• Sweden edition
 
Sweden’s Saab - back to the future?

Sweden’s Saab - back to the future?

Published: 28 Apr 2011 15:23 GMT+02:00
Updated: 28 Apr 2011 15:23 GMT+02:00

A little over a year after it was saved at the eleventh hour by an unlikely Dutch suitor, Saab is back in familiar territory - short of sales, short of prospects and, most importantly, short of cash.

And just as in the weeks building up to the February 2010 sale of Saab by US GM to Dutch luxury car maker Spyker, one man has emerged as Saab’s knight in shining armour - Russian financier Vladimir Antonov.

Antonov, who made his fortune buying up post-Soviet banks, was widely reported to have been a stumbling block to GM’s sale of Saab to Spyker. It is reported that the US FBI put a stop to his involvement over rumours of links to money laundering and organized crime.

These rumours have been consistently dismissed by Antonov and his associates and the news on Thursday that GM and the National Debt Office (Riksgälden) had approved him as a new co-owner in Spyker, indicates that this is one of the few areas where the modern story of Saab appears to have changed.

“Saab enters a new era” was the headline that adorned The Local’s February 2010 article announcing an agreement between US General Motors (GM) and Dutch luxury sports car maker Spyker to transfer ownership of the western Sweden-based firm.

The agreement ended a long drawn out process involving GM, the Swedish government, the National Debt Office (Riksgälden) and the European Investment Bank (EIB).

The deal also signalled the end of a courting process involving a slew of potential suitors for the brand which, while commanding the affections of car-lovers across the globe, had long failed in the challenge of manufacturing cars sufficiently in demand in order to turn a profit.

A year later, it appears that the ownership change has had little impact on Saab's fortunes.

“The only way to get a company to survive is to, with profit, build cars which people buy... You can’t carry on running losses, no company can, not even a car maker,” Sweden’s Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said on Tuesday.

Last February this simple fact was, however fleetingly, replaced by cautious hope as Spyker Cars' flamboyant CEO Victor Muller received a hero’s welcome on a visit to Saab’s Trollhättan base with the ink barely dry on the sale.

"The interest in Saab is basically very easy to understand, Saab is an iconic brand," Muller said at the time.

Victor Muller furthermore pledged that Saab’s future, crucial to the manufacturing sector in the city and in western Sweden, would remain very much connected to its Nordic home.

"The typical element of the Saab brand is its Swedishness...I think one would be very short-sighted to think that the Saab buyer would be very pleased to buy a Saab from Mumbai," he added.

While the sceptics were many, the deal was a time for optimism, and shortly after the takeover was finalised on February 23rd the company issued a forecast that sales would rebound to around 60,000 vehicles during 2010.

This figure was revised down to 45,000 in August and when the the sum of the year’s efforts emerged in January 2011, the final figure stood at 32,048 cars sold. While this was in line with a further revision from October, and up 15 percent on 2009, it constituted barely half of that promised in the heady days of last spring.

Debts meanwhile continued to mount at Spyker Cars, and rumblings began over unpaid bills to suppliers at Saab.

Long-term head Jan Åke Jonsson resigned on March 25th, to be replaced by Victor Muller, who proceeded to describe the ongoing cashflow problems and initial production interruptions as “small glitches”.

But as the assembly lines ground to a more enduring halt, the deeper financial implications of Saab’s inability to sell enough vehicles to service its debts was laid bare.

Vladimir Antonov has throughout this period regularly featured in the news reporting surrounding Saab and Spyker and he has on several occasions stated his intention to assume control, with a concrete offer of financing made in mid-March 2011.

“It would be nice for Saab to have €50-70 million ($69-97 million) as a little something extra to lean on. We're ready to provide that money if we're allowed to do so by the EIB," Antonov told the TT news agency.

Antonov said at the time that he saw no risk that the EIB loan, worth a potential €400 million, would be withdrawn if he was brought in as an owner.

"The EIB has fantastic security and a fantastic interest rate for the Saab loan. Why would they take it back?” he said.

