Things are getting really interesting now. As administrator Hans Bergqvist told TT (as reported by AFP here) there are now up to five parties who are interested to buy Saab as a whole and talking to the administrators. So besides he ones we know (Youngman, Mahindra & Mahindra, Brightwell Holdings) there is at least one, if not two parties who prefer to remain unnamed for now. Time is a big factor for everybody and it looks like one of those unnamed parties visited Trollhättan last week. Hans Bergquist said that their goal is to get a deal done within two weeks. Good to hear.
I’d assume the thing that everybody asked himself most is which buyer would be the best. We first of all want Saab to survive this bankrupcy but still, if there is a choice why not look for the best fit. It’s a tough decision because the perfect suitor really has to be multi talented.
One major requitement is of course sufficient funding. Getting Saab back on its feet is a managable but huge task. Not only that the purchase price and the restart of production with whatever model setup have to be financed. In my opinion it will be the first three to five years where a buyer has to put in additional money to cover the running costs. This is of course heavily dependent on when a new model lineup hits the market. For now the most likely scenario is that Saab will only have a current 9-3 to produce, and even that one may have to be more or less altered to avoid interference from GM.
Finalizing the Phoenix platform along with the next 9-3 costs quite a bit with maybe two more new models that have to join in to make the company profitable again. I don’t claim to be an expert but I’d assume that one billion Euro is just the beginning and maybe only half of what is needed to get through the first three years. So if we don’t want to have another deja vu the buyer has to have serious money at hand to get through this. Money that he can spend without getting in trouble himself.
The second requirement is reputation. This is one of the more difficult things to name. One aspect comes through proper financing. The suppliers and the dealer network have to regain trust in the company so that they are willing to join in the chain again and supply the base for a restart of Saab. This supply and distribution chain has suffered a lot in the past months. Same with the employees. They have to see the opportunities a new Saab can offer so they want to stay even if there are other offers.
Reputation is not easy to judge, I know quite a few who laughed when Tata took over Land Rover and Jaguar. But look how they are doing now. One recipe for their success is that they do not interfere to much with the internal decisions of their brands. They run as, so to say, independent companies making their own decisions within Tata, a solution that I would have liked to see for Saab, too. Besides the monetary aspect there is your track record, the way how you worked in recent joint ventures, the success you made, the experience you have. It all hets in the mix that makes partners and people confident – or not.
The third requirement is awareness of the heritage and the dedication to keep Saab together. Personally I think it would be dumb for anyone to buy Saab and move it away from Sweden. Development and main production have to stay in Trollhättan as this is a part of the brand heritage. You could of course start some kind of local production where it makes sense but the heart and soul are in Trollhättan. Not only that a wise future owner can count on the strongest fan community in the automotive world, for any investor Saab is one if not the last heritaged worldwide car brand that is for sale. So they should do everything to keep the heritage and the image intact if they want to succeed.
The fourth requirement is the ability to think different. GM was a huge dinosaur that would not easily let Saab explore new roads, They maybe wanted to have too much control. Saab has always been looking for new ways and that’s (at least to me) a main reason why Saab has a chance to survive. Last week I suggested to get things up wit a 9-3 followed by a 9-1 instead of a 9-5. I think many things have to be re-thought, no matter if it is model policy, the usage of parts among hte model range, the structure of the company that is no longer just a part of a giant mother… There are reasons for Saabs failure beyond GM and those have to be examined during the process of restart. No matter if it is done from the outside or if the management is chosen accordingly, this has to be done.
Those are my major points. There are many more small ones, like if the buyer is a car comapny it may help if they think vehicles like Saab does. Driver oriented, responsible performance… But going into every detail might just exceed the medium of a blog. It may even fill a book.
To come back to the headline – to me there are two preferred buyers based on the info we have. One is among those we already know and one among the yet unnamed parties. I won’t name them here for a variety of reasons. First, we intend to stay open to any investor with honest intentions. Still if there are things about one or another party we will report them and give our opinion. But there will be nothing like an official preferred SU candidate. Second, especially when it comes to the unnamed parties they want to stay private for a reason and even if we get to know a name we do not want to interfere too much. This point in time is too sensitive to come up with names just to be first.
But I’d say everybody can make own conclusions based on those core requirements along with personal aspects. Comments are open, let us know what you see as main requirements for the next owner of our beloved brand.