Friday Snippets – VM-OK and Fifth Gear edition

I received an email from Victor Muller a few minutes ago and he reports that all is well and good. The gall bladder was ditched on Monday. He’s back on his feet now and will be at Pebble Beach tomorrow for the Saab presser being held there.

Good news!

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Fifth Gear have apparently filmed a road test of the new Saab 9-5, with Vicki at the wheel.

Sadly, it seems to be restricted based on your location and as I’m not one who fiddles with such things, I’m currently unable to view it.

Click here and try your luck. If you can see it, perhaps you can pass on their thoughts.

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One of the prime reasons I resolved to work so hard on covering the Saab sale and making sure it stayed in the news was because I felt that Saab deserved that chance – a chance to influence their own fate. I was very strong in my opinion that a decision to close Saab should not be made by a bunch of executives in another country, several of whom had probably never even visited Trollhattan.

Ed Whitacre, the man who had the final say, announced today that he will resign from GM, effective 1 September. He’ll have spent just over one year on the job there. Structurally speaking, he had every right, even an obligation, to decide Saab’s fate. Ethically, morally? Not so much.

I’m just glad the right decision was made in the end. Enjoy your latest retirement, Ed.

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Our man in the UK, Robin M, seems to be enjoying this whole drive-to-IntSaab-in-a-new-9-5 thing.

Brand new car, Euro lodgings and good mates everywhere. It’s nice to be him, ain’t it 🙂

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And finally…….

A Saab billboard from Germany!!

This one was spotted by Alexandros, in Munich. His translation of the main text is “What was to be proven.” and the ad then ties in with Saab’s new Anything But Ordinary campaign.

Thursday Snippets – D-day edition

If you’re wondering why I haven’t been around much today, it’s because I’ve been as mad as a cut snake all morning.
I’m dealing with it, so on to other things…. most of which have been covered by people in comments anyway. I’m playing catchup.
So, a review of the potential bidders as we approach the day that final bids are due in.
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Spyker
Spyker are recognised in the press as the front-running bidder and are preparing a revised bid for submission to GM today.
There has been a lot written about their plans for Saab’s future, though I’m led to believe that the statement about the 9-1 not being made was mis-quoted.
Like everyone else, Spyker are going to have to overcome GM’s apparent need to have funding of an EIB level secured as part of the bid. Stories about changes in the backers for the group are unconfirmed, but Victor Muller was adamant two weeks or so ago that Spyker had addressed all of GM’s concerns about backing and funding.
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Merbanco
Automotive News published an article yesterday stating that Spyker were the only bidder under consideration and I said that I agree, with around 99% level of surety. There are various reasons for that, chief amongst which is the fact that Merbanco seem to be seeking assurances that the Swedish government will not provide prior to a bidder being chosen.
Contrary to my headline (and my further comment), Merbanco CEO Christopher Johnston stated in comments himself that Merbanco will be submitting a final bid, however it will be difficult to move forward without commitments from the Swedish government. In a further email today, he said “we are meeting tomorrow (Thur, US time) to decide, based upon the current situation, whether to put forth a bid or not.”
——
Sweden
The Swedish press are now reporting that there are two Swedish Groups interested in Saab, one of them proposing a management buyout. Reports claim they have the support of management. I agree that they probably would, and I don’t want to disrespect any of these groups, but I think any winning bidder who can run a viable business will have the support of management.
One of those two groups is likely to be the one I’ve nicknamed “Sason”. They were previously teamed up with Merbanco. I’m unclear now as to whether or not they will submit on their own, or given that Merbanco will apparently still submit, whether they will do so together.
I’ve heard minor whispers of a second group, but nothing substantiated enough to have reported here. So that one’s a mystery.
Joran Hagglund stated in that same report that it seems neither of these two groups have sufficient funding to proceed far.
——
AWMS Acquisitions
A representative from the Florida group that was interested in Saab got in touch today and stated that they still plan to submit an offer.
My sources indicate, however, that this offer is unlikely to be considered favourably.
——
One of GM’s top Communications guys, Tom Wilkinson, said that they’re negotiating with several parties and hope to be able to complete the process.
GM’s Chairman and CEO, Ed Whitacre, said that a sale looks unlikely as “nobody’s come with the money” yet.
As many of you have noted already, GM get to see the money when the final bids are submitted, not before.
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If you haven’t read this article by Dutch Mandel in Autoweek, you should.
Especially you, Mr. Ed.

