Bob Lutz retires….hasta la vista, Bobby!

I suppose you’ve already come across the news that GM’s guy-in-charge-of-product-development-and-quoteable-quotes has announced his pending retirement.

Bob Lutz will hand over his duties as Vice Chairman for global product development on April 1st (insert witty fool’s day joke here) but will stay on as a senior consultant until the end of 2009.

He’s getting out while the getting’s still reasonaby good but to give him credit, he’s staying on to help steer the ship, unlike some other retirement candidates who have simply pulled the pin and left.
BobLutzAnthonyLoSaab.jpg Bob Lutz should – quite rightly – be remembered as a guy who bought quality, design and a ‘car guy’ mentality back to General Motors as a corporation. Many of us complain about beancounters getting too much input into car design and Bob’s a guy who tried to swing the emphasis by incorporating good design in a way that didn’t blow the budget. GM have reorganised their design centers and now boast a flexibility that should serve them well as a mainstream manufacturer for years to come, should they survive.

Unfortunately, Bob’s going to be remembered in Saab circles as a guy who killed off a number of model developments at a time when Saab could have really used them. Various sources in Sweden have mentioned to me in the last few years that the vehicle to be based off the original Saab 9-3x concept, as well as other variants that would have come into the Saab 9-3 range around five years ago, were cancelled on Lutz’s say-so.

Similarly, a replacement for the Saab 9-5 was cancelled around mid-decade, resulting in the Dame Edna revision we got in 2006.

If Saabs are seen as long in the tooth and in danger of extinction, then some of the responsibilty for that sits at Bob Lutz’s door.

Still, Saab may also benefit from his work, too, and in ways that we’ll never know. His input on the Saab Aero-X is unknown, but I’m sure he saw the drawings prior to it going ahead. That vehicle signalled a continuing existence for Saab and will influence production Saabs for some time to come.

Bob, I’d like to be able to put my hand on my heart and say thanks for services rendered to Saab, but I can’t. That you helped GM improve overall and thereby lended a hand to Saab surviving is a good thing, so I guess I’ll take the middle ground and settle for saying thanks for the entertainment, and have a happy retirement.

Is there any chance we can just forget February 17th?

There are a number of reasons why February 17th has a circle around it on the calendars owning to some particular Saab nuts.
First of all, it’s the day that General Motors have to hand in their homework assignment to the US government. Failure to do so means more than just a poor grade. It means the US administration will have to make a decision to either show some tough love to Detroit (i.e. call in their loans) or cave in and give them an extension.
Second of all, it’s the day we all expect to hear what’s in that plan. More to the point, what’s in that plan relating to the future of Saab. GM’s last plan had exactly one reference to Saab in it, and that reference included the words “under review”. Will they have an outcome from that review by then? If so, I don’t think it’ll be any different to what we already know: that Saab will still be owned by GM but spun off to either sink or swim with funding backed by the Swedish government.
And finally, a GM dealer dropped a remark in at Trollhattan Saab some time ago to the effect that we’d see images of the 2010 Saab 9-5 around this date. There are a number of people really hanging out to see those.
Can I just warn against getting too strung out on this……?
I haven’t heard anything from anywhere else about the possibility of seeing imagery of the new Saab 9-5 around that time. On the contrary, whilst Saab know that people aren’t holding out on the current 9-5 (they just ain’t buying it, period), Saab also know that there’s no advantage to showing it now, so far in advance of production. The only potential effect is a negative, where people see an image that may not show the car anywhere near as well as a real live model, and make up their mind without taking the chance to see the car in the metal.
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For what it’s worth, February 17th is going to be just another day for me (I hope). If we hear anything about GM’s plans then all well and good, but I don’t expect to hear anything of consequence until late March or early April.
And 9-5 photos? I think we’ll continue to see plenty of spyshots, but the finished product will remain a mystery for as long as Saab wants it to.
Just my 2 cents.
I’ve got 2 great Saabs in my driveway right now and it’s probably time I thought about those a little more.

