Archive for March, 2009

Swedish Media Coverage: Will Saab be Allowed to Continue its Restructuring?

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

Another release from Jan-Willem Vester
Manager, Saab Automobile USA Corporate Communications

FYI, insightful media coverage from Sweden.  Monday, April 6 will mark the midway point in the Saab reorganization allowed under Swedish law after 6 weeks since the February 20 start — prompting media coverage such as below.  If all goes according to plan, the reorganization will run until the end of May and can be extended beyond that if need be.   Vänersborg is close to Trollhättan…  More to come.

Will Saab be allowed to continue its restructuring, or set to a halt? On Monday it will be decided by the district court in Vänersborg – Stockholm News

By David Jonasson — March 31, 2009

The restructuring of Saab Automobile, owned by General Motors, has lasted for almost six weeks. It has been a time of setbacks and negative headlines in media. Collapsing sales figures, job cuts, reduced operating time and no government loan guarantees.

One relief is that Saab has not needed to pay the wages, since the company has been permitted the governments wage guarantee. So far has the county administrative board paid out SEK 217 million including employee benefits to the 4000 employees. That is money tax payers will lose if Saab goes bankrupt.

If the restructuring succeeds will the money be paid back. Thus the Swedish state is one of all 1300 creditors who can question the viability of Saab when the creditors’ meetings are held on Monday.

The district court decides if the plan for restructuring holds. The creditors’ meeting will be held at the session chamber of the municipal council in Vänersborg, since the interest from media and employees is believed to be massive.

Up to three judges could participate. District court judge Cecilia Tisell is one of them.

– There has to be a viable business concept. The proposal has to be persistent and realistic. The creditors’ views are important, she says to news agency TT.

According to Swedish law shall the restructuring end if the official trustee or a creditor asks for it and “the objective with the restructuring is not considered to be reached”.

If the restructuring is stopped, then Saab is left with all the debts and there ought to be few other outs than a bankruptcy.

– That does not have to be decided the same day. The district court could announce that later, says Cecilia Tisell.

The task of restructuring has been carried out by the official trustee, lawyer Guy Lofalk, in cooperation with CEO Jan Åke Jonsson. They have had the assistance of two international experts, Stephen J Taylor and Martin Brindley.

It is since earlier known that in the new business plan will Saab bring home all its production to the auto plant in Trollhättan. Costs will be reduced by cutting 750 jobs. The question is if that is enough.

There is also hope for a new owner with much money.

Would-be Buyers Call Saab – Detroit FreePress

Wednesday, March 4th, 2009

Latest from Geneva…. 

Would-be Buyers Call Saab – Detroit FreePress 

Reorganization is to be done in spring; clearer picture expected within weeks 

By Mark Phelan – March 4, 2009 

GENEVA, Switzerland — Saab, the money-losing Swedish automaker General Motors has said it must sell or put into bankruptcy by the end of the year, has had contacts from several potential buyers, company Managing Director Jan Ake Jonsson said in an interview at the Geneva Auto Show Tuesday. 

Despite its troubles, Saab has value, said Rebecca Lindland of analyst IHS Global Insight. “They’ve got great, loyal customers. Unfortunately GM didn’t cultivate them or understand their value.” 

Jonsson is confident the Swedish government will provide the money Saab needs to reorganize and find a new owner. Under Swedish law, Saab’s reorganization must be completed by May 20. Jonsson said he expects to have a clear idea who the serious bidders are within a couple of weeks. 

“We have committed to carving out Saab from GM and finding a new owner,” he said. “We need to get this done as quickly as possible. We need to sort out our financing and future ownership.” 

About half the current potential buyers are involved in the auto industry. 

Saab’s small size will pose challenges for it to develop new vehicles and technologies alone. Jonsson expects to address that by working with a number of automakers. 

“In today’s auto industry, there are many more cooperative projects between manufacturers without ownership,” he said. “I trust that going forward, we’ll have a lot of different relationships with many different automakers.” 

Saab’s technology and global distribution network could make a good fit for an Indian, Chinese or Russian buyer, he said. A European automaker that does not already have a premium brand might also want Saab, he said. French automaker Peugeot-Citroen is the only company that seems to fit that description 

We could be looking at a Chinese automaker looking for a global dealer network” as Saab’s next owner, Lindland said. 

