My Saab column in Auto Motor and Sport magazine

Hi all. Swade here.

The latest issue of Auto Motor and Sport magazine has a Saab section in it and I was invited to provide an article for that section. AMS has given me permission to reproduce the article in the original English for those not yet blessed with the Swedish language (like me).

I hope it gives you some food for thought as you embark upon an historic weekend.

Cross-posted from swadeology.com

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I officially became a Saab employee at the beginning of April 2011. In the week before I joined the company, we had a brief factory stoppage due to an unpaid account with our freight company. During my first week with Saab, we had some occasional production, and then a stoppage that continued almost uninterrupted until the company declared bankruptcy on December 19, 2011.

The opportunity to work for Saab was a dream come true after writing about them as an enthusiast for just over six years. The job itself was equal parts joy and frustration but I wouldn’t have traded this opportunity for anything in the world.

As I write this, there is still a window of opportunity for someone to step in and purchase Saab as a whole from the bankruptcy administrators. The alternative is for the company’s assets to be broken up and sold around the world. One option gives some hope for the brand, the other makes certain that we’ve seen the last of this innovative company from Western Sweden.

The sad part about this whole episode is that was all so avoidable. I won’t go into all the details here, but suffice to say that there were a lot of short-term, reactionary decisions made both inside and outside Saab. Decisions that could have been different if the people concerned had a longer-term outlook.

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Potential investors vs media commentary about Saab Automobile

There were times when I felt like a broken record whilst working on Inside Saab in the latter part of 2011.

As Swedish Automobile was a company listed on the Dutch stock exchange, the official company line was that we couldn’t say anything about the ongoing negotiations taking place to try and save the company. Inside Saab was an official company site and any detailed commentary on the process had the potential to influence our stock price. Consequently, statements were limited to basic corporate press releases, which were usually written by Swedish Automobile rather than by Saab.

From a personal perspective, I’d previously built my own identity on relevant, insightful, accurate and timely coverage of the Saab sale throughout 2009/10, so the restrictions placed on me were a bitter pill. I’d been hired to write about the company because of my profile and yet my hands were completely tied. I’ll write more about the mechanics of my role at a later date.

My writings were therefore largely confined to perspective pieces, trying to keep focus on the significant assets we had at Saab – our new products, our excellent people and facilities, our heritage and worldwide brand status. There was nothing false in those writings and I believe to this day that all of those assets still contain plenty of value. Whilst the human resources part of the equation has diminished somewhat, with a number of experienced staff taking new jobs in related industries or competitor companies, enough key staff remain to make the task of rebuilding a definite possibility.

The bottom line – Saab was worth saving, and remains so right now. It is still an excellent company with global reach and excellent products, which are only slated to improve.

One of the biggest frustrations I’ve had in years of covering Saab has been dealing with the fallout of what are either incorrect, knee-jerk, lazy or otherwise fist-chomping media reports about the company. I would estimate that only around 15% of what you can read in any given news search about Saab is the result of diligent, objective journalism. The rest of it is lazy regurgitation, laced with some catchy zingers aimed at bringing readers back just one more time.

It’s tempting and quite easy to simply dismiss much of this coverage for the crud that it is – but it can also be a mistake. Personally speaking, I think it’s a mistake we made too often at Saab. Despite many of these reports being little more than speculation or narrow-minded opinion, the fact remains that they are out there. They do get read. They do have influence. IMHO, the common themes in them should be addressed. I think we should have stood up for ourselves more often, and with some strong conviction.

When our first application for reconstruction was refused by the District Court in Vänersborg, the judge actually cited what he considered to be irreparable damage done to the brand’s reputation in global markets. This caused a fair bit of conversation in the office – and rightly so. The judge’s job was to decide whether or not the company could successfully undertake an organisational and financial reconstruction. He was neither required, nor qualified, to talk about the state of the brand’s reputation, even in Sweden (and certainly not in France, Taiwan or Australia, just three of our 50+ markets).

The judge’s written opinion had most likely been influenced to some degree by the blanket, and largely negative, coverage that Saab had received in the Swedish press over the preceding 20 months or so. (I should hasten to add that despite the judge’s comments being, IMHO, off point, the actual decision may well have been the right one, based on criticism I’ve heard of our application documents).

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Today, Saab is in bankruptcy proceedings and if the news reports from the more reputable sources are to be believed, the receivers are negotiating with several well-resourced parties from various countries. The exact intentions of those parties with respect to continued operations in Sweden are unknown, but I hope they are going to continue operations there, at least in terms of design, development and engineering.

Despite the lack of certainty, it’s heartening that these companies are emerging. The only reason they are there is because they recognise that there is some value in Saab’s operations. It gives some validation to that broken record I was playing in the latter months of 2011 – that Saab has some outstanding things going for it, attributes that are of distinct value to the right investors.

The peanut gallery at the shallow end of the motoring media pool will have their way. Should Saab’s story continue, they will continue to make their whipcrack remarks about Saab and I’m sure that they’ll see this continuing story as one about a company that needs to be euthanised rather than revived.

