GM Clarifies Statements to SaabsUnited

I spoke with GM spokesman Jim Cain minutes ago and asked him what the statement from this morning boils down to.

“It’s about a change of control in ownership. When Saab was sold to Spyker, we wrote technology licenses, supply agreements and other things and those were based on a relationship with a business plan and our understanding of their strategy and how they were going to be deploying intellectual property and the science of a building a vehicle that we’ve developed over decades of time.”

Clearly GM has a very simple view on this. This has never been about any ill will towards Saab, it’s been all about securing their own intellectual property. Licensing it to Saab and Spyker (now SWAN) is one scenario in itself, agreeing to the same with a very large Chinese conglomerate intent on copying and selling as many examples as possible of it is another.

“As you can see in our statement, the issue of supplying components and power train and other things to Saab is something we’d be open to continuing under the right conditions, but when you talk about the 9-4X and the technology licenses, that is something we have to manage so carefully because it potentially impacts us in markets all over the world. We need to be able to control our own technology in order to be successful for the long term.”

Asked whether or not other deals would be impacted by this same logic, it’s clear that GM is not shutting any doors. They were fine with Saab as an independent automaker and they are clearly okay with that going forward so long as certain conditions and ownership are met.

“It’s a decision that we’ve made and wanted to be as clear as we possibly we could. How that impacts the way things develop from this day forward is something that Saab and Pang Da and Youngman have to discuss. Our piece has always been related to our role as a supplier and as a technology licensor.”

This chess game has many more rounds to play out, and this is definitely not the end of Saab. We’ll know more soon, ahead of most other media outlets as usual.


52 thoughts on “GM Clarifies Statements to SaabsUnited”

  1. Makes sense, of course. I think the need for GM is the building of a “Chinese wall” (no pun intended) around their IP so as to prevent it being used against them and SAIC in China.

    Ford and Geely managed to work this out vis-a-vis Volvo, so, if it can be done quickly, it’s something that can be mirrored here.

  2. Did you have the opportunity to ask him about the previous deal reached by PDYM (the 54% stake)? I’m curious about GMs view on that deal.

    • I did, he would only comment on this deal. My own personal take is that GM felt that SWAN was a check/balance on the Chinese shareholder scenario. I was prepared to release my own article today about why I felt that Youngman lacked the credibility to ensure production remained in Sweden over the long term, citing many examples. It appears GM had the same info.

  3. from the horses mouth! Very well done Jeff. I´m also curious about the earlier deal, the chinese guys were supposed to have 54%, but swan would still be in control, wouldn´t they?

  4. .
    They have said it now…

    IP is all about slowing down your competition.
    Owing ‘copyright [at least in the UK] stops your competitors copying anything that is protected for 7 years.
    Once out of copyright [IP] anyone can use it, but who wants to use it then, as it will be outdated.

    The other interesting thing would be a Chinese part owned SWAN, wonder if this would help.?
    Sadly GM, holds most of the cards here, so if they on’t like it, it ain’t gonna happen.

  5. Ayep – unless they either don’t believe in its potential future success, or it involves nothing of theirs.

    I’m OK with either path – but at this stage, a clean slate may in fact be best because current IP isn’t current any more.

  6. I’m kind of surprised by the viciousness towards GM by many of the comments on SU. When GM sold Saab to Spyker, the non-transferral of IP was one of the requirements. This is normal business practice, you don’t want the IP that you have invested so much in to end up in the hands of competitors. Because of its small production volumes Saab was not seen as a real competitor. Seeing this IP getting into the hands of Chines companies that could be able to mass produce cars could seriously damage GM’s sales in China in the near future and possibly also globally at a later stage.
    So, please try to limit the amount of foul language, keep in mind that this is a public forum. I think the moderators should start moderating before SU starts looking like a bunch of screaming idiots.

    • I think the ill-feeling results from the fact that GM absorbed Saab completely into their corporate structure, removing from it the ability to engineer an entire vehicle. They then used large numbers of innovations developed by Saab engineers in their own vehicles. They then cast Saab aside when their innovations of strategy failed them.