Saab independence plans rolling out

It seems the deck chairs are shifting and the plans slowly unrolling within GM Europe for a more independent and distinct Saab.
There are two main news articles doing the rounds on the web today. The Automotive News article is based on a GM press release that reads as follows:

General Motors (GM) will reorganize the sales, marketing and aftersales function in Europe. The aim is to give more responsibility to the individual brands and markets in order to be able to respond fast to the rapidly changing market conditions, while continuing to focus on growth markets (particularly Russia). The changes will focus on strengthening GM’s brands and maximizing efficiency by capturing the non-customer visible multi-brand synergies.
GM Europe will also streamline the cluster organizations and have the markets report directly into the brands. This allows a more targeted approach in the individual markets, speeds up decision making and simplifies the structure.
To achieve this, GM Europe announces the appointment of three brand leaders, reporting directly to Brent Dewar, GM Europe vice president, sales, marketing and aftersales:
* Alain Visser, currently GME chief marketing officer, will be named GME vice president Opel
* Wayne Brannon, currently executive director Chevrolet Europe, will be named GME vice president Chevrolet
* Jan-Åke Jonsson, will add responsibility for marketing and sales for the Saab brand in Europe to his role of managing director of Saab Automobile AB

An interesting omission here – who’s the chief in charge of GM Premium Brands? The guy who’s going to push Cadillac’s barrow in Europe?
Did I miss something here?
The release goes on…..

Read moreSaab independence plans rolling out

Bones

My apologies for the indulgent nature of this post, but sometimes you can’t get to write the things you should until you’ve cleared away all the stuff that’s clogging you up.
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The gut
I have a pretty good gut. I have a very large gut because I feed it too much, but that’s a whole other story, and thankfully its largesse hasn’t decreased my capacity to feel.
At age 16, my gut told me it wasn’t OK to try and drink my father’s death away one night. So I didn’t. I’ve barely touched a drop since and I’m ever so grateful for it.
At age 18, my gut told me it would be bad news to go out with that girl. But who listens to their gut in that situation? I should have.
At around age 21, despite a purely Australian automotive upbringing, my gut told me that the Saab 9000 I was riding in was absolutely brilliant and would probably change my life. It has.
At age 24, and with no job or higher education, my gut told me everything would be alright. And it is.
At age 34 and 11 months, my gut told me that this new-fangled blogging thing might be worth a try, and seeing cars (and Saabs in particular) were the only things I felt passionate about, that’s what I’d write about.
The head
Like everyone else, I can feel right and wrong in my gut sometimes. And yet somehow, I don’t tend to act on it anywhere near as often as I should.
Some of that is down to timidity. I’m a fairly cautious person by nature. But it’s more than just timidity. It’s where my head comes in to the picture. Whilst my gut’s all emotion, my head is infatuated with a desire to reason. I am more often than not the devil’s advocate, no matter how lame the plight of the weakened argument I try to support.
At age 28, my head told me to marry my first wife, despite any misgivings I might have about us at the time.
After a national IQ test was held on television, my head told me to go and sit the IQ test being held locally shortly thereafter, sponsored by Mensa. My gut told me not to join, though.*
My head’s told me for the last four years that things will work out with Saab, that the next killer model is just around the corner.
My head tells me that I should continue negotiations with the media company that’s interested in buying Trollhattan Saab because I’ve worked bloody hard on it for four and a half years and something concrete should come out of that.
But then come the bones.
The bones
The bones are like the gut, but much, much stronger. When you feel something in your bones, it’s like you can smell it in a high wind. It’s the fear of loss. The thrill of imminent pleasure. The joy of a promosing road and knowing there’s not a soul around.
At age 30, my bones told me I’d never really loved my first wife. We divorced and it was 100% the right thing to do. At age 31 my bones told me I’d met the perfect woman for me. We married two years later.
At the same age my bones told me I was making a mistake selling my 99 Turbo. I bought it back three years later.
Your head can reason with your gut, but the bones are undeniable. I’ll probably buy that 99 Turbo a third time before things are all done and finished (if Bill will sell it).
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At age 38, my head is arguing that Saab are on a knife’s edge. My head tells me that the most promising way forward for Saab is with as little interruption and instability as possible, as if they’re doing a finely balanced juggling act and the slightest interruption could send it all tumbling. My head keeps telling me that the best way forward is for GM to still own Saab in few years from now, because that’s the most promising way for a continued existence.
But my gut tells me that Saab would be much better off without GM. My gut tells me that Saab are always going to be like a neglected child in GM’s house, eating scraps from the table and wearing hand-me-downs from older, more important siblings.
My gut tells me that if Saab were given one unrestrained chance at hitting a home run, they’d slug it into the next suburb.
My gut tells me that Saab will survive this somehow, in some form.
My bones don’t tell me anything other than the fact that this journey, this blog, is tied to Saab’s own journey, in as much as that journey still holds some promise of Saab being the company that I think they can be. The negotiations to sell this site are off becuase I can’t, in good faith, tie myself contractually to a brand when there’s a chance I may not believe in that brand any more.
Saab will survive. It’s just a matter of how, and how well.
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For what it’s worth, I think GM is too full of ‘head’ guys and too devoid of ‘gut’ guys. I think Bob Sinclair was a great businessman, and a ‘gut’ guy at heart. I think Bjorn Envall was totally a ‘gut’ guy, and most designers are. Their problem is that the ‘head’ guys are the ones with all the power. You can’t work gut into a ROI formula.
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And a final thought….
My head tells me that a replacement flagship vehicle in the Saab 9-5 is incredibly important for Saab, but my bones tell me that a smaller Saab 9-3 like the one they’ve talked about is the vehicle that Saab need more than any other.
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* Yes, I sat the Mensa exam and yes, I passed and was told I was in the top percentile of people who had taken the exam. This should tell you little about me, though, and more about the nature of perceived intelligence. If you want to know something about my own intelligence, witness the frequent mistakes here on this site. I’m just as dumb as the next guy.