I don’t agree with them in the slightest and it’s my sincere hope, should a new company arise from the ashes of Saab’s bankruptcy proceedings, that this new company stands up for itself and is proud of the foundations it’s built upon, and what it’s about to achieve with its new products. I hope they shout it from the rooftops.

Once again, Saab is worth saving.

Don’t let the bastards get you down.

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This has been cross-posted, with permission, from Swadeology.

Swade’s assessment of the current situation

In Swade’s wrap up of IntSaab, he posted all the information he could deliver about the current situation.

Interest in the future of Saab was high amongst people at the event. Everyone wanted to know who the mysterious Americans were and how things were going back in Trollhattan. What was the future for Saab? Are we going to survive?

It was hard being unable to provide fuller answers, but the message I conveyed at IntSaab was the same as the message here and everywhere else when it comes to Saab matters.

The current issue is short-term. We still have to get through it (and we will) but when we do, the long-term future is very bright. And don’t believe everything you read in the papers.

I know he is a believer, but I also know that Swade is not an idiot, and reading these words from him makes me feel very comfortable about the future.

Can you help me buy my Swedish Saab?

UPDATE!!

It looks like everything’s going to work out OK. Thanks to any and all for your consideration and I’ll see as many of you as possible at SU days – in my Saab!!

I’m excited.

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Greetings all. Swade here.

I’m dropping by with Tim’s OK to see if there’s a Swede here who might be able to help me out.

I need to buy a car and I really need to buy this car on Saturday morning. Why? Well, first, because it’s available. And second, because I’d like to drive it back to Trollhattan on Saturday. I’d like to attend the SaabsUnited Days activities in the evening and I also have to pick up some stuff for the flat I’m moving in to.

Problem? The owner is away from some time on Wednesday until Saturday night.

Your task, should you choose to accept it……

1) I would need you to take a look over the car and take it for a quick spin. Soon. Most likely today (Tuesday). I’ve had a number of emails back and forth with the owner and am pretty happy that the car is OK and worth the asking price. But you never know until you’ve taken it for a ride, which is what I’d ask you to do on my behalf (and I’d have faith in your ability – it’s my decision to do things this way, my problem if I’m stuck by the side of the road in Orebro on the way back).

2) If OK, which I am pretty sure it will be, I’d need you to buy the car for me and store it until Saturday. Now, I know that’s a big ask, but the price is pretty low at 16,000SEK and I can promise you I’m good for it – cash in your hand as soon as I land in Stockholm. It’ll be my shout for a sumptuous lunch, too.

3) Be available for me to pick the car up from you in Stockholm on Saturday morning.

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I know this is a lot to ask of someone, but it’s the only way I can think of whereby I’m going to be able to get the car and get back to THN to catch up with everyone for SU Days.

If you can help, please let me know via email (swade99-at-gmail.com).

And for those wondering what the car is, well, you can do a bit of detective work or you can just wait and see…… 🙂

SU meetup – New York

Hi all, Swade here.

I’m heading over to New York on the weekend to cover the NYIAS for Saab. We’ll be using the New York show to launch our all-new Saab website (more on that later).

If any of you can be in town on Sunday afternoon/evening then I’d love to catch up with you for a casual get together.

A clarifying note – the meetup is proposed for this Sunday, April 17th. It’s not for Easter Sunday.

I realise that Sunday will be a religious holiday for some (Passover), but unfortunately it’s the only time that I’ll have available. The rest of the week will be quite busy with Saaby activities.

The proposed meeting time is 4:30pm, which should hopefully give some people time to come in and then leave at a reasonable time if necessary. Those who’d like to linger longer would be most welcome to do so, of course.

A venue I’ve had suggested to me is Café Un Duex Trois at 123 West 44th. Good place, good food and a good size. They get busy from 6pm to 8pm so getting in early should assure us some space, too.

RSVP

It’ll be essential to let them know we’re coming, so please let me know asap via email (swade99-at-gmail.com) if you’ll be coming in, and how many people will be with you.

It’ll be great to meet some of you for the first time, as well as re-connecting with some old friends.

See you in New York!

Take a breath, part II

It’s been a hard few weeks, hasn’t it?

Remember the Geneva Auto Show, when we were all filled with optimism? Promises of a new 9-5 SportCombi and a first for Saab, a real CUV coming out this summer, all very concrete and ready to roll off the production line. Further down the pipe we have eXWD, IQon, and Saabs powered by BMW engines to look forward to. Saab seemed to be on pretty strong footing just a month ago, didn’t it?

Fast forward a few weeks– an annual report, a CEO retirement, supplier work stoppages, cash crunches, and the picture doesn’t seem too pretty anymore. No matter how many ways we report the story, one thing is clear– until production gets rolling along again, there’s a dark cloud hanging over Saab that makes it hard to think about anything else. For those of you who come back day after day looking for news, I understand how hard it is load up the page and see the situation remain unresolved.

