Posts tagged ‘Saab’


Endgame: Saab files for bankruptcy

19.12.2011

If you’re a car nut, then you won’t be mourning, too much, the passing of former Czech president Vaclev Hável. Or, for that matter, Kim Jong Il. It’s Saab that has finally died as it files for bankruptcy after GM, which still licenses key technologies to the Swedish firm, vetoed its sale to Zhejiang Youngman Lotus Automobile.
   GM has a JV with SAIC, the Shanghai automaker, and believes that if those technologies were to find their way into the hands of a small upstart Chinese rival, it wouldn’t be to its advantage. Saab, which had been teetering on collapse since March, when it first stopped production, decided to call in the receivers today.
   GM had issued a statement at the weekend, saying, ‘Saab’s various new alternative proposals are not meaningfully different from what was originally proposed to General Motors and rejected … Each proposal results either directly or indirectly in the transfer of control and/or ownership of the company in a manner that would be detrimental to GM and it shareholders. As such, GM cannot support any of these proposed alternatives.’
   Swedish Automobile, the parent company of Saab, responded, ‘After having received the recent position of GM on the contemplated transaction with Saab Automobile, Youngman informed Saab Automobile that the funding to continue and complete the reorganization of Saab Automobile could not be concluded.
   ‘The Board of Saab Automobile subsequently decided that the company without further funding will be insolvent and that filing bankruptcy is in the best interests of its creditors.’
   GM, in the two decades in which it owned Saab, failed to turn a profit with the brand. However, its parting gift, the new 9-5 saloon, was heralded by some fans as a return to form for the company. Hopes were high for it, and the 9-4X crossover, helping Saab back into a position of strength.
   It’s easy to do a post mortem now, but the failure could be levelled at GM’s misunderstanding of the Saab brand. It may have been sensible to shift Saab models on to Opel platforms for economies of scale, but, in doing so, the cars lost some of their character. The lowest point was when GM created a rebodied Subaru Impreza and called it the Saab 9-2X, which fooled few buyers—one has to remember that Saab buyers tended to be well educated. Saab never fitted well in a business which targeted the mainstream: its own cars were always bought by people who enjoyed their quirkiness and the fact they did not follow convention.
   GM only understood this when it was far too late, as the last two models demonstrated.
   When GM itself had to file for bankruptcy protection in the US in the late 2000s, Saab, Pontiac, and Saturn were the victims.
   When Saab was sold to Spyker, its boss Victor Muller invested heavily into the business to try to turn it around—but he, and other investors, would have lost tremendously today. Saab fans will likely remember Muller favourably—after all, he put his own money into the business and shared his supporters’ passion—but in a world where break-even points are at hundreds of thousands of units, Saab’s 30,000 in 2010 were never going to be enough. MG Rover Ltd. collapsed with 2004 sales of 115,000 in 2005.
   As hindsight is 20-20, Saab and Youngman might be accused of wishful thinking, believing it to be unencumbered by GM’s IP rights. However, the American business held the right of revocation over key licences that make up Saab’s 9-3, 9-4X and 9-5 models.
   It’s not the first time intellectual property has got in the way of car businesses. One of the most famous examples was BMW arranging with Rolls-Royce trade mark owner Vickers plc to license the brand for motor cars, as Volkswagen negotiated to buy the Rolls-Royce Motors business. And all Volkswagen really had to do to find this out was visit the Rolls-Royce website home page at the time: right at the bottom, stated clearly, was the message that the Rolls-Royce brand was licensed from Vickers plc.

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Posted in branding, business, cars, China, design, marketing, Sweden, USA | 3 Comments »


Saab to get €245 million if Pang Da and Youngman deal approved

04.07.2011

Today, from Saab:

Swedish Automobile N.V. (SWAN) and Saab Automobile AB (Saab Automobile) today announced the signing of final agreements with Pang Da Automobile Trade Co., Ltd. (Pang Da) and Zhejiang Youngman Lotus Automobile Co., Ltd. (Youngman), thereby converting the non-binding memorandum of understanding relating to the equity investment of Pang Da and Youngman …

The amount of the investment is €245 million, which amounts to this, according to Saab (some proofreading changes by me):

The agreements allow for the return of Mr Vladimir Antonov as a shareholder–financier of SWAN and Saab Automobile which the parties expect as soon as the parties at interest have cleared him. The NPJV will be 50 per cent owned by Saab Automobile and 50 per cent by Youngman Passenger Car, and forms the foundation for an expansion of the Saab product portfolio with three models which, until now, did not form part of Saab Automobile’s current and future product portfolio. As such the NPJV will focus on developing three completely new Saab vehicles: the Saab 9-1, Saab 9-6X and Saab 9-7.

   No doubt there will be existing technology in the three cars, and they should go down terrifically in China. And if it all goes well, this means that Saab won’t follow MG Rover down the gurgler, despite having been unable to pay wages a few weeks ago.
   But €245 million isn’t that much in today’s world, especially since Saab can’t be breaking even at its present capacity.
   I don’t want to see Saab disappear. It may have been the choice of TV villains (Leslie Grantham in both The Paradise Club and 99–1 comes to mind) as well as one or two real-life ones I can think of, but it’s a storied brand and it’s made good cars over the years. And a mate of mine has a 900, too.
   Sweden hasn’t spent all these years bagging the brand, either—it was effectively stripped of its Saab-ness while under General Motors.
   Let’s hope the company can get things right with the Chinese equity stake, which hopefully will provide more confidence. It’ll open up distribution in China, providing the government agencies agree, where a foreign brand like Saab would go down immensely well, and just at the right time. Good timing was not something that MG Rover was blessed with, regardless of the actions of the Phoenix Four.
   The discerning Chinese buyer is emerging on the mainland, and they don’t necessarily want the flash of the Mercedes-Benz. A more subtle brand might work there, and Saab actually fits the bill.
   The 9-7, I assume, is a large car, and Youngman’s Pang Qingnian hints that not only will China get this model, but the US as well.
   Good luck to the parties on this one—here’s hoping the worst is over.