The company is going ahead with development and sales plans for its upcoming 9-5 sport sedan and 9-4X luxury crossover, Jonsson said, adding that GM will build the 9-4X at an assembly plant in Mexico. 

“The 9-5 and 9-4X are almost completely engineered,” he said. “We just have to put them into production.” 

The 9-5 is to go on sale late this year, the 9-4X in September 2010. GM had planned to build the 9-5 in Ruesselsheim, Germany. Production will now move to Saab’s plant in Trollhattan, Sweden. 

Saab introduced its new 9-3X crossover wagon at the Geneva show Tuesday. The car is to go on sale in the United States in September. 

Once Saab is separated from GM, the company will redefine its image with a sharper focus on traditional Saab characteristics like safety and small, efficient engines, he said. 

“There will be a lot of people cheering the day we become independent,” he said of Swedish sentiment for Saab.

Saab CEO Targets New Buyer Within 3 Months – Reuters

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

The latest from Geneva… 

Saab CEO Targets New Buyer Within 3 Months – Reuters 

By Christiaan Hetzner – March 3, 2009 

GENEVA – Swedish carmaker Saab is hoping to find a new investor within three months, promising profitability even with a volume of as little as 150,000 vehicles sold, its chief executive told Reuters in an interview. 

Thanks to reallocating production of its 9-5 model sedan to Trollhattan, its plant should be utilized much more efficiently and far from cutting jobs, Jan Ake Jonsson expects to add jobs in Sweden, where salary and wage costs are very competitive. 

“In the next few days we will go out more actively and present our case to the ones (potential investors) who have been showing an interest as well as looking for new alternatives, scan the market,” he said on the sidelines of the Geneva auto show. 

Jonsson said potential investors in Saab were from both inside and outside the car industry. He is working to find an ownership solution for Saab before the three-month reorganization deadline expires. 

He said this time period would not necessarily include time for due diligence, and that the deadline could be extended on a three-month basis for up to one year. 

“We need to accelerate this issue, and I have good hopes we will find interested investors,” Jonsson said. 

“If you are fully financed through the government and through GM, it’s a manageable size business so I think it’s easier probably to find a buyer for us than any of the bigger companies,” he said. 

With Saab slated for sale and asking for state aid to survive, Jonsson’s business plan will be key if the Swedish carmaker wants to secure a future in a rapidly shrinking market. 

“With the 9-5, 9-4x (model) vehicles almost done, we are in a very good shape to be profitable within that range” of 150,000 to 175,000 vehicles. “It’s still a relevant volume range.” 

GERMAN PLANS 

Jonsson said part of the problem has been the enormous manufacturing complexity of the current 9-5 sedan, which has been in the market for more than 10 years. 

He said next year’s relaunch could go a long way to improving margins and boosting Trollhattan’s extremely low utilization rate of less than 50 percent. 

“The 9-5 (model) and the future 9-3 (model) are engineered to be manufactured in a much more efficient way. If you take today’s 9-5, it goes back a couple of architectures from a GM point of view — back to probably the end of the 80s,” he said. 

“When you go to the next generation vehicles you will have a much more efficient way of building them.” 

Since Saab generates two-thirds of its sales in the U.S., UK and Swedish markets, he said it was “critical” to expand shares in European premium segment markets such as Germany, where he believes volumes could rise to 15,000 from a current 4,000. 

Jonsson said Saab’s ties to GM will not be entirely cut, though, since it will go ahead with plans to build the 9-4x crossover in a GM plant in Mexico. 

“We will be dependent on GM powertrains for a long period of time and when we then look at some of the architecture, some of the components will also be sourced from GM so we will have service agreements that will last some significant time.”

Saab CEO Targets New Buyer Within 3 Months – Reuters

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

The latest from Geneva… 

Saab CEO Targets New Buyer Within 3 Months – Reuters 

By Christiaan Hetzner – March 3, 2009 

GENEVA – Swedish carmaker Saab is hoping to find a new investor within three months, promising profitability even with a volume of as little as 150,000 vehicles sold, its chief executive told Reuters in an interview. 

Thanks to reallocating production of its 9-5 model sedan to Trollhattan, its plant should be utilized much more efficiently and far from cutting jobs, Jan Ake Jonsson expects to add jobs in Sweden, where salary and wage costs are very competitive. 

