy with their supplier payments. “What we can say generally is that the automotive industry is historically an industry where many companies failed to pay their bills on time, especially large vehicle manufacturers to their suppliers,” he said. “There are plenty of examples of vehicle manufacturers who use their suppliers as an overdraft facility. It is extremely careful with deliveries but slips himself in payments.” It’s been common for Volvo too apparently, and extended well back into the GM and Ford years.
In the past the suppliers groups have expressed their annoyance with the situation, but this is the first clear response and action they’ve ever taken to it– and it couldn’t have come at a worse time. “It has happened before in the automotive industry, but (this time) it got media attention. “This is the first time that we are seriously focusing on what subcontractors are experiencing,” Mikael Wickelgren explains, and that the media firestorm might have encouraged more contractors to break out their “large sledgehammers” and gang up to get paid. “If a case has been on the table, other subcontractors also find reason to react. Media can be an opportunity for subcontractors.”
Oh can it ever, Mikael.
Vladimir Antonov: We Can Work it Out
If you believe that Saab will turn itself around, reestablish liquidity and get back on track to building the cars that we all love, you also are probably pretty confident that Vladimir Antonov will be a part of the new ownership structure. Reuters has a backstory on Vladimir, with many things we already knew and some that we might not have.
For instance, did you know that his father worked at a uranium enrichment plant? That he made his fortune trading debt during the Russian banking crisis at 23 years old and started his own company Akademkhimbank (ACH) a year later? At 28 years old ACH acquired 85 percent of Conversbank from MDM group, and became the start of the holding company we’ve heard so much about– Convers Group, which is shared by Antonov and his father Alexander Antonov. The group says it has assets under management worth $7 billion. That’s his specialty actually, buying and turning around troubled assets. Combined with his known love for cars, the situation surrounding Saab sounds like the perfect opportunity for Vladimir to be a part of. Now he just needs to convince Sweden and the EIB to take a chance on him. As he said on twitter two days ago:
I know the word “difficult”,i know the word “longtime” but i don’t know the word “impossible”) i don’t wanna know this word at all:)
If you remember back to last year, he sat down and discussed his plans for Convers involvement in Saab on SVT’s Rapport. While much of the interview might seemed dated, at the end of the video (around the 1:50 mark) he mentions how in December of 2009, he was on his way with his team to sit down with Sweden’s NDO to discuss investment in Saab when GM shut the whole thing down. He recounts his family’s ownership of a 9000 in the mid-nineties (when he was in college). After that video, check out Vladimir in his SUHRT Saab 99 that Jörgen helped cooked up for him.