What makes for common sense to many isn’t always how business is run.
Take Saab. This rumination, agitation and gnashing of teeth that General Motors’ executives are putting themselves through with selling Saab to Spyker is anathema to me.
Why is it this difficult?
If GM sheds Saab and deals the iconic brand to a passionate group of car enthusiasts who vow to nurture and revive it, then everyone wins. GM is not seen as a company full of product idiots and half-wit business suits, but as people who care about cars. Saab enthusiasts see their beloved brand continue. Parts for all those Swedish sleds will continue to be made. The governments of both countries–each of which have large stakes in their collective car companies–can feel good that they did something to save jobs. Dealers sell cars. The world is a better place.

It really is that simple.
——
I also noted (General Motors PR guy) Tom Wilkinson’s comments here on site recently, though I also note that he hasn’t answered an email I sent him.
In short, whilst I appreciate his willingness to drop in here, I’m concerned about Mr Wilkinson’s response to an email to one of our commenters sent him yesterday. In his response, Mr Wilkinson stated that Saab only sell 50,000 cars a year. Given that he’s a PR official with GM, I’ve got serious concerns that his comments are a reflection of the value GM put on Saab.
If so, then I think they under-valued Saab by a considerable amount and it concerns me greatly that this could be an offical line of thinking.
My inbox is open, Mr Wilkinson.
——

An open letter to Ed Whitacre, CEO of General Motors

Hi Mr Whitacre.
I know we Saab fans have probably been a pain in the behind for the last week or so. In a normal world, this wouldn’t have happened but we don’t live in a normal world right now. We’re enthusiasts. The fate of our favourite car is in your company’s hands. In many ways it’s in your hands. So I apologise for the inconvenience but, well, needs must.
You probably didn’t read, may not have even seen, all those emails in your inbox, but I’m sure that your Personal Assistant did and I’m sure he/she conveyed the overall picture to you.
I’m not sure if you’ve spent any time reading through the entries at iwontbuyfromgm.com either. In fact, I’m pretty sure you haven’t, but again, someone who talks to you and inhabits the appropriate pay grade probably has.
Just prior to this letter coming online, a press release should have gone out about the campaign and that may lead to a little more discomfort. Again, I apologise, but it should only be temporary, especially if you do what we consider is the right thing – sell Saab.
May I call you Ed?
Ed, you’ve admitted that you don’t know a heck of a lot about cars, which means you’re about ten steps ahead of Bob Nardelli. You were called in to be like The Wolf in Pulp Fiction. You’re the cleaner. You’re supposed to be dispassionate and get. the. job. done.
We understand that, but you should know that there’s a heck of a lot riding on this, and it’s not just the cars we’ll buy in the next 5 years.
Saab isn’t just another car company. Pontiac was. Saturn wasn’t but became one after a little time. Hummer’s something else all together. But the point here is that in Saab, GM had something special, something they failed to build on.
The interesting part is that they knew they had something special. They just didn’t know what to do with it. They got plenty out of Saab by way of technology and design, but they didn’t put in the necessary work to make the brand shine.
Thankfully, they put in enough to make it viable, though. That’s where we’re at today.
You’re 60% government owned at the moment and whilst the government are playing a hands-off role in your day-to-day operations, they’re still watching over your shoulder. So far you’re company’s failed at closing every deal you’ve gone in for. Even Hummer’s yet to close and that was the most identifiable and distinct (extinct?) brand you have.
You’re not the old GM, but you still need some runs on the board. You need to close this deal.
I’d encourage you to read the letter I published earlier today, sent in on behalf of Saab dealers in the United States, Ed. That’s a whole lot of other bad news waiting to hit. It’s not like they’re trying to be difficult and I know they don’t want to. They signed those agreements in good faith. They just want get moving.
Like the rest of us.
We’re like a couple that got together over a few drinks at one of those alternate lifestyle conventions. You were on the prowl, it was a slightly crazy night and after a few shots someone said “Wanna buy a car company?” You said “Yes” and we’ve both regretted it ever since.
We’ve been the odd one out in your polygamous household, spurned by your other wives but fed just to keep us ticking along.
We both know it’s not working.
Ed, the mission and the message is to SELL.
You get future partnerships with regard to tech development. You get build and parts contracts and most of all, you get the warm fuzzy feeling of not killing off around 10,000 jobs in country you’ve sucked the knowledge from for the last 20 years.
Eeew, I got uncomfortable again, didn’t I? Sorry.
But that’s really what’s happening here. You can shut the company down and incur a whole heap of costs and bad publicity, or you can sell the company, feel better and probably pocket some money in the medium to long term for your trouble.
It really ought to be a no-brainer.
So don’t be greedy. Don’t set the bar at a ridiculous height. Do a deal that can get done. Let one of these fine, courageous bidders take your Swedish problem off your hands and then you can get back to using your email, hassle free.
I’ll even move heaven and earth to get you one of the first 9-5s off the production line. It doesn’t get better than that.
Have a nice day, Ed, and happy new year.