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Posted in branding, business, cars, China, culture, design, marketing, Sweden | No Comments »


An ideal surfing camera, and why we love the Saab 9-4X more

20.11.2010

My friend Gareth Rowson is now review editor for WideWorldMag.com (alongside his design practice). Here is his test of the waterproof Oregon Scientific ATC9K Action Camera, filmed while surfing at Vazon in Guernsey. I thought this was very nicely shot.

   Less well shot, but significant, is the official video from Saab USA about its new 9-4X crossover SUV, from the LA Auto Show. I spotted this on YouTube when I went to get Gareth’s video. So nice to see Saab confident and launching new models again—showing that it doesn’t always pay to be part of a larger corporation such as GM. Now part of the Netherlands’ Spyker, Saab seems to rediscovered some of its mojo—and despite the 9-4X not being built in Europe, the public seems to accept it more readily than the Subaru Impreza-based 9-2X and the GMT350-based 9-7X.
   Part of that is down to the 9-4X looking like a Saab and not a facelifted Subaru or Oldsmobile, but there’s probably more than that.

   The 9-4X is still based around a GM architecture—as is the large 9-5—so to call these signs of an Saab free from GM is not terribly fair. It’s even built at a GM plant in México—as the 9-7X was built at a GM plant in the US. You might even say that Saab’s products were beginning to come right under GM, even if it took them long enough—and “getting it right” was probably spurred on by crises, too.
   Our more ready acceptance of the 9-4X probably stems from three things: (a) the loyalty shown by Saab owners around the world when the brand was on its last legs under GM—demonstrating that there was far more life in the brand than the general public was prepared to admit; (b) a company with its back to the wall that was more ready to embrace decent marketing operations; and (c) its readiness to speak to its audiences through web videos and other media, something that it did not do well when it was part of GM. Being free of the negativity of GM doesn’t do the brand any harm, either.

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Saab promises new generation of cars will have original DNA

26.02.2010

Rumour has it that the new Saab—a small car (finally)—will resemble the ur-Saab, the 92. In fact, inside Saab, it has the codename 92.
   Where have I heard this one before? I know. Stefan Engeseth’s Detective Marketing, 2001 edition. And from what I understand, since in 1999 I could not read much Swedish, it featured in the original Swedish edition, too.
   While I am no fan of retro design, a modern one that has strong inspiration from Saab’s roots could go down well with the market—especially if the new 9-1 model had some advanced, non-fossil-fuel powertrains.
   A car tied to Saab’s roots as an airplane manufacturer could reinvigorate passion for the brand in the same way as the Jaguar mascot unveiling under John Egan in the 1980s. And new boss Victor Muller, CEO of Spyker, has wasted no time getting Saab loyalists excited about the brand again. He has not set his sights on brand-new customers: he wants the old Saab buyers back.
   While it might have Opel underpinnings, it at least gets Saab into the European premium compact car game, one which GM denied it, probably due to overlap with its mainstream brands. It was an opportunity missed as BMW, Audi and others broke in to the compact and supermini game.
   I know at least one Swede who finds Muller’s promises exciting, and I sincerely hope to be proven wrong when I expressed doubts about bringing a 40,000-sales-per-year company back from the brink. Below is the announcement of Spyker finalizing its purchase (via Detective Marketing).

   When he talks about ‘DNA’, Muller really means brand: it will rediscover and redefine that brand and its entrepreneurial spirit, using it to fuel the corporate culture, and having that drive product quality, R&D and other functions. If he succeeds in reaching his 100,000-per-year goal, then we can say that brand loyalty was a huge driver.
   His first announcement alone has been praised, Saab’s 100-day plan gives distributors and loyalists some certainty, and the folks in this video actually look enthused—already this is not like a tired, Rover-style attempt at getting the company back on its feet, even if the annual sales’ figures are far worse than what the English company had prior to its collapse.

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Taxis signal how a local car industry is going

04.02.2010

When Fiat was in the poo, I remember heading in to Italy and the cabs were a mixture of German and French cars, with a few Italian ones. Generally, it was a reflection of the state of the local motor industry: cab drivers are, perhaps subconsciously, patriotic and quite traditional. If they reject the local product, then that means trouble. (Look at New York: Toyota Siennas and Ford Escapes, which were originally engineered by Mazda, have an ever-increasing share of the market; compare that to when Checkers and Big Four brands dominated.)
   During my first visit to Sweden, most cabbies drove Volvo S80s, S90s and 960s. A few went for Saab 9-5s. Now, the home brands share space with Toyota Priuses and Mercedes-Benz B-Klasses. Again, it’s a reflection of the state of the Swedish car industry, with its American owners insisting Volvo and Saab sell large cars that did not conflict with their offerings from their sister Opel and Ford brands. The consequence is that as the world moved to small cars, Volvo and Saab had relatively little to offer. Even the patriotic cabbies had to buy foreign.
   It seems Spyker realizes the folly of this policy as it takes over Saab and vows to make the company a leader in automotive environmental technology, but the compact 9-1 still does not figure in its business plan formally. Will Geely realize the same when it comes to Volvo?

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Posted in business, cars, interests, Sweden | 2 Comments »