Robert Collin on GM’s 20 years with Saab

Robert Collin from Aftonbladet has posted a blog article on GM’s 20-year ownership of Saab and it’s a pretty damning post.
Swedes can click through and read it in their native tongue, but we English speakers will have to make do with my dodgy translation and summary.
Some of the facts about Saab’s history from 1989 until now:
* When the Saab 900 began losing sales in the late 1980s, Saab’s owners (the Wallenberg’s Investor corporation) looked for an expansion partner to help Saab develop new vehicles. That partner was GM. Saab had a great reputation at this time with the 900, the introduction of turbocharging and the revolutionary convertible.
* GM were willing investors, but didn’t pay much mind to Saab’s clientele of ‘individuals’. Actually, they didn’t pay much mind at all, preferring to leave the oversight and assistance to their other European brand – Opel.
* In the late 1980s, Opel were working on a new Vectra, the basis for which may have made a good base for a new Saab. Instead, Opel stuck Saab with the outdated Vectra/Ascona platform, which Saab had to make the best they could (a car that Collin said they failed with, though some may disagree. It should be noted that some in comments question this Ascona/NG900 relationship)
* The 900/9-3 failed as a drivers’ car and only got worse when given more power, the Viggen being the final example (a notion that I’d disagree with. The Viggen was a fundamentally flawed, but still magnificent machine)
* The 9-5 saw a Saab adaptation of the new Vectra platform that the 900/9-3 missed out on. Collin considers it to be a compromised vehicle as well, too soft riding (if my translation is correct).
* In contrast to Saab’s heritage of getting the power of a six from a turbocharged four, Saab now got a sub-standard V6 from Opel and a diesel engine from Isuzu.
* Saab got the Epsilon architecture for the 9-3 but it was optimised for an Opel-grade vehicle. The changes Saab needed to make were expensive and Collin considered the styling to be indifferent, which was a big mistake.
* Collin then explores the faiscos that were the 9-2x and 9-7x, which took Saab further away from their core identity through poor model choice and execution.
It’s not only a damning piece about GM’s poor handling of Saab, but it also illustrates the strenuous relationship between Saab and Opel, a relationship that Opel would seemingly like to continue.
Many commentators tend to think that Opel’s only interest in a relationship with Saab would be for the purposes of utilising their excess capacity in Germany and thereby protecting German jobs. The integrity of Saab’s products under this arrangement must surely be in question.
I guess the thing we have to be mindful, and grateful for, is that during these 20 years, Saab were still around. We have a chance to hope for an independent-spirited Saab today because GM kept them around until now. Small comfort, perhaps, but comfort nonetheless.

My apologies to Robert Collin if my translation has resulted in me mis-stating anything of substance here. It’s the best I could do via a web translation, and hopefully I’ve got the core of the article correct.

If you own a Viggen, keep your Viggen. If you don’t own a Viggen, then try and buy a Viggen

I’m trying to not think of this as buyer’s remorse, and I don’t think it is a case of buyer’s remorse, but I think I have to get this out of my system anyway, just in case.
Those of you who have been hanging around here for a while know that I’m a bit of a serial car-shopper. I don’t mean for it to be that way, but I guess I have a wandering automotive eye.
In January (was that just last month??) I ventured over to the Australian mainland and bought a car that I’ve been after for some time – a Saab 9-3 Monte Carlo. It’s a color that I love and it’s got an interior that I really love (esp now with the carbon fibre dash) and an engine with a heck of a lot of potential. At the price I paid, it really is the bargain of the year.
In addition to that I’ve got a classic flat-nose 16V Saab 900 Aero in silver that’s a joy to drive and has become a car that I’ve got more and more attached to now that it’s come time to sell it.
And in addition to that I’ve got my toy track car, the 16V Alfa Romeo 33.
When you consider that we’ve really only got room for two cars at out place and then you add in my wife’s Saab 9000 then you could well say that I’m rather spoiled…..that I should count my blessings.
So why is it that I’ve been seeing pictures of Viggens this week and feeling myself totally overcome with the automotive equivalent of teenage lust?