Ask GM to sell Saab – take 2

We began this earlier today, though as a few people noted in comments, it’s getting difficult to scroll through now (with 576 comments registered).
I’d just like to encourage anyone who hasn’t done so yet to take part and let General Motors know (in the nicest possible way) that Saab fans have a voice.
Saab should be sold to the most viable bidder.
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EMAIL APPEAL TO ED WHITACRE AT GENERAL MOTORS
Today is a very important day in the life of Saab. I know that it feels like Saab have been on their last breath for some time now, but there is hope remaining for our favourite car company.
Whilst General Motors stated that they would commence an orderly wind-down of Saab Automobile in January 2010, they also stated that a suitable offer from a suitable buyer would be looked at.
They have received just such an offer over the weekend.
General Motors have received a new offer from Spyker for the sale of Saab Automobile. Spyker have structured their new offer in such a way so as to remove all of the the complexities that made their initial offer difficult to close.
In addition to this, General Motors has received a revised offer from Merbanco, along with a Swedish based consortium of investors.
In short, if General Motors are serious about selling Saab, this is their time to act.
——
How you can play a part:
We have one chance only to put across our point of view as Saab owners and enthusiasts. Saab have a business plan, new vehicles and an efficient factory to produce them. They have a passionate base of supporters and the right cars to win new customers to the brand.
The time is now.
The email address for Ed Whitacre, the Chairman and CEO of GM is

[email protected]

If you care about the future of Saab then I invite you to write a brief, polite and passionate message to Mr Whitacre, outlining why you think Saab should be sold, rather than closed.
I can’t emphasise this enough: make your message passionate, but polite. A passionate message that clearly states a point of view will be read and considered. An angry message will only find its way into the trash.

Ask GM to sell Saab, rather than kill it.

Off-topic update: Saabs United on CNN
Off-topic update 2: Just did an interview with BBC world. It should be online in a few hours.
If you haven’t emailed Ed Whitacre yet as per the request below, please do consider it. Also, please send the request to your Saab Club, forum, dealership, postman, etc.

UPDATE 3: This came in this morning from Djup Strupe:

Another undisclosed group submitted a proposal days ago, together with management, to acquire Saab. This group completed its due diligence review months ago, was a finalist when Koenigsegg was selected and is in regular contact with the government. They have joined together with a Swedish consortium and have offered to move quickly to close.

As has been confirmed in comments, the above Djup Strupe information involves Merbanco coming together with the Swedish consortium I wrote about a few weeks ago.

CJ replied to comment from 74stingray | December 21, 2009 10:08 AM | Reply
If the mix is what you hope for us, then in the mix we shall be! We also like our new dual Swedish partners. Stronger every day!
Cowboy Up!