Who could buy Saab?

Ok. Now I know that Saab being sold isn’t a done deal just yet.
Jan-Ake Jonsson has come out saying that an all-out sale is lower down on the list of options they’re exploring right now. In addition to that, GM might get through their expedited “review” and decide they’re better off keeping Saab.
And in addition to that, that the current climate means that GM may not get a decent return for Saab as other companies are suffering, too, and will want to strip any purchase to the lowest amount possible.
BUT….let’s dream anyway, shall we?
The following images are taken from a slightly out-of-date automotive family tree diagram, which you can bamboozle yourself with in full over at Jalopnik if you so desire. Taking snippets like this means that you don’t get the full impression of joint ventures and other relationships, but you’ll get the gist of it.
Click on the thumbnail to see the full (slightly outdated) relationship diagram for each group.
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General Motors
As mentioned at the top, it may not be all over for Saab within General Motors. GM have put Saab under review and Fritz Henderson has come out saying that they will explore all options, including a sale of Saab to another company. Jan-Ake Jonsson says there have been a number of expressions of interest, but won’t so say who.
Despite all this, Saab may still stay with GM. Saab made a US$360m loss last year, which in automotive terms is very nearly a profit! They’ve got two all-new vehicles well into development (9-5 and 9-4x) and an alternate version of an existing vehicle (the 9-3x) due early next year.
GM may just find that the global crisis is hitting potential buyers hard enough that they won’t get a desireable purchase price. In that instance, and with revenues due to increase soon thanks to those new models, they might just try to hold on and convince the US Congress that it’s worthwhile doing so.
On the downside, GM have only recently shown the beginnings of understanding Saab. They say they’re committed to it but then they undermine that commitment by pouring heaps of funds into a doomed-from-the-start promotion of Cadillac in Europe. If they keep Saab, will they really commit to making it what it can be?
TS verdict:
Potential – Medium to High, though it could well turn out to be Low.
Probability – Quite possible
Desireability – Low
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Ford or Chrysler:
Let’s not go there, shall we. But here are their diagrams anyway.