Read moreIf you own a Viggen, keep your Viggen. If you don’t own a Viggen, then try and buy a Viggen

Could Saab be the straw that broke the GM camel’s back?

I just had a thought as I was reading through the numerous press articles about Saab’s reconstruction announcement today.
GM are asking governments all over the world to pitch in and help save the GM units in their jurisdictions.
Opel (and by extension, Vauxhall) are in the can for billions. Holden are shaky and Aussie government has already offered assistance. Daewoo are sinking.
Need I remind you about GM’s US operations?
GM have asked for assistance in Sweden, Australia, Canada (just today), Thailand, the UK, Germany and who-knows-where-else and then there’s The Big Ask in the United States.
Up until this week, everyone was looking for a way to help….and then the Swedes stepped in. Maud Olofsson and her buddies stood firm and told GM “this is your mess, you clean it up”.
I’m not sure it was the right thing to say for the long run, but it was a solid stance that quite likely sent shivers through the spine of the Ren Cen.
The US Congress initially declined GM’s request for money, but that was more for show than anything else. A few representatives got to make their point, but everyone knew that a compromise would come through to save the jobs that were on the line.
But GM don’t just need help from the US. They need help everywhere and now someone’s stood up and said “no”. Will other governments stand up and do the same? The thought of that must be pretty scary for the suits in Detroit.
As I said, I don’t think Maud Olofsson’s decision was the correct one. I think with a good plan and good prospects, the Swedish government should support their automotive sector as they pledged they would.
What is is, though, is a decision that’s made GM react to assist Saab with loan guarantees – something I’m sure they’d rather not do. If other governments take the same stance, GM could be shown as the house of cards that it is at the moment.

GM cuts continue, will the UAW still be “tone deaf”?

As reported by CNN/Fortune and the AP, General Motors has announced that over 10,000 salaried employees will be cut and the remaining salaried employees will take a 3% to 7% reduction in pay. The salaries of those in the executive ranks will be cut at least 10%. The expected effective date is May 1, 2009.
This will affect GM on a global level; previous cuts were felt only in the US. This announcement indicates that an additional 3,400 US employees are to be released, leaving the majority of the cuts to the global sales and manufacturing operations in Asia and Europe.
This round of reductions in staff and salaries, like others previously, are intended to qualify for government funding. Under the terms of the agreement, GM (and Chrysler) must show “positive net present value” or, in layman’s terms, positive cash flow that justifies the initial investment.
The UAW, ever the foil, has stated in the past that it will fight any attempt to reduce worker’s pay to the levels specified in the US government plan. At this moment, it is unclear what Rick Wagonner means when he says that “there’s good dialogue” with the union. However, what is clear is that the UAW is still clinging to the hope that they will get what they want without regard to the health of GM.
Mr. Gettlefinger, your conditional bluff has been called. You’ve said: “The union will do its part to help find savings as long as other stakeholders accept concessions.” I’d say that those “other stakeholders” are being forced to accept concessions. Big ones. If you are half as savvy as you think that you are, you will get out in front of this media wave and you’ll greet the world arm in arm with the GM management with a determination to get this program to recovery working.
I don’t think that’s going to happen. My guess is that the UAW leadership will reluctantly come to the podium, carp about the fact that they’ve been so put upon and then defeatedly say that they’ve given all they can give. Meanwhile, they will force Rick Wagonner to go back to Capitol Hill, hat in hand, to squirminlgy deliver the message that GM has not fully met the terms of the bailout loans.
I’ll say one thing that I like about President Obama: he is a gifted communicator. His choice of the term “tone deaf” to describe the automotive CEO luxury travel early in this process was brilliant. I will absolutely apply the same term to the short-arming, recalcitrant Ron Gettlefinger: he’s “tone deaf” about the state of his industry if he believes that these conditions are going to allow him to keep his “business as usual” paranoia about management and government and negotiate as if it’s 1999.

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