“In the next few days we will go out more actively and present our case to the ones (potential investors) who have been showing an interest as well as looking for new alternatives, scan the market,” he said on the sidelines of the Geneva auto show. 

Jonsson said potential investors in Saab were from both inside and outside the car industry. He is working to find an ownership solution for Saab before the three-month reorganization deadline expires. 

He said this time period would not necessarily include time for due diligence, and that the deadline could be extended on a three-month basis for up to one year. 

“We need to accelerate this issue, and I have good hopes we will find interested investors,” Jonsson said. 

“If you are fully financed through the government and through GM, it’s a manageable size business so I think it’s easier probably to find a buyer for us than any of the bigger companies,” he said. 

With Saab slated for sale and asking for state aid to survive, Jonsson’s business plan will be key if the Swedish carmaker wants to secure a future in a rapidly shrinking market. 

“With the 9-5, 9-4x (model) vehicles almost done, we are in a very good shape to be profitable within that range” of 150,000 to 175,000 vehicles. “It’s still a relevant volume range.” 

GERMAN PLANS 

Jonsson said part of the problem has been the enormous manufacturing complexity of the current 9-5 sedan, which has been in the market for more than 10 years. 

He said next year’s relaunch could go a long way to improving margins and boosting Trollhattan’s extremely low utilization rate of less than 50 percent. 

“The 9-5 (model) and the future 9-3 (model) are engineered to be manufactured in a much more efficient way. If you take today’s 9-5, it goes back a couple of architectures from a GM point of view — back to probably the end of the 80s,” he said. 

“When you go to the next generation vehicles you will have a much more efficient way of building them.” 

Since Saab generates two-thirds of its sales in the U.S., UK and Swedish markets, he said it was “critical” to expand shares in European premium segment markets such as Germany, where he believes volumes could rise to 15,000 from a current 4,000. 

Jonsson said Saab’s ties to GM will not be entirely cut, though, since it will go ahead with plans to build the 9-4x crossover in a GM plant in Mexico. 

“We will be dependent on GM powertrains for a long period of time and when we then look at some of the architecture, some of the components will also be sourced from GM so we will have service agreements that will last some significant time.”

Saab Speeds Up Talks With Suitors – The Wall Street Journal

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

Directly from the Geneva auto show, where the new Saab 9-3X has its world premiere today… 

Saab Speeds Up Talks With Suitors – The Wall Street Journal 
By John Stoll — March 3, 2009 

GENEVA — General Motors Corp.’s flagging Saab division will accelerate talks this week with “a number” of potential buyers, the unit’s top executive said Monday. 

Saab Managing Director Jan Ake Jonsson, in an interview at the Geneva auto show, said Saab is working with Deutsche Bank and has begun discussions with potential investors from the auto industry and outside it. He declined to name any of Saab’s suitors, but said it is possible a deal could be completed by next year. 

Mr. Jonsson also said Saab needs €500 million ($628.8 million) in aid from the Swedish government to survive amid the deep downturn in global auto sales. Saab recently sought to reorganize under court protection in Sweden, a process similar to Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the U.S. 

The reorganization was prompted by GM’s decision to turn Saab into an independent company. Saab will be challenged to survive on its own, however. GM and Saab have asked the Swedish government for financial aid, but the request hasn’t yet been granted. 

Without aid, Saab could run out of money, Mr. Jonsson acknowledged. 

Mr. Jonsson added he is confident Saab can attract government support thanks to its importance to Sweden’s economy. Saab and its suppliers employ 15,000 people in Sweden, and it has more than 1,000 dealers world-wide. 

Saab is committed to reaching profitability by 2011, Mr. Jonsson said. That commitment is at the core of its discussions with the Swedish government concerning the need for loans to keep it afloat.

“The Saab brand at this point is very relevant,” he said. Saab’s vehicles are known to be fuel-efficient and sporty, a combination that appeals to certain consumers in the U.S. and Europe. 

Its sales fell to fewer than 100,000 vehicles in 2008, down from a peak of 130,000 in 2006, mainly because it has only had three vehicles in its lineup and GM hasn’t updated its main models. The Saab 9-5 sedan has been on the market for 12 years and the 9-3 sedan for seven. 