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BMW:
BMW actually have room in their portfolio and I’m sure they’ve got plenty in the way of reserves, too. They’re no stranger to working with GM, having been part of a joint venture to develop the two-mode hybrid system that GM use in their hybrid SUV’s now.
Saab could provide an outlet for those who want a BMW-sized vehicle but with front-wheel-drive versatility, which is an option that their other two marques don’t offer. Saab could also offer further turbocharging expertise seeing as how BMW are getting into that more and more now. Much as I hate to say it, a link with BMW would also provide an instant lift to market perceptions towards Saab, as well.
Downside – BMW just don’t need it. Or they don’t think they do, even if they could benefit from it in some markets. The downside for Saab would be being associated with one of the larger companies to offend the cockometer.
TS verdict:
Potential – Medium
Probability – Low
Desireability – Hausfrau
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Honda:
This is a fascinating one on a number of levels. Honda are a well respected brand in most facets. They’re an engine company that makes cars, amongst other things, and people generally love their products. They are the Japanese brand that’s sporting, yet unpretentious, and their luxury line is – generally speaking – a genuine extension of their regular offerings rather than a pure rebadge like some others.
Honda could definitely benefit from Saab’s safety expertise and I’m sure they’d be interested in Swedish hybrid and flexfuel developments, too. They’re big in Asia and the US, but my impression is that they’re not so big in Europe, though still a player. I’m sure they wouldn’t mind enhancing their status there.
I can’t think of a downside, though I’m sure a few of you can. Personally, a Honda is one of the few Japanese cars I’d consider for my own garage.
TS verdict:
Potential – High
Probability – Unknown, probably Low
Desireability – High
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Daimler:
I’m tired of this one before I even start writing about it.
I suppose Mercedes could use a smaller, FWD brand in some sort of way, but I can’t imagine for what – and I’m sure they can’t imagine a use for it either. They believe they’re perfect as they are. And if you think Opel have stripped Saab of much of their engineering prowess, I can’t imagine what Daimler would do. There’d barely be a shred of Saab’s identity left, I wouldn’t think.
For some reason this just doesn’t sit well at all and aside from that, I just can’t imagine it happening.
TS verdict:
Potential – Low
Probability – Lower
Desireability – Ocean depths
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Proton:
This one is a favourite of 1985Gripen and I can see why, though I can’t necessarily see it happening. Proton was started by order of the Malaysian government and is now publicly traded, but the Malaysians want to be more of a player in the Asian marketplace. Protons themselves are nothing to get charged about, but the company also owns a majority stake in Lotus, which is where it gets really interesting.
Proton have let Lotus stay in England and Lotus are still regarded as a highly desireable sports car, as well as a sought-after engineering firm. The fact that Lotus are still regarded worldwide as essentially an English company is testament to Proton’s ability to let a company get on with doing what they do.
On the downside, Lotus are a smaller company to swallow than Saab, and Proton aren’t that big themselves. Additionally, they’ve suffered sales slumps in recent years so in the current climate would be even less likely to be interested.
TS verdict:
Potential: Definitely
Probability: Low-ish
Desireability: Olsen twins. Clear and present danger for tragedy, but you can’t help but look anyway.
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Porsche/VW:
Oh my, I think I just dribbled on my keyboard.
Sweet salivation!
Contrary to popular belief, Porsche do not currently own Volkswagen. They own the single largest stake, at just over 45% and they have the definite and stated intention of increasing that to 75%, but only when the prices of VAG shares come back down.
Therein lies the tragedy for Saab lovers. Porsche, on their own, would make the perfect parent for Saab and Saab could compliment their vehicle lineup like a glove. Imagine sporting-plus-luxurious sedans and hatches leading a path to what many consider to be some of the best sportscars in the world today. No more need for a wierd looking Panamera or the brand-diluting Cayenne.
And for Saab, their engineers could work with some of the fussiest and finnicky engineers in the world to extend a good range of cars into a fantastic range of cars.
Sadly, Porsche will take over Volkswagen in the medium term and have no need for Saab in those circumstances, but it would be so good.
TS Verdict:
Potential: Massive, for Saab at least
Probability: Sadly, very low
Desireability: Schwinnnnngggg!!!
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Toyota:
They don’t scare me like Mercedes Benz do, but they scare me nonetheless. Toyota remind me of a Japanese version of the Borg collective, a characterisation I used to use for GM.
The upside is that they’re cashed up and could probably see a genuine European label as something of value. They might also benefit from Saab’s safety expertise and I’m sure they’d like to get one over the General.
I just don’t think they’d be interested, though. And I fear that Saab would become uninteresting as a result of Toyota being in charge, too. I’ve rarely seen an interesting Toyota. When considering all the cars I’d like to own before my driving life ends, I discovered that I could just barely place an MR2 on the list, but only if a decent Honda CRX wasn’t available.
TS Verdict:
Potential: Probably high
Probability: Low
Desireability: Zzzzzzzz
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Renault and/or Nissan
This is another fascinating one on a number of levels. Just how many frequent flier miles can Carlos Ghosn chalk up and should they get into airlines, too?
Renault and Nissan own stakes in one another, and as you can see, there’s other operations in the mix. Curiously, they’ve both managed to retain their identities whilst building some white hot cars (the new Z) and some very…..quirky (eek!) cars as well.
Somehow this alliance works despite the fact Renault doesn’t have a US presence. An acquisition of Saab could be a small foot in the door in that regard. With France having a growing interest in biofuels, Saab would be appealing from that front as well. Saab would also provide a more upscale presence that Renault lack to a degree.