GM are receiving multiple offers for Saab.
This campaign below is to make sure they consider ALL offers seriously.
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EMAIL APPEAL TO ED WHITACRE AT GENERAL MOTORS
Today is a very important day in the life of Saab. I know that it feels like Saab have been on their last breath for some time now, but there is hope remaining for our favourite car company.
Whilst General Motors stated that they would commence an orderly wind-down of Saab Automobile in January 2010, they also stated that a suitable offer from a suitable buyer would be looked at.
They have received just such an offer today.
General Motors have received a new offer from Spyker for the sale of Saab Automobile. Spyker have structured their new offer in such a way so as to remove all of the the complexities that made their initial offer difficult to close.
In short, if General Motors are serious about selling Saab, this is their time to act.
——
How you can play a part:
We have one chance only to put across our point of view as Saab owners and enthusiasts. Saab have a business plan, new vehicles and an efficient factory to produce them. They have a passionate base of supporters and the right cars to win new customers to the brand.
The time is now.
The email address for Ed Whitacre, the Chairman and CEO of GM is

[email protected]om

If you care about the future of Saab then I invite you to write a brief, polite and passionate message to Mr Whitacre, outlining why you think Saab should be sold, rather than closed.
I can’t emphasise this enough: make your message passionate, but polite. A passionate message that clearly states a point of view will be read and considered. An angry message will only find its way into the trash.
——
My message:

Mr Whitacre,
I am writing to you as a Saab enthusiast and customer in the hope that you will give full consideration to new offers received this weekend for the sale of Saab Automobile.
Saab have new vehicles on the verge of being released, they have an excellent management team, an award-winning efficient factory and they have a passionate worldwide following that want to see them continue as a viable company.
Saab have always made engaging, safe, practical, utilitarian vehicles that customers connect with like few others on the road. I submit to you that if a viable offer has been received by GM that can allow Saab to continue to do this, then that offer should be considered very seriously.
I thank you for your time and consideration of this matter.
Steven Wade
www.saabsunited.com

Once again, the time is now.

Tying up the night’s news – Big Ed talks, or does he?

The headline, apparently, says it all….

Spyker sole remaining bidder for Saab: Whitacre

….and once again it’s our friends at Reuters who are making the news and everybody else is following them.

I don’t want to be a stone in anyone’s shoe here, but I haven’t seen a single quote attributed to Whitacre in any of the dozen or so stories I’ve looked at this morning that says it’s Spyker or die.

As a matter of fact, that story with the big Saab headline is mostly about the deal for GM to sell control of it’s China joint venture with Shanghai Automotive. The only quote related to Saab is this:

“I think it is possible,” Whitacre told reporters in a roundtable discussion at the automaker’s board room in its Detroit headquarters when asked if he thought the deal could be completed on Saab by GM’s month-end deadline.

And after that, there’s this:

Whitacre repeated that barring a deal, GM would close Saab. GM had set an end-of-December deadline to find a buyer for the unit after a deal to sell the brand to sports car maker Koenigsegg collapsed in November.

The Associated Press seems to have a more balanced piece, with more actual quotes from Whitacre:

GM identifies Spyker as possible Saab savior

……Chairman and interim CEO Ed Whitacre Jr. told reporters he has “a sense it’s possible” that the Saab sale to Spyker could still go through.

“Saab is just about done,” Whitacre said in a meeting with reporters. “If we don’t find a buyer by the end of the month, we’re going to close it.”

I have no doubt that Whiacre left the impression with reporters that it’s Spyker or die, but why haven’t any of them reproduced a quote from Whitacre saying exactly that?

What I think Whitacre is doing here is playing chess with the Swedish government. He’s saying that Spyker is the group they’ve identified and chosen to deal with and they had better deal with them quickly or else it’s “game over”.

So Joran Hagglund’s backed into a corner and the stakes are high. If the Swedish government and the National Debt Office are comfortable enough with Spyker to offer them loan guarantees, then all well and good.

If they’re not comfortable with those loan guarantees, then Joran Hagglund has a few awkward moments in his near future.

