A Cowboy and the big surf

I will keep this post at the top during the weekend as it may be of interest for many.



More on Christopher Johnston and Merbanco

I want to begin by letting you know why my first post on SaabsUnited deals with a company and person that has been a topic many times before here on SU. Our dear friend Swade has done a couple of brilliant interviews with Christopher Johnston (CJ) CEO of Merbanco.

But the fact is, questions may vary with time and Saab has now been in the most capable hands of Spyker for over a year. Things change and maybe even personal reflections.
CJ is, besides being a businessman on a grand scale, a true lover of Saab and has also been seen commenting quite frequently on SaabsUnited.

This interview is intended to focus a bit more on CJ´s thoughts regarding product, dealerships, markets and perception of the Saab brand and product. Oh and yes, a wee bit on the deal that did not happen.

As always a Big thank you to CJ for taking the time to answer our questions and being so open towards us.

My SaabsUnited contact with Christopher Johnston, CEO Merbanco

I got in contact with Christopher a while ago to see if he would be willing to give his personal views on some of the questions that had been lingering for quite some time in relations to Merbanco´s bid to acquire Saab Automobile from General Motors. Questions that many of us have asked ourselves and pondered over but as yet had an explanation for. Questions like what his views are on the current and future Saab product portfolio. As a friend of SaabsUnited and an allover genuinely good bloke, CJ agreed to give his answers to questions compiled from the SaabsUnited team.

So click on through and find out more. And why “the big surf” in the headline?

(Please note that Chris´s answers are based on his own views and does not necessarily reflect the views of other individuals within Merbanco or involved business partners.)

Read moreA Cowboy and the big surf

Those who wanted to buy Saab, still buy Saabs

When Saab were up for sale, there were a number of seriously interested parties.

The Koenigsegg Group used the Koenigsegg name, but were a group of individuals with various backgrounds in business.

Merbanco were a group based in Wyoming, USA, with extensive industrial and business turnaround experience. One of the guys involved with Merbanco, CJ, has been a regular in comments at SU.

Renco, a private company owned by Ira Rennert had interests in smelting, mining (which wasn’t too popular) as well as heavy machinery manufacturing.

The Genii name was used for a group put together by Lars Carlstrom, an entrepreneur in Stockholm. The group was named for Genii Capital, the investment group providing the core backing for the purchase. Of course, the group got a lot of media attention when F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone jimped on board. Genii was actually the third group that Lars Carlstrom put together in a bid to acquire Saab.

Beijing Automotive were also very interested and amongst the first round of potential buyers. Whilst they weren’t selected as one of the final bidders, they did proceed to buy some of Saab’s older technology.


It’s been interesting to see that several people from the groups named above have gone on to purchase new Saabs even thought their interest in acquiring the company as a whole didn’t bear fruit.

Read moreThose who wanted to buy Saab, still buy Saabs

Another busy day in Saab-land – Spyker, Genii and Merbanco summary

There are a few good reports floating around that I wanted to bring to the front page.
Firstly, TTELA’s Magnus Nordberg has done a (where does he get the time, indeed?!) good interview with Christian von Koenigsegg. It’s an interesting read, of course, because CvK has been through all of this before.
Christian von Koenigsegg supports the notion that the “show me the money” stance isn’t about purchase price, but about solidity and the ability to support the company in the longer term.
It’s a recommended read (and hello to CvK, who I hope will entertain the idea of some Saab collaboration in the future).
You should already have read right here at SU that Merbanco have made a revised bid for Saab, in accordance with changing wishes from the seller.
Genii are also working on a revised bid for Saab, according to Bloomberg:

We fully expect to have a competitive bid similar to Spyker’s by the time GM wakes up” today, Carlstroem said in a telephone interview. “Funding the deal isn’t an issue. We now know what GM wants for Saab. I’m sure GM will announce the sale of Saab by the end of this week.

I hope he’s right on his timing predictions. Having those Saab Support Convoys as a celebration would be mighty nice…..
Automotive News has a bit more coverage and quotation from Victor Muller, from Spyker, following his speech at the AN World Congress yesterday.

Dutch niche carmaker Spyker Cars NV hopes to reach an agreement with General Motors Co. to purchase Saab in “days, not weeks,” Spyker’s CEO said today.
If that doesn’t happen, CEO Victor Muller said, Spyker may have to give up.
“There is a point in time where we would say, ‘This is not for us,’ ” Muller said at the Automotive News World Congress.
But for now, he said, “The last time I looked, which was a half hour ago, we were in the midst of the [Saab negotiation] process.
“That doesn’t mean too much, but we’re absolutely, definitely in negotiations.”