The downsides: I’m no European but I’ve heard enough stories about French labour unions to scare me witless. Though Renault and Nissan retain their own identities as partners in an alliance, I’d imagine a Renault transaction with Saab would be a buyout, not an alliance (though it’s an attractive option if there were another willing party) and Saab’s Swedish identity could be hijacked at the insistence of French unions.
It should be noted here that Renault have been asked about their level of interest by the media and promptly smacked the reporter on the head with a baguette before riding off on a bicycle. I believe “Non” was the answer.
TS Verdict:
Potential: definitely
Probability: Medium
Desireability: Medium
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Hyundai
Hyundai are building some good vehicles nowadays. Their new Genesis thingy has people genuinely buzzing. They have a very strong corporate culture, a wide industrial base and like other Asian manufacturers, they could probably see some value in having a genuine European brand under their wing.
Ah, who am I kidding?
Hyundai are like the brussel sprouts of the car business. Apparently they’re good for you but it’s a rare person that really likes them.
They might have money (they might not, too) but they’ve got no soul when it comes to the car business. They need to go out and do something extraordinary. Until then, I’m just not interested.
TS Verdict:
Potential: Medium
Probability: Unknown, could be anything
Desireability: What?
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FIAT
This is a scenario that I just can’t help being attracted to.
I own an Italian car. I’m sure they screw them together better nowadays, but my Italian car falls apart just a little bit more with every pebble I drive over. The build quality is just shocking. The interior materials and design are both horrendous (again, definitely not so in a modern Alfa) and rumour has it that you can only tell if your Italian is working by the rate of oil leakage (surprisingly, not a problem for me).
Despite all these drawbacks, I absolutely adore my Italian car and I’ll cry like a baby when I eventually give it up. I may even wet my pants. It’s incredibly engaging to drive, with an engine that’s as mad as a barrel full of bats.
This is what Italians do. They wave their arms, talk a mile-a-minute at fighter-jet volumes and yet somehow, you can’t help but love them. Has there ever been a more lovable evil person than Vito Corleone? I rest my case.
Somehow, Saab managed to work with Fiat in the past, and work with them very well, too. The thought of them getting together with a vastly more organised Fiat is tantalising indeed, though one can’t help but feel that Fiat are always just one bad period away from complete collapse.
Fiat are looking to try the American market once again and Saab’s presence there could be an attractive, albeit small, foot in the door.
It’d also have the added benefit of me not having to be occasionally shamed in Saab circles by my Alfa.
TS Verdict:
Potential: High
Probability: Unknown, but possibly moderate
Desireablity: Medium-High
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Peugeot / Citroen:
This is another fascinating one, though probably less so than the Renault version.
It has the same benefits in being able to manage and even encourage things that are considered to be non-mainstream.
The same concerns arise with regard to Saab’s identity being preserved, as well as their Swedish base.
The same opportunities arise with Saab’s US connections if Citroen want to try a venture into the US market (and of the two, I think Citroen would be the most likely to try).
Despite all this, the thought of Saab being taken over by PSA just doesn’t register whatsoever on my emotional radar.
TS Verdict:
Potential: Unknown
Probability: Unknown
Desireability: Unknown
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Fuji Heavy Industries
They’re 20% owned by Toyota these days, but that’s no reason to eliminate the possibility of the Saaburu arising again. Did that sentence make you wince?
Actually, many people consider Subaru to be the closest thing to Saab in character. Subaru build reliable AWD cars with no small amount of character, though personally I’m not into them (even after spending four months in a WRX earlier this year).
Both are familiar with turbocharging. Both have strong safety credentials. Both have rallying success in their past.
Too similar?
TS Verdict:
Potential: Medium
Probability: Unknown, Low
Desireability: Meh
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Prodrive/Virgin
Here’s one out of left field, suggested by Turbin via email and in comments. It’s an interesting proposition:
Branson has been paying more than lip service to ethanol, has an emotional stake in the brand and could even be looking for a chance to play in the auto sandpit.
Dave Richards has been called the ‘Branson of Motorsport’. Through his interest in Prodrive and more importantly Aston Martin there is serious potential.
How about Saab as the green Aston Martin solution??
* AM logo has wings. Saab needs a new one.
* Virgin is into jets and ethanol.
* AM platfrom would make for a wicked Aero-X
* These guys have guts and vision.
* AM and Saab are both incredibly style driven backed with real performance.
* Prodrive could make some wicked Saab rally cars.
* Use AM to help lift Saab to the premium player it pretends to be.
* Branson/Richards, performance and adventure.
TS Verdict:
Potential: Huge
Probability: Miniscule
Desireability: Schwinnngiddy-ding!!
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Various car companies from Russia and China
No.
In every way, no.
I don’t know why, but something seems….dirty…..about the thought of Saab being an emerging market’s plaything. again, like the Hyundai argument, I’d like Saab to go to someone with a track record, someone who understands and values a carmaker’s heritage.
A Russian buyer would probably be much more palatable than a Chinese buyer, but I can’t help but think that it’d just be temporary and heartbreaking (Russian ownership of TVR comes to mind).
It’s always possible, too, that a Chinese acquisition could take the form of the Malaysian acquisition of Proton, with the company financed and allowed to do its thing. I guess that for that reason alone I’d probably try and accept it, at least until evidence to the contrary arose.
No diagrams for this one. I don’t want to encourage anyone.
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Well, that’s it for me.
I’m sure you’ve all got your thoughts to contribute (again).
Let fly!