——

Why am I being pretty pedantic about this?

Because there is another party seeking to get involved in this process, who I believe are probably being stonewalled. I wrote several days ago about a Swedish consortium looking to get involved. They appear to be credible people, they’re serious about Saab and they do exist.

What remains to be seen is whether or not they’ve left their run too late, whether Deutsche Bank will allow them a foot in the door, or whether or not there’s a nudge waiting to give them a hand to prise the door open.

These people will not come out publicly until they have their foot in the door, so we wait (but not for long). The rolloercoaster continues, whether you know you’re on it or not.

——

For his part, Joran Hagglund is calling himself “a realistic optimist”. From Swedish Radio:

At the Swedish Ministry of Enterprise and Energy, the top civil servant Jöran Hägglund told the news agency TT that they are currently looking carefully at the financial situation of Spyker Cars to see if the state is able to give the necessary guarantees for a loan from the state.

“The work has started, but you could say it is far from finished. We are aware of the time table, so we are working as actively as we can,” Hägglund said.

Asked how he sees the chances of this deal to actually happen, Hägglund said he is a “realistic optimist”. “The time table is very tight, but we will be doing the tests we need to make because we have no reason to risk the taxpayers money. But the mere fact that there is an interested party and that there are negotiations going on is a reason to be a realistic optimist,” Hägglund says.

No sleep for you, Mr Hagglund. You can sleep next year.

——

Saab spokesman Mats Fägerhag seems pleased with the possibility that Spyker are ‘the one’.

The comments from Saab were scarce on Tuesday evening, but TT spoke to Mats Fägerhag, head of technical development at Saab, who was not aware that Spyker Cars is the only bidder left in the negotiations. But if that is the case, he said he thought it was good news. “Spyker cars has shown a good understanding for Saabs Business plan and the value of Saab’s brand name,” Fägerhag told TT.

Spyker Cars is – just like the former Saab-bidder Koenigsegg, a very small luxury car maker. It makes 50 exclusive sports cars per year and has 135 employees. The main owner of Spyker is the Russian millionnaire Vladimir Antonov.

But Mats Fägerhag at Saab says he is not worried that Spyker will just be a repeat of the Koenigsegg story, which fell through last month. “Spyker cars has a lot of knowledge from the trade and I feel that they have both more experience and more stability than Koenigsegg Group,” Fägerhag told TT.

——

In case you’re wondering, I’m not against Spyker being the group that buys Saab. They appear quite dynamic and hopefully they’ve got the resources behind them to actually get this done.

What I’m concerned about, though, is the gamesmanship from GM and DB, and the timetable for getting things done.

Wednesday Snippets

I’d just like to take this opportunity – before they begin – to rule out, squash and by-all-means-possible eliminate the spread of any rumours suggesting that I’m having an affair with Tiger Woods.
He was teaching me to play pool, and that is all.
——
There’s an interesting report here in Australia today, with research finding that our kids have a disproportionaly high number of deaths in Australia’s road toll and a big factor is the cars they drive.

A Monash University study of 250,000 crashes involving young people on Australian roads has shown their poor choice of cars is a significant factor in increasing their likelihood of death and injury…..
….The most popular cars among 17 to 25-year-olds include the Hyundai Excel, Ford Laser, Mitsubishi Lancer and Holden Commodore (VL and VP) – and they all score badly on safety ratings.
Monash Accident Research Centre member Dr Stuart Newstead said the cars young people drove were usually older, and for female drivers, smaller, than average, creating a potentially lethal mix. He added that even taking vehicle age out of consideration, the types of cars driven by young people still had the worst injury protection performance.
He warned parents against buying cars that rated low in the safety stakes for their teenage drivers.
The Ford Focus (2005-2007), the Saab 9-3 (1998-2002), the Volkswagen Polo (1996-2000) and the Peugeot 307 (2001-2007) are the top rating used cars in terms of safety.

Now if only we could get insurance companies to actually cover kids 18-25 to drive a Saab 9-3 of that era.
Insurance for any car with a turbo, for any kid aged 18-25 is about as rare as unobtainium and incredibly costly when you do find it.
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Ed Whitacre’s come under more fire from the media. This time it’s Forbes magazine, who weren’t satisfied with his carefully stage-managed webchat today.