….and there’s more, which is quite interesting…..

Saab’s loyal buyers were sometimes frustrated by the way the Swedish automaker’s product looked under GM, he said. “People were interested in buying a ‘Saab’ Saab, not an ‘Opel’ Saab, for instance,” Muller said.
If Spyker does acquire Saab, Muller said, he plans to hire more workers, not fire them. He said he wants to increase production capacity so the new company, which would be a Dutch public company called Saab Spyker Automobiles NV, can build Saabs along with a higher volume of Spyker vehicles. He said Spyker plans this year to make about 100 cars that will sell for $200,000 to $250,000 each.

There is a GM board meeting scheduled for Wednesday.
The time is now.
Thanks to all for the news stories and links.

Merbanco submit (another) revised bid to purchase Saab from GM

The circus continues….
It seems GM are still seeing what they can squeeze out of bidders as I’ve just learned that the personnel at Merbanco have met today and put together a revised offer for Saab, based on the changed wishes of the seller.
A note from Christopher Johnston, the CEO of Merbanco:

We have been at this for 9 months now and have had the time to well understand the Saab business plan and organization. Even with these months, we still have a lot to learn. We were asked today to modify our proposal based upon material changes and we were pleased to do so. We hope this final effort will make the difference and get the deal done. Time is of the essence and Saab needs a qualified new owner as soon as possible.

What worries me is this need – at this late hour – to submit changed bids “based on material changes”.
Saab have a liquidator appointed (at GM’s request). He’s effectively setting fire to an asset that’s up for sale. Every day they stall and wait the flames will lick a little higher.
GM: Sell Saab!!!
And of course, thanks to CJ for this message, and for Merbanco’s continued interest in Saab Automobile.

Memo to General Motors – SELL SAAB

The deadline has passed and General Motors have now received what we believe to be at least 5 bids from prospective purchasers of Saab Automobile.
Our message to you, GM, is a simple one – SELL SAAB.
Representatives from GM have commented on a number of concerns regarding the Saab sale in recent days and I’d like to address those concerns first.
The money
Ed Whitacre doesn’t know much about cars (his own admission) but he does know about business and by his estimation, no-one had come forth with enough money to buy Saab.
Well, there’s as many as five bidders for the company that we’ve heard of today and with one of them being Genii/Ecclestone, I find it very hard to believe that the bidders’ ceiling is lower than GM’s expected price.
Spyker’s Victor Muller has gone to great lengths to express his intention to provide an offer that GM will find very hard to refuse. The financial element must be a major factor in Spyker’s bid as well.
In short, and acknowledging that we don’t really know the amounts proposed to change hands in terms of the leading bidders, money should not be a problem here.
The expertise
There were comments in a news article today that GM were concerned Spyker might not have sufficient experience in running a full-scale carmaker.
Many have noted the irony of that comment given GM’s recent bankruptcy and acknowledged failure to grow Saab as a marque in the last 20 years. But that’s another thing all together.
The expertise argument is really quite thin.

Read moreMemo to General Motors – SELL SAAB

Bids for Saab are in – time for a “Who’s who”