Antonov has once again become the man in focus and the only prospect ready to stump up the cash to ensure Saab’s survival, in return for a portfolio of Saab property.

With this property forming part of the “fantastic security” to which Antonov refers to above the ball has been played back into the EIB's and GM’s court.

During the recent troubles, the EIB has been accused of dragging its heels on releasing funds, GM of delaying on the approval of Antonov, and the Swedish government of being passive as Saab stands to be read its last rites.

So why is Saab so deserving of all the attention and why does a firm that has not made a profit in decades warrant survival?

Estimates vary but it is reported that some 8,000-10,000 jobs are at risk in western Sweden if Saab were to fall into bankruptcy. The immediate impact on Swedish GDP has been put at 0.2 percent.

The political risks are somewhat lower than they were in the beginning of 2010, when the Alliance government was languishing in the opinion polls with an election looming. The job losses would be considerable however and would serve to undermine one of the cornerstones of the government's election success.

While unions have been quick to accuse the government of inaction, there has however been recognition that the political options are few.

In March, Saab announced that Australian blogger Steven Wade had been recruited to the company’s social media marketing team as reward for running the independent Saabs United blog from his Melbourne home.

"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," Victor Muller wrote in a letter to Wade posted on the site.

But as Saab factories remain at a standstill, the firm’s battle-weary workers remain idle and the prospect of bumper sales a distant prospect, this one-time flagship of Swedish industry will need more than enthusiastic fans to establish a future in the cutthroat global automotive industry.

As motor industry analyst and Dagens Nyheter journalist Lasse Svärd told the broadcaster TV4 this week, the 270 million kronor ($44 million) raised by the sale of Saab's properties is no long-term financing solution.

"It sounds like quite a lot, but this is small change in the context of the car industry. It'll last Saab a couple of weeks," he said.

Peter Vinthagen Simpson (news@thelocal.se)

Your comments about this article

04:46 April 29, 2011 by repat_xpat
There is not enough market or talent (at SAAB) to enable the company to live without government support.
05:28 April 29, 2011 by millionmileman
The Talent is there and extraordinary, but how do talented people overcome a negative press which discourages new buyers. How does one buy their reputation back from skeptics?

Saab has the best safety and quality it has ever had over the past 44 years of ownership and driving them.
14:07 April 29, 2011 by V70
Having owned a number of SAABs 900/93/9.5 Aero

It saddens me personally..However in my State..Midwest

1. SAAB has no presence No Marketing..and no viable product.

2 The previous GM/SAAB product has damaged the SAAB buyers ..they will not return to the product ..as they lost in large numbers on devalued vehicles

3. The Trend in the US is all about fuel costs as gasoline prices set records..SAAB

has no product to compete.

4. They are overpriced..and do not compete well against BMW/Audi.

5. The dealers are nervous about stocking the product .

SAAB is either going to have to be a "selective " player or remove itself

from the American Market..

I believe they will close this chapter..and put SAAB and the government out of the automobile

business
14:40 April 29, 2011 by jamesblish
SAAB makes a great car but having driven several SAABS over the years, and growing up in a family that drove SAAB exclusively for 40 years, I feel they've gotten off track as a brand. They used to be a good quality car for regular people. Now they seem to think the way of the future is the "premium" segment. Why does everything have to be in the 400k premium segment? SAABS were popular because of their superior technology and new inventions as well as their decent price. Now they're just playing BMW and it's not working.
21:31 April 29, 2011 by wakak
This is all very typical of Swedish complacency.

"Hey guys, 20 years ago you were making great cars. But guess what? Global market place has changed ... and you cannot keep up with the pace."

So Saab has the choice between 2 evils, State ownership or Russian mafia, or probably both. It will probably happen with the rest of Swedish industry, unless you wake up.
21:49 April 29, 2011 by tomas R
Hello!

SAAB is good. I am driving SAAB 9000'95 five years and almost no problem. SAAB with heated and ventilated seats, turbochagers, DI system, night panel and other inventions it is GREAT. So SAAB must go on but not with Bmw engines! It must be improved new generation (SVC- SAAB variable compression) engines.