Since forcing out Frederick “Fritz” Henderson as CEO on Dec. 2, Whitacre, the former chairman and chief executive of AT&T has had three opportunities to publicly share his strategy for fixing GM. But instead of demonstrating the kind of public accountability he demands from others within GM, he seems to be avoiding it so far.

Big Ed’s going to have to face the people at some time.
——
And some quotes from that GM webchat:
[Comment From Tom Krisher, AP Tom Krisher, AP : ] Fritz Henderson had only about 8 months as CEO before he left. How long do the newly appointed execs have to show results before they are replaced?
Ed Whitacre: Hi Tom… Not long. :-).
[Comment From Jonas FRöberg Jonas FRöberg : ] How does the saab negotiations go?
Ed Whitacre: Hi Jonas…We’re in negotiations with a couple of interested parties. We’ve got a deadline for the end of the month and we’ll let you know how it went.
——
Saab Australia sold only 7 vehicles in November. Vehicle orders are not being taken at this time.
From Go Auto:

THE GM Premium Brands Australian division has been paralysed by uncertainty and may have imported its last vehicle.
Distributing Saab and Hummer, the GM Holden arm has not imported any vehicles since the middle of this year, and its dealers are simply running down existing stock with no clue as to when, or if, any more vehicles will ever come……
….Staff levels at the GM Premium Brands office, housed in GM Holden’s headquarters at Fishermans Bend, have dropped with key personnel leaving the brand in the past year, with the attrition rate increasing in the last few months…..A skeleton crew remains in place, but its future is uncertain.

Hang in there, folks.

Tuesday morning snippets – Vale Jan-Willem Vester

My thanks to Eggs for the timely reportage of the passing of Jan-Willem Vester, the former PR and Communications guru at SaabUSA. I’ve added my thoughts on his passing to that entry.
Saab History has an excellent compilation of his career.
Saab’s had a difficult enough 18 months as a company as it is, but the passing of people like Rolf Jensen, Pat Moss, Bob Sinclair and now Jan-Willem Vester put a very fine point on the fact that like all organisations, Saab is a company that’s only ever as good as its people.
Jan-Willem was another one of those fine people and he will be missed deeply.
JWVandGripen.jpg
L-to-R: Jan-Willem Vester, Steve Shannon and occasional TS scribe, 1985Gripen
——
GM’s new Chairman and CEO, Ed Whitacre, is starting to come under scrutiny.
AutoExtremist Peter De Lorenzo is no fan, and CNN Money are asking why Mr Whitacre absented himself from answering legitimate questions that should be taken by a corporate CEO, especially when that CEO runs a company that’s majority owned by taxpayers.
Addendum – Interesting…… since that CNN MOney story appeared, an entry has been posted on GM’s Fastlane blog stating that Whitacre will do a webchat on Tuesday. Result for CNN!
——
The latest story with Geely is yet another example of how news can spread in the automotive media.
The Geely guy is asked a question as whether he’ll talk to GM about Saab – note: not about whether he has talked to GM, but whether he intends to – and he gives the vaguest, most non-committal answer ever in the form of “Who knows?” and then all of a sudden every news service in town is reporting that Geely might buy Saab.
it started with DI.se (and don’t they love a good adaption-to-bad-news story) and went to Reuters, Autoblog, Automotive News, Autocar (where “Who knows” equals “admits Saab interest”) and a heap more.
The guy said “Who knows”. He didn’t even indicate that he was really thinking about it, never mind whether he’s actually spoken to someone.
It’s almost time for me to bring out the nudie-run promise again. The SU assessment is that there’s nothing to see here. And may the good Lord help us all if there is something to it.
——
And finally some good and bad reporting:
Automobile do a good job of covering the Spyker interest in Saab.
Some site called Ridelust does one of the most appalling and factually inaccurate jobs I’ve seen recently, covering the Saab 9-5 at the LA Auto Show.

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