      GM could have continued to shut down Saab in 2009, but they very publicly decided to sell it on. In doing so, they should – surely – have tied-down properly these issues of IP ownership AT THE TIME. It was a problem of their own making, and they appear to have chosen to solve it by completely ignoring the down-the-line aspects of a sale of Saab.

      For the record, as somebody who negotiates his own contracts, I’m not awfully happy that VM didn’t get this stuff buttoned-down, either.

      It is, I believe, as much down to GM to find a way out of this as it is down to VM. For them to – in effect – say ‘sorry, not our problem’ is behaviour worthy of censure in my opinion.

      • I think the ill-feeling results from the fact that GM absorbed Saab completely into their corporate structure, removing from it the ability to engineer an entire vehicle.

        …A fair point, except that it can be argued just as strongly that Saab was incapable of ever engineering its own vehicle, even when it was completely independent. It has always relied on components from other manufacturers, stretching back 50 years, from DKW to Ford to Triumph to GM. The claims of GM tech being developed by Saab to a high degree are wildly overstated. Saab helped GM-Europe with turbocharging, and re-engineered the suspensions of the 9-2x and 9-7x, but really, that’s a small drop in the tech bucket.

        • Saab engineering cars completely independent would be a problem but the (very) small home market and limited funding has always played a huge part in the choices they’ve had to make and not trying to make everything from scratch makes perfect sense.
          GM’s IP too me is more about tech to produce and build cars, rather than developing them. THN have made Saabs -from GM platforms and many parts- totally different cars than what Opel/Buick has been able to come up with from the same basic ingredients.

          I think -besides the tooling and raw platform- there would be very little GM IP in a Saab had everything that was modified in THN counted as Saab IP.
          We must remember that most of the mechanical parts come from hundreds of suppliers who probably fully own their in-house engineering.
          A Bosch fuel pump works the same regardless what car it sits in, but again the software must be GM IP even though coded in Sweden – until January 2010.

  7. please think about that : VM always knew the problem – so they made a deal with Pang da an car dealer . the JV with Youngman which become actual after – was always for real own SAAB IP cars based on phoenix. All cars for the whole world the next years should be produced in Trollhättan or directly in mexico by GM.
    So the output of cars is limited. should be ok to protect rights in china.

    but with 100% chinese ownership it´s complicated – but the agenda of swegov and lofalk was to get rid of VM and antonov not thinking about consequences.
    and so the swedish press should talk about the salary of Lofalk instead of victors non paid bonus.

  8. Bear in mind that:
    a. the best off the GM-tech is, to a high degree, developed by Saab
    b. For still some years there will solely be Saab-production in Trollhättan

    IMO GM ought to give Saab the credit Saab has deserved. Both in the official statements and in the agreements. But I guess this is more a moral than a business way off thinking… (?)

    • How is that comment backed up?

      Im not picking a fight, but I am quite sure GM has a massive R&D team and budget. GM has gained some tech from Saab, but not all of it.

      • I am not saying it is all of it.
        But, as fas as I know, GM pulled a lot af Saabs engineers to the developing of great parts of the Opel Insignia. I know they had the right to do so and I know they also have the right to afterwards demanding payments from Saab for the license to the same technologies. That is the laws of busyness as Gm were the owners and therefore in charge.
        I am just expressing my frustrations over that so many, including GM, are neglecting the innovation-power and the historical innovations from Saab and over a possible situation where GM will block a future for Saab. In my objective this is not fair…

          • Moot discussion as it makes no difference. Until the Spyker takeover, Saab was 100% owned by GM. Everything developed by Saab during the 100% GM ownership period is 100% GM-owned IP. Saab probably even have to pay for tech they developed themselves under GM.


  9. So this is saying, what GM doesn’t want – loose control over IP. Fine. Did GM said under which circumstances they approve the deal ? What do they understand under “we have to manage so carefully” ?