Jonsson and Geers on Saab’s review

UPDATE: CNN Money Report at the bottom
UPDATE II: Automotive News comment
UPDATE III: Swedish minister meeting with German counterparts
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Swedish newspapers Dagens Nhyeter and Dagens Industri have run a few articles featuring comments by Saab Sweden’s Jan-Ake Jonsson and Eric Geers.
Thankfully, ctm’s provided a translation of the salient points. I’ll get to work on a full translation shortly.
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Jan-Åke Jonsson at Dagens Nhyeter:
He does not interpret the strategic review as Saab is up for sale – despite that Fritz henderson said that GM is looking for a buyer.
He says that Saab is now working on a plan to secure the short and long term funding.
He characterizes the current dialogue with the Swedish government as “good and constructive,” and he sees major possibilities for the government to ha ve a positive impact in this “critical situation.”
– “The government now has the possibility to have some influence and create some cooperation between the four auto industries in the country.”
He thinks that Saab is well prepared when that market gets going again, and claims that the brand is an important part in the GM brand portfolio.
– “Saab is GMs only European premium brand in a growing and important segment.”
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Eric Geers at Dagens Industri:
– “A global strategic review of Saab does not mean a sale of Saab, but rather how we can secure the future of Saab and how to raise the money.”
– “It could mean that we work together with an external partner.”
– “There are a number of interesting possibilities. But, of course, you can never exclude the possibility that we sometime will be sold.”
He points out that the most important now is to secure the future products and the funding of those.”
Do you think that Saab will benefit from the money that GM eventually can get from the Congress?
– “It depends solely on the Congress and their attitude. One could imagine that there will a bit too much America.”
– “But it is probably the same with other governments.”
As many others do, Saab also seeks support from the government. But so far, it has been without much result.
– “The current economic situation is as it is. But it extremely important to find a solution to secure future investments.”
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From CNN Money, a further comment on the Jan-Ake Jonsson interviews:

STOCKHOLM (AFP)–Several companies have voiced interest in purchasing beleaguered Swedish car maker Saab if its owner, struggling U.S. giant General Motors Corp. (GM), decided to sell, Saab’s chief executive told Swedish public radio on Wednesday.
“There are many interested parties. I don’t want to mention any specific names but there are many (interested) companies that work with development and support car production, both in Europe and outside of Europe,” Jan Aake Jonsson said.
“There are many different alternatives and I don’t want to go into specifics but it’s obvious the discussions we have had so far have been with companies within the automobile industry,” he said.
Jonsson’s comments came a day after GM said it would “review” the future of its Saab and Saturn brands as it struggles to survive and restructures its business to focus on core brands.
GM said it will “immediately undertake a global strategic review of the Saab brand,” in a statement outlining a restructuring plan it presented to Congress in hopes of securing some $18 billion in government-backed loans.
BMW AG (BMW.XE), Renault SA (13190.FR) and Tata Motors (TTM) are all reportedly potential buyers.