Respectfully!

Tomas
21:56 April 29, 2011 by Luke35711
This whole personal car industry is crazy. People don't want and don't need any more cars, stuffed down their throats by deceitful advertising (and neither does our environment). We need better public transport! And lets also remember that the roots of personal car industry lie with such "great humanists" as Henry Ford.
00:40 April 30, 2011 by FourSaabs
I am on my fourth Saab and love driving Saabs. The turbo charge and road handling, as well as the sporty appearance, have made me loyal to the brand.

I recently test drove the new sedan, and did not like the changes to the vehicle. Please Saab, do not fix what is not broken.

Further, the company needs to step up it's North American marketing. It can not depend on us loyalists to create greater market share. It needs to attract new buyers, and I do not see that happening. Plus, this negative press surrounding financial woes does not help.

Finally, I just returned from my first trip to Sweden...great country, nice people, and my best wishes for Saab sustainability.

Finally, I just returned from my first trip to Sweden...great country, wonderful people, and let's keep the Saab brand in the 'best of'' category, as well.
08:27 May 1, 2011 by MikeSar
From what I read, USA fighters have been eliminated from the competition in India, and SAAB's JAS 39 is in the short list. This is the biggest contract in recent times. I believe India will pick the Gripen because it is the best fighter for its price and the promise of future cooperation with India is credible. US had problems with "information transfer" with allied nations before.

Don't give up! The future is ahead. SAAB knows how good is the JAS-39. Too bad Brazil has not decided, yet.
09:36 May 1, 2011 by Horace
What? Dude, this article is about Saab Automobile AB, not the defense company
16:28 May 1, 2011 by darky
Saab really has some good cars but they have a problem; They have not been able to manage their fuel efficiency. Well produced turbo gasoline engines but the fuel consumption is still too high considering the up rise in oil prices. Check on a 2.0T engine of Audi or BMW and compare with that of a 2.0T engine of Saab. There is quite a big difference. It is even known as a Swedish car.
11:51 May 3, 2011 by Grindsprint
Haha Horace, did you go thru the whole article thinking it was about fighter jets? :D
Today's headlines
National
Teens in intensive care after school 'initiation'
Photo: Peder Skrivares school

Teens in intensive care after school 'initiation'

School inspectors are investigating after an initiation ceremony at a high school in Varberg in south west Sweden left four girls in hospital. READ  

National
Pirate Bay Swede 'mistreated' in jail
Peter Sunde. Photo: TT

Pirate Bay Swede 'mistreated' in jail

The brother of Pirate Bay co-founder Peter Sunde has questioned the conditions of his brother's Swedish jail, slamming both the institution and the guards. READ  

Elections 2014
Fresh election fears in divided Sweden
Sweden Democrat leader Jimmie Åkesson may not support a Social Democrat budget. Photo: TT

Fresh election fears in divided Sweden

UPDATED: The leaders of Sweden's main political parties have been called to parliament as speculation grows that the Sweden Democrats could hold the key to new elections. READ  

Presented by Stockholm Business Region
Introducing... the Stockholm collection
Photo: Imagebank Sweden

Introducing... the Stockholm collection

Moving to Stockholm, or just dreaming about it? Either way, this is your ultimate guide: for housing, finances, insurance, business, and so much more. READ  

In Pictures: The Local's Property of the Week
Photo: Fastighetsbyrån

In Pictures: The Local's Property of the Week

Time for some luxury this week - we're heading to a sprawling Eskilstuna property with a location and view to die for. READ  

National
Row over viral 'Nazi receipt' in Swedish shop
A cashier in a Coop supermarket: Photo: TT

Row over viral 'Nazi receipt' in Swedish shop

A photo of a till receipt with the Nazi slogan "Sieg Heil" printed on it has gone viral in Sweden, with supermarket chain Coop launching an internal investigation. READ  