UPDATED – to add in Hakan Samuelsson and Jan Nygren
Ok, so the bids are in and we have four confirmed here at SU central. There may be more, but these are the ones we know of.
So what’s with each of them and are there any suprises?
Spyker have worked tirelessly since their interest became know early in December. This is their third bid at Saab and I know for a fact that they worked literally up until the last minutes before the deadline to make sure that every “i” was dotted and every “t” crossed.
There’s not much we don’t already know about Spyker now. We know that they plan to follow Koenigsegg’s business plan, and possibly extend it. We know that they plan to retain the Saab dealer network and possibly use some of it to increase Spyker’s market presence as well. We know that they plan to share some technologies in a way that benefit both brands.
Victor Muller’s dedication to this task has been very encouraging for Saab fans and his speech at the Automotive News Global Congress in Detroit next week should be very interesting to hear (esp if GM knock back all Saab bids and close Saab down).
Merbanco’s interet in Saab has also been incredibly encouraging. They were one of the initial parties interested in Saab, so they’ve been at this for the larger part of 2009. They were one of the finalist bidders in Zurich when Koenigsegg won the day.
Their tenacity is outstanding and they should be well regarded by Saab fans for keeping the interest in the brand alive.
Merbanco’s CEO, Christopher Johnston was recently on record here saying that their bid (or anyone’s) would be difficult without guaranteed support from the Swedish Government with respect to the EIB loan. Merbanco’s bid includes a commitment to carry Saab’s cost whilst the EIB loan is finalised, but those Swedish guarantees would be needed.
This is a sticking point that may make it hard for Merbanco to get over the line.
Genii – Bernie Ecclestone
A last minute bidder or a player all along? Well, it’s a little bit of both.
The Swedish co-ordinator of this bid is a man names Lars Carlström. Those who have been here for some time know that I’ve previously referred to a Swedish consortium that I named “Sason”. Carlström was the co-ordinator of that group.
Sason were to bid jointly with Merbanco, but circumstances changed with some of the Sason members leaving the group. Carlström must be a very resourceful man, however, as his attraction of Genii Capital and Bernie Ecclestone makes this group a powerful player.
It is unknown how big a part Bernie Ecclestone is playing in this group. Is it a jointventure with them as equal partners or does Bernie hold 5% of this effort so they can add his name to the list?
Carlström, through his “Sason” group, has been a potential bidder for Saab right since the beginning of this process, so logic would dictate that he should know the background and technical information. Genii and Ecclestone would be relying on his knowledge, however, as there have been no prior reports of their interest in Saab.
Do they have the money? Most certainly.
Do they have the industrial experience for a car manufacturer? We’ll see what GM thinks.
Oh, and I called the Swedish group “Sason” because if successful, the group name would have been “Catherina”. Saab historians will get the connection.
AWMS Acquisitions Inc.is based in Florida and is led by a man named Al Weintraub.
I know nothing of this operation or of Mr Weintraub in particular, so I can’t give any background or make any comment.
My sources in various places indicate to me that this bid is not one that will be looked at favourably.
Samuelsson – Nygren
I have received no confirmation about this bid personally, but TTELA are reporting that former MAN (truckmaker) chief executive, Hakan Samuelsson is leading a bid along with former Swedish politician and former Chief exec of Saab AB, Jan Nygren.
I can confirm that these gentlemen, to my knowledge, were part of the second iteration of the “Catherina” group (which I’ve referred to here as “Sason” for some weeks now).
TTELA state that their business case for Saab includes an estimated production of 45,000 to 50,000 vehicles per year.
IMHO that seems extraordinarily low, but something may be lost in translation.

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.
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.
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.”
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.
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: Merbanco reported to be out of bidding for Saab

Automotive News have reported the following:

Spyker Cars NV is the only buyer under consideration for the Saab brand and is seeking to line up funding that will satisfy General Motors Co., a person with direct knowledge of the situation said……
……A Saab spokesman last week would only name Spyker as a candidate, although media reports have also pointed to Merbanco Inc., a Wyoming-based group.

In short, I believe that Merbanco are indeed most likely out of the running. If you want a level of assurance, I would place it at about 99%.
In taking this news in, we should all bear in mind what CJ from Merbanco wrote in comments recently:

If we can’t get a bankable commitment from the Sweden Government, we will not proceed. If the government will be supportive, we need ironclad assurances they will step up. We can fund operations until the EIB loan is in place but we won’t proceed without the assurances.

The Swedish government have been quite solid in their commitment that they couldn’t bankroll a new owner, but they could provide loan guarantees once an owner is selected.
I’ve been trying to contact CJ most of today about another matter, but have not been able to get a response, which is doesn’t bode well.
Whether Merbanco’s probable withdrawal means that Spyker is the sole bidder remains to be seen. Merbanco were teamed up with a group of Swedish investors (which I’ve named ‘Sason’) and it remains to be seen if this group will submit a bid independently from Merbanco.
One thing the AN article doesn’t mention, but that I’ve received notice of from Djup Strupe, is that Victor Muller has been invited to speak at Automotive News’ World Congress, an automotive convention held hot on the heels of the Detroit Auto Show. His name is not on the program yet, but I’ve been quite reliably informed.
The AN article linked above does say the following:

Spyker has until late Thursday to submit its revised bid, the source said today, and GM will probably issue a statement on Friday saying whether bids are still under consideration.

With that in mind, Muller’s presentation at that Global conference should be very interesting.

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