BMW?
Not according to the last report. But that was then, I guess.
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And from Automotive News:

With Ford Motor ready to sell Volvo and General Motors considering a possible sale of Saab, Sweden is being hit badly by the storm that is currently threatening the whole car industry.
The question is not just who would want the Swedish brands, but why would anyone want them?
…..In terms of being green, Saab is ahead of Volvo with its biofuel and turbocharging technology.
GM has neglected Saab’s brand character for too long. The Swedish brand has only received the attention it deserves in the last couple of years under Carl-Peter Forster, who is GM Europe’s president and Saab’s chairman.
Forster’s new Saab model range has still not been revealed but the 9-X BioHybrid and 9-X Air concepts have received very positive responses.
If GM sells Saab, Forster will neither enjoy the fruits of his efforts for the brand nor will Ford ever benefit from its commitment to develop Volvo into a world class brand with strong premium values.

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I’m absolutely knackered from the last few nights, so please forgive me if I limit my own comment on this stuff and just pass on the news in bulk.
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From Reuters:

Sweden’s industry minister said on Wednesday Sweden was talking to German authorities regarding its auto sector and she hoped to have more information soon on car units Volvo and Saab now the intent of their U.S. parents was clear.
Industry Minister Maud Olofsson told a news conference she does not think the state should be in the business of owning car companies.
“I have talked to my counterpart in Germany who is working on these issues. These (talks) revolve around the fact that Saab and Opel are very closely linked and we of course want to know how Germany is thinking about this,” Olofsson said.
“We want to know how they see their relationship with Opel and we will intend to try present how we see Saab’s situation. But in the current situation, these (talks) have had more of an exploratory nature.”

Saab officially placed “under review” by General Motors

The full text of GM’s submission to the US Congress leaked early (surprise surprise).
To save you all the trouble of looking, here’s the only sentence in the 27-page document that mentions Saab:

GM will also immediately undertake and expedite a strategic review of the Saab brand globally.

That’s it. One sentence. 15 words.
To make that little bit of corporate-speak clear – Saab is now up for sale.
You guys keep posting in comments. I’m going to try and make sense of it all and post a summary up here on site so keep checking in.
I’d also like to take this opportunity to scream a nice, loud SCREW YOU to all the mofos at GM have who have sucked the life out of our favourite little brand and now intend to hang it out to dry. May the hairs on your bum turn into fish hooks and rip the sh!t out of you.
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Comment of the moment, from Troll96:

Notice how GM plans to increase its emphasis on flex-fuel cars, hybrid technology, turbocharging and 4 cylinder engines. So, of course, Saab has to get the ax. Am I missing something here?

Rignt now, in the heat of this particular moment, I hope Wagoner’s Malibu hybrid breaks down on the way to Washington.
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Here are the bones of the GM plan for those who can’t be bothered reading through the whole thing:
GM’s plan involves the following moves:

• Slashing hourly costs in North America by $3.6 billion in an attempt to make GM competitive with foreign automakers no later than 2012. GM currently has 96,000 workers and the goal is to have 65,000 to 75,000 workers by 2012.
• Reducing or eliminating four of its eight brands and cutting the number of dealers. The plan involves exploring the sale of Saab, talking to dealers about the future of Saturn and shrinking the Pontiac brand to more of a niche offering.
• Cutting executive compensation and eliminating its corporate aircraft fleet. CEO Rick Wagoner will take a $1 salary next year, and GM is cutting the top four senior executives will see their cash compensation slashed 50 percent in 2009. Neither Wagoner nor top executives will receive bonuses this year or in 2009.
• Complying with the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which was designed to improve fuel efficiency and cut dependence on foreign oil. GM outlined its current lineup of cars and crossover vehicles and plans to shift its portfolio towards producing even more of the fuel-efficient vehicles. For 2009, GM has 18 models in the U.S. that gets 30 mpg on the highway and that push towards more fuel-efficient vehicles will continue, Henderson said.

The bill for all this?

GM is asking for $18 billion in financing, which includes a $12 billion loan and a $6 billion revolving line of credit that would be tapped if the market worsens.
The automaker would make several withdrawals of the cash in coming months. GM needs $4 billion this month to pay its bills and would draw $4 billion more in January.
GM would make a $2 billion withdrawal in February or March for a total of $10 billion. The remaining $2 billion would help ensure GM has enough cash to pay its bills through the end of next year, assuming an annualized sales rate of 12 million units.
The $6 billion line of credit could be tapped if the U.S. auto industry worsens to an annualized rate of 10.5 million units.