Saab is minor in GM’s international operations. But it is symbolic of the strategy that GM Chief Executive Rick Wagoner is being forced to abandon as he lobbies for tens of billions of dollars in government aid in the U.S., Canada and Europe. 

GM’s large stable of brands, long criticized as bloated by outsiders, was supposed to help the auto maker cast a wide net over various types of buyers in the industry. But that approach was costly and complex. 

In an interview Friday, GM Chief Operating Officer Fritz Henderson said GM was “on the cusp” of launching new Saab models, but then the company’s “revenue collapsed” when auto sales fell dramatically in the second half of 2008. 

Saab is using the Geneva auto show as the venue to unveil a new all-wheel-drive wagon variant of its 9-3. The unit is also poised to launch a redesigned 9-5 sedan and debut the 9-4X crossover in the coming year. 

Mr. Jonsson said Saab is working to reassure potential customers. “We’re not naive in terms of believing that what has happened in the past couple weeks has not impacted customers’ judgment,” he said. 

Technically under Swedish law, Saab needs to be reorganized by May 20, but it is allowed to file for delays of up to a year. 

Press Release: “Mr Saab” Erik Carlsson turns 80

Monday, March 2nd, 2009

In true fashion, Erik rolls on and on and on…  For more downloadable images, see media.saab.com under the global tab. 

erik-saab1

Rally Legend Erik Carlsson Celebrates 80th Birthday 

Erik ‘Mr Saab’ Carlsson is 80 years young this week (March 5) and still employed by Saab, making him the Swedish manufacturer’s longest-serving employee. 

As international rallying’s first real superstar, Erik’s career with Saab spans six decades and today he remains actively involved as an international ambassador for the brand, attending Saab launches, dealer and customer events around the world. 

The names of Carlsson and Saab are inextricably bound together. Born and bred in Saab’s home town of Trollhättan, Erik first sprang to fame in the early Sixties, as ‘the big man in a little car’, taking two back-to-back victories in the Monte Carlo Rally (1962-63) and a hat-trick of wins in the British RAC Rally (1960-62). His ‘David and Goliath’ exploits against more powerful cars were the springboard for launching Saab as a global car brand. 

As a young boy, Erik used to stand on the perimeter of the local airfield in Trollhättan and admire the aerobatics of Saab aircraft flying overhead. Little did he know that Saab would soon start manufacturing cars, and that he would play such a key role in promoting its products. 

He bought his first car, a second-hand Saab 92, in 1955 and it was a development of this car, the Saab 96, which took him to his most famous rally victories. Over the years, he has driven thousands of Saab cars and been involved in the development and testing of many of the models. There is probably no man on the planet who has driven more Saabs than Erik. 

He currently drives a Saab 9-3 Aero SportCombi and, in celebration of his 80th birthday, Saab Switzerland is launching an uprated ‘Erik Carlsson’ edition of the 9-3 SportCombi and Sport Sedan, both featuring Saab’s widely-acclaimed XWD, all-wheel-drive system. 

An ebullient character, full of stories and anecdotes laced with a Swedish charm for understatement, Erik continues to ‘live his dream’. He is still in great demand as a celebrity guest and entertaining speaker. His extraordinary memory for faces and names is as sharp as ever and almost as legendary as his exploits behind the wheel. Very much a ‘people person’, Erik is never happier than when meeting and sharing his experiences with enthusiasts.   

“I’ve had a wonderful time with Saab,” he says. “We started off by producing real drivers’ cars with a distinctive character and this is as true today as it was when I first joined the company. Design and technology may have developed a great deal over the years, but the qualities that make a Saab a Saab are still same.”   

“I’ve travelled the world as a driver and ambassador for the company and I plan carrying on just as long as I am able. I’ve been very lucky because my career with Saab has been a passion every bit as much as a job.” 

Erik will enjoy his birthday at home with close family and friends. And on Saturday, March 14, he will attend a special Open Day at the Saab Car Museum in Trollhättan to be held in his honor. 

“Erik is a truly charismatic figure, part of Saab’s living heritage,” says Jan-Åke Jonsson, Saab Automobile’s Managing Director. “As we move forward, he will continue to symbolize the enthusiastic, fun-to-drive tradition that inspires the development of our brand.”