Society
Sweden tops 'financial well-being' rankings
Sweden's family-friendly policies contribute to well-being. Photo: TT

Sweden tops 'financial well-being' rankings

Swedes have fewer money concerns than people from any other European country, according to the latest major report on global well-being. READ  

National
King Carl XVI Gustaf 'unhurt' after crash
The King of Sweden. Photo: TT

King Carl XVI Gustaf 'unhurt' after crash

UPDATED: Sweden's King Carl XVI Gustaf has been involved in a car accident but is unhurt, the Royal family's press office has confirmed to The Local. READ  

Elections 2014
Migration minister calls Feminists 'a dark force'

Migration minister calls Feminists 'a dark force'

Sweden's Migration Minister has said in a Facebook post that both the Sweden Democrats and the Feminist Initiative parties were "dark, gloomy, and destructive forces". READ  

The Local List
Ten Swedish designs that made life better
Playsam

Ten Swedish designs that made life better

Sweden has produced an indecent number of design classics. We take a look at some of the best - from toys to furniture, fabric designs to telephones, packaging to super-safe headwear. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Gallery
Property of the week - Eskilstuna
Sponsored Article
How to start a business in Stockholm
Society
How I became a surf blogger when I moved to Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: September 13th
Society
Why is Stockholm's Södermalm so cool?
Blog updates

17 September

Deep election analysis (Blogweiser) »

"You think you’re bad? Well I’m American. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NFbomLID0vU Deep deep analysis on Swedish election results. Vlog post: https://t.co/tjQgfa5Yie #svpol #val2014 #politics pic.twitter.com/oEK5ADFT8L — Joel Sherwood (@joeldsherwood) September 17, 2014 " READ »

 

15 September

Liten, litet, små & lilla (The Swedish Teacher) »

"Hej igen! Have you ever been confused about when to use “liten”, “litet”, “små” and “lilla”? Today I’m going to sort out how use the adjective “liten” (small) and the different forms of it. Liten or litet? “Liten” is the form we will use when referring to a noun with the gender “en”. For example: Min pappa har en..." READ »

 
 
 
Gallery
People-watching: September 11th
Gallery
People-watching: September 13th
Politics
Five possible election outcomes
Politics
Sweden elections: How do they work?
Politics
Sweden elections: Who's who?
Lifestyle
What's on in Sweden
Gallery
Property of the week - Hornstull, Stockholm
Analysis
Five differences between the UK and Sweden
Welshman Jonny Luck is now a chef in Sweden
Society
How I opened my own restaurant in Sweden's Malmö
Sponsored Article
Stockholm tech fest: relive the magic
Gallery
People-watching September 8th
Photo: TT
Politics
Feminists fight for first seats
Politics
Immigration cut push from Sweden Democrats
Sheryl Sandberg says women have "low expectations"
Tech
Facebook exec talks women's limits in Swedish business
Politics
Left Party calls for justice and equality
Politics
Green Party wants 'better world' for kids
Lifestyle
The five best Swedish songs of the month
Sponsored Article
Introducing… Insurance in Stockholm
National
Huge clear up underway after Skåne floods
Politics
Sweden's Alliance reveals full manifesto
Tech
Sweden's highest peak to lose title next year
Sponsored Article
Graduates: Insure your income in Sweden with AEA
Sponsored Article
Introducing...Your finances in Stockholm
Sponsored Article
Introducing...Housing in Stockholm
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

856
jobs available
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions is an innovative business company which provides valuable assistance with the Swedish Authorities, Swedish language practice and general communications. Call 073-100 47 81 or visit:
www.swedishdowntown.com
PSD Media
PSD Media is marketing company that offers innovative solutions for online retailers. We provide modern solutions that help increase traffic and raise conversion. Visit our site at:
http://psdmedia.se
If you want to drink, that’s your business.
If you want to stop, we can help.

Learn more about English-language Alcoholics Anonymous in Sweden. No dues. No fees. Confidentiality assured.
AA-EUROPE.ORG/SWEDEN