    • keep calm – it´s a thing to negotiate and for me it´s perfect to keep swan in the game as also to keep the trollhättan plant alive. and saab can´t produce the 9-4 without gm – so they can limit 9-4 to china as for the whole world. they only want to have some kind of protection for their IP and most of them their chinese partners.
      ford wasn´t that complicated with ovlov

      • i am calm, just want to understand. I don’t believe that it is “just” about IP. GM knows that if Saab survives and grows and non-GM next-gen Phoenix comes, the revenue from the IP will be lost. A growing competition, which stops to pay them license fees isn’t good. Therefore either die or GM stays in game. Just a speculation.

        • in 2-3 years the IP from GM will be old and lost …. If GM is afraid of BIG BIG SAAB you could say good bye to GM. they should concentrate on the real big things and problems . ( opel for example has the next problems)

          • they should concentrate on the real big things

            true. but they don’t. they concentrate on small Saab, with one leg in the grave. Saab cannot do too much damage right now to them as well as Y/PD cant. So why so much crying …

    • Now that GM is healthier company, this may be within the realm of possibility. Maybe its a way for them to control their IP, AND expand their market in China.

      • Not a chance – GM is now starting to become profitable again, but that has happened via huge restructuring and a plan. This would be a major deviation from that plan, one that the American taxpayer would have to be made aware of, and the American taxpayer is not interested in any more bailouts. Also, GM would argue as it has for a long time that Saab undercuts Cadillac – and now they might even say it undercuts Buick and Opel in China. And acquiring another platform (Phoenix) – no way. So the notion of GM buying Saab or taking a more active role in Saab – nadda.

  10. I think what GM is worried about, was one clause in the agreement made public last week. The bit in which it said that Saab through its Chinese partners, would sell IP agreements to other Chinese car makers. That’s what has GM worried, and deservedly so.

  11. GM never wanted to sell Saab, they wanted to close it down or into the hands of the Swedish government. By selling to koenigsegg, and later spyker, they felt safe that Saab would die on somebody elses operating table. Little did they know that the Swedish gov strategically was seeking partners and new domestic markets in china for it’s two favorite automotive brands. By toying with Spyker / swan and investments from the the Russian pockets, it caused the factory to halt, pushing victor in to Chinese hands. Little did the Swedish gov know that GM had learned from fords mistake to let saabs Swedish brother live in adopted land, and was not to take any further risks. By exercising it’s veto right, a poisoned apple was delivered to put Saab into everlasting sleep.

    • I think GM wanted to sell Saab — why else give VM such a sweetheart deal? — but to keep the company alive as a viable vendor for GM tech and drivetrain components. Remember that this deal was struck while GM was circling the drain here in the US, and cutting some beloved domestic brands as well as Saab. Every potential source of revenue had to be explored…

      But giving away IP is not part of the deal, especially to a country with laughable IP rights enforcement.

  12. Deep in the forest Saab enthusiasts lived in harmony when they one day found that the IP rights that GM so much protected made the Chinese NDRC even more attracted to the car w 900 lives. Now the game began where the bets were raised, cunning offers being made. GM uses Saab to get something else as compensation, maybe move it’s partners position in china into those favored ones that will survive once the big consolidation starts. Victor sees in the game a possibility to take back an ownership in Saab that he so honorably deserves. With the help of GM, swan is still the majority owner of Saab, while swan is owned partly by the Chinese.

  13. Very good that you can make this sort of interviews, Jeff, it’s very appreciated!

    I still have hope, Saab has 900 lives!

  14. “a very large Chinese conglomerate intent on copying and selling as many examples as possible of it is another.”

    ie. we are happy for Saab to sell a few cars but not too many.

    • No, it’s more like: “We’re happy to let Saab sell as many cars as it can using our chassis, drivetrains and other IP, but we’re not going to let that tech fall into the hands of a competitor for nothing…”

  15. .
    GM cars driving around China, is, well just, like driving a Ford [sorry Ford, your Cars are quite good these days] as there are so many of them.

    A SAAB driving up their Arse, is a sight to behold…..and that’s what their afraid of.

    Rather short sighted of them to throw Saab away in 2009, don’t you think?.

    NB: this is of course not to do with IP>

  16. Why do people think GM is so afraid of Saab when Cadillac sold more vehicles in October 2011 than what Saab did globally all year? I just get the fear logic? Saab will never be able to compete against GM and win.. not in the near term anyway.