GM considering selling Saab

UPDATE: The Bloomberg story below is now all over the place. The Detroit News are running it right up front. So are Automotive News.
The Detroit News report as follows:

A GM spokesman declined to comment on a report Wednesday that the automaker was considering whether to eliminate its Pontiac, Saab and Saturn brands as a way to cut costs and improve its chances of getting as much as $12 billion in emergency federal aid.

….and further on….

GM has 1,071 outlets for Pontiac, 400 for Saturn and about 105 for Saab among its 6,400 dealers, said Susan Garontakos, a spokeswoman. GM has been trying to combine Cadillac/Hummer/Saab and Pontiac/Buick/GMC brands into consolidated dealerships that would benefit from greater sales and lower marketing costs.

Only 105 for Saab? Seriously?
Anyway, the whole story amounts to around 300 words when it could have just said “no comment”.
I wrote to SaabUSA and Saab Sweden for a comment on the story. As at the time of writing, Jan-Willem at SaabUSA’s probably still eating his Wheaties. Eric Geers from Saab Sweden was in the office, though, and replied as follows:

Hej Steven
Well, we knew speculations like these would come up and probably some other scenarios as well as we come closer to Dec. 8. It’s as much unfortunate as it is a surprise. Note they don’t come from us and here in Sweden we work as usual and focus on the plans we have today.

I’ll add JWV’s comment as soon as it comes in, though I may be catching Z’s by then and have to do it in the morning.
Back to the original story. They all might be covering it now, but it’s been here for hours 🙂
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There’s many mixed signals in the GM Crisis Media (TM) today. Here’s the daily precis from around the web:
Bloomberg are reporting that GM are now considering cutting loose a number of brands in order to satisfy the US congress that it has the right plan for a profitable future (i.e. a future that sees them pay back the money they want to borrow:

General Motors Corp., working to cut costs to win $12 billion in government loans, is studying whether to shed its Saturn, Saab and Pontiac brands in addition to Hummer, people familiar with the matter said.
Selling or dropping brands would save money and reduce overlap as the biggest U.S. automaker struggles to avoid running out of operating cash by year’s end, said the people, who didn’t want to be identified because no decision has been made.

Much as I’d like to see Saab in some hands that care a little more, I just don’t see them changing tack so dramatically at the last minute.
We’ll wait for inevitable “Saab is not for sale” article, probably due in the next 24 hours.
Thanks Dippen
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An unexpected vote of confidence?
JP Morgan are saying that GM bonds might represent some very good value right now. They consider the company has a very good chance of recovering to the point where they can realise a lot of savings they’ve got locked in for around 2010.

JPMorgan analysts rate GM’s bonds a “buy.”
“We believe GM has several sources of liquidity it can access to bridge the company to 2010 when it realizes considerable cost cuts,” analysts Eric Selle and Atiba Edwards said in a report.
These include an overfunded pension plan, possible asset sales, capital market transactions, equity injections, cost cutting and government loans, they said.

Thanks ctm!
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Deutsche Bank also believe that GM’s chances have improved and their latest commentary has sparked a jump in GM’s share price (and Ford, too).
From Automotive News (subs req’d)

Shares of General Motors and Ford Motor Co. jumped today after Deutsche Bank said chances have improved for the struggling U.S. automakers to receive a government bailout.
“There is growing concern about the risks to the U.S. economy that would be derived from inaction,” Deutsche Bank analyst Rod Lache said in a research note.
“The proximity of these bailout hearings to the Citigroup bailout may have also tipped the scales somewhat,” Lache said, referring to the massive government rescue of the bank announced Sunday.
Shares of GM, which hit a 70-year low of $1.70 last week, surged 35.1 percent today to close at $4.81 a share — up$1.25 a share on three times the stock’s normal trading volume on the New York Stock Exchange. At one point the stock reached $5.87 before retreating during the afternoon.

Is it just me, or do these banks and commentators have far too much influence? Someone’s made a killing selling GM shares today and all because of a few positive words.
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So, in artist’s terms, we’re looking at mixed media.
Maybe the report on jettisoning a few brands led to the positive outlooks seen later in the day.
Only a week or so to go until we all get to hear the basics of the General’s plans.

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