A few people have vented in comments that they miss how Swade used to run this place– I’d like to remind you that what made him so valuable was his ability to break through the crap and give his opinion. He also dealt with his share of naysayers and the only other time things were this bad in the press (during the GM crisis), he reminded us to calm down and have some patience. In that same spirit, consider this my own take on Swadeology, you could call it Jeffology.

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An adventure begins (for real)

Hi all. Swade here.

I’m writing to you from Melbourne airport, on my way to Sweden. I officially started my work with Saab at the beginning of this week, but the “real” work will start next week, you could say. We’re aiming to launch the new site around April 16 or 17, just before the NY show.

I’m on a public computer so I don’t have USB access. If I did, I’d upload a photo of a new Saab 9-5 driving around the countryside with gum trees in the background. That would hopefully be a heartening sight for the Aussies visiting here.

The Aussie Saab 9-5 launch has been going on this week. Saab dealers and support staff occupied most of the week and the Aussie motoring press are driving the cars on the country roads surrounding Daylesford as I write this. Reports should start filtering through in the next week or so.

That’s a side note to the main story of the last few weeks, though. I’ve been trying to keep tabs on the reports coming out of Sweden amidst all of the busy-ness I’ve been encountering on the ground here. It sounds serious and I’m quite sure it is serious. The truth of the situation probably lies somewhere between the extremes of the reports and soundbites we’ve heard over the last week.

I know that Saab are working their tails off to solve this situation. I know that dealers are hurting in the meantime. I know that some customers are still walking through the doors regardless, too. A good friend of mine in the north-east US just paid his deposit on an Independence Edition 9-3 Convertible, which is a huge show of support. And there’ll be plenty of others I don’t know about because I’ve been out of the loop (March sales were quite encouraging).

I’ve heard some rumours circulating, too. Rumours that were quite troubling. These rumours weren’t troubling because they were true. They’re troubling because I’m 100% sure they’re false and if a reporter were to print those rumours as assumed fact, the effects could be quite devastating. SU Crew – beware of Djup Strupes bearing gifts.

To all the doomsayers out there, remember that this is a website that helped to support the company in a time of need. It doesn’t mean we bury our heads in the sand. But it doesn’t mean we run like mice at the first shadows, either.

We’ve seen this company go through a heck of a lot in the last 18 months or so and every time, the people at Saab have come out swinging. I’m 200% confident that they’re doing everything they can right now and we know from Saab’s executive team pulling the company through the biggest reeconstruction in Sweden’s corporate history that they’ve got exceptional people on board.

Me? I’ll be at the main gate at 9am on Monday. I’d be there earlier if I had a pass to get through. I’m champing at the bit to get to work and looking forward to doing it for a long time.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

Goodbye and thanks to Saabs United – hello new world!

Wow. After six years, it’s time for me to sign off from Saabs United.

My thanks to everyone for your kind thoughts, comments and emails since the announcement was made that I’d be leaving SU (thanks to RedJ for the banner that’s been up for the last few days, too).

It wouldn’t be a true Saab story, however, if there wasn’t another twist in the tale…..

I’ve mentioned previously that my decision to leave Saabs United is due to me having too many balls to juggle all at once. My regular job, my family and my work with Saabs United were too much to fit into one personal 24 hour period. Something had to change and the first change was to sell Saabs United. I’m pleased to be able to tell you that it’s not the only change that’s taking place, however.

My regular job was getting in the way of my Saab duties, so I’ve set my regular job aside.

Saab Automobile are going to take some very big steps in bringing the company closer to their customers. Saab has hired me to be involved, as part of a global team, in a sustained social media presence that will see Saab presented from an inside view, allowing you access to company events, key people and of course, the cars themselves – in a way that no bigger car company can do.

We will aim to create relationships between the company and the community that supports it, giving you greater access to the company and the types of experiences that Saab are already known for.

Saab are very appreciative of all the community support they’ve received and they want to build on that relationship and give something back. It’s a very exciting challenge and one that I can’t wait to sink my teeth into.

There will be a press release from Saab in a few hours from now. Exciting times!

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The following is a note I received today from Victor Muller, who asked me to share it here as part of this post.

Steven,

It is a given that you have played a key role in saving Saab last year by mobilizing tens of thousands of enthusiasts to rally in support of the company. You have single handedly proven the importance social media has nowadays in situations like the one Saab went through. You became one of my most powerful allies in those trying times which now are fortunately behind us.

We have learned that with the right approach, a brand can be activated in ways which were inconceivable just a few years ago. As a result we have made you an offer to come and work for us at Saab so as to allow you to dedicate your talents to the company which made it in part also because of you.

I thank you for what you did as Saabsunited and welcome you to Saab Automobile, where you will continue to unite all of us who cherish this iconic brand.

I wish the new owner of Saabs United and his committed crew all the success in the world and am confident that they will manage to enthuse countless avid Saabisti to support our brand and company in the years to come.

Victor

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I have a whole bunch of thankyous to give here as part of my sign off. It just wouldn’t be right to finish up here without recognising the people who have provided support along the way.

This is a long list, so buckle up.

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