    Sadly, I feel it will take a decade or longer for Saabs image to recover. It took Detroit nearly 20 years to come back. A great deal of that was just luck in regards to recalls, natural disasters ect putting a hurt on the Japanese car makers.

    Sorry but it is what it is. GM is massive, they make rather boring cars ( to me and you Saabers) but the fact of the matter is most people buy basic get to work and grocery getting transportation…not a Saab.

  17. Sting:
    Then it’s truly Over. If Saab is not able to compete mano-a- mano with Cadillac (never mind the Germans — whether that’s by GM restriction, or our own inability to come to the table with equivalent performance) we’re finished — in North America anyways. The XTS is being prepared not many miles from me and it is going to have 350hp, XWD and likely come in around the price of Saab (with latest ‘info-tainment’ etc.) on the latest (Saab- inspired /derived?) platform…if it has a HUD then Saab don’t have much leg to stand on. I suspect it will be priced ’round about a fully equipped 9-5. And I understand it’s about 9 +/- months away. I know 2 other Turbo X owners whose leases come up in May ’12 and are actively considering a Cadillac [CTS-V] as an alternative to the ubiquitous Germans (manual transmission to boot — and wagon!)
    We may be able to point to ‘Saab’ safety features incorporated in it (of XTS), but that will be a retrospective, historical pat on our back as we share a beer reminiscing of glory days, since past…

    [Somebody please provide a strong counter argument to my hypothesis!]

    [Also: in respect of Buick– the Regal GS is a very interesting alternative to a 328 i here in Canada…I can’t believe I’m saying that…but it’s true! 270 hp…direct injection…]

    • yup, 270 ponies out of the 2.0 liter 4 banger…. grandpas Buick all of a sudden had some grunt like the GNX had. (for its time)

      Ugh… I hate to even re-read my post let alone read your terrifying information. I do recall Caddy paring up a 500+ HP plant to a 6 speed manual next year… zoom zoom.

      But I’ll stay quite happy in my little wagon that can.

    • Well since many seem to want an ultra-mega-power-everything-included to show off to their date, neighbour, whatever, then they can buy that (old man’s) Cadillac or Buick (but it’s probably going to be some German brand in that case, in the worst case of “show off”, that is; but then some seems to be afraid of the costs, after warranty, and, oh dear, then we’re back where we started, they are cheap, show off, yes, but it must not cost them). Difficult to please, these customers.

      Saab seems to be between a rock and a hard place in the US, with Asian and US cars; they can’t compete with the cheap go-buy-the-groceries-cars, it’s said; and they can’t compete with the premium cars, it seems. People here have mentioned that they should lower the price significantly AND ship ’em fully loaded, camera, GPS, leather, you name it. And somehow make a profit from that, God knows how.

      On the one hand I’m a bit fed up with the discussion how to please the US customers (obviously it’s discussed because it’s large market for Saab, and many commentators in the community live in the US); Saab has been called “quirky” and something for “odd” people, strange individualists, headmasters, dentists, architects, you name it etc. 😀 but not for everyone. If that’s the perception in the US, it might take quite some time and resources to change it, if possible.

      There have been mentioned other approaches; advertising starting with low list prices, since most people add equipment anyhow, and then it can end with quite a different price. But then again, it’s the US, and don’t they buy it on the spot, at the dealer?
      I would rather buy just about anything, if there’s no Saab; German, Korean (with humiliating names such as ‘pony’ or similar 😀 ), Norwegian? 😀 or whatever, than buying a Cadillac or Buick; but then again I’m in Sweden, and a Swede.

      [Somebody please provide a strong counter argument to my hypothesis!]

      I would love to.

  18. I understand what GM is saying about their position on this. However I don’t think I need to explain why it is absolute garbage and hypocrasy.
    All of their cars now are DI turbos. Wonder where they got that idea.
    They took all the bailout money they could to save their company and then talked about how they saved all these American jobs. But they’re willing to let Saab go straight down the toilet as well as all of the jobs that would be lost also.

    Ridiculous. I will NEVER buy a GM car ever in my life.

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