IMPORTANT NEWS: National Electric Vehicle Sweden has agreed to buy the assets of Saab Automobile and the sale is expected to be finalized during the summer.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Weekend's entertaining bits n pieces

Here's a weekend edition with some bits and pieces to keep you entertained.

Are you getting frustrated with Saab not selling enough cars? Not producing any cars? Not handing the media the right way? Then now is your chance to do a better job. On Swedish TV's web page you can play a game where your job is to build cars, sell cars, handle the media, do office work etc.

The object is to keep Saab alive as many days as possible. To move around you use the arrow keys and to work you use the space key.

But enough play already, now let's look at a beauty!

Isn't she beautiful? (The car of course.)
If you want to see more of this beauty, and hear what the woman has to say about the beauty, then check out the free podcast at iTunes.

(Ps: I can't really say if it's any good or not since I refuse to install iTunes on my computer. I also don't which episode includes the PhoeniX)

Over to some funny pics.

This guy needs a new turbo for his Saab 9000.


Who needs a water wagon when you got a beer combi?

And finally, some of us believe in Victor Muller and Jan Åke Jonsson, others believe in...

Have a great Saab weekend! :)

Saab close to a deal with Great Wall Motor

Updated with word from Antonov's spokesman Lars Carlström.

According to Dagens Industri, Saab Automobile AB led by Victor Muller and Jan Åke Jonsson is close to reaching a deal with Great Wall Motor Company of China. Saab's aim is to raise SEK 1.5 billion to SEK 2 billion, an amount that will secure further production at Saab. Saab's bargaining chips are technological knowhow and the newly developed PhoeniX architecture that will underpin the upcoming Saab 9-3 and other future models. Bloomberg reported yesterday that even an investment in Saab could be relevant, as well as a joint venture to produce Saab cars in China and the distribution of Saab cars through the Chinese companies dealerships.

TTELA reports that Vladimir Antonov, the Russian banker who wants to invest in Saab, is familiar with the discussions in China and an agreement with a Chinese company will not affect Antonov's plans for Saab. Antonov is not present in China, but gets updates on the discussions. Eric Geer, spokesman for Saab, told the news agency TT that the negotiations in China is intense, but he would not comment on the content of the discussions.

According to Wikipedia, Great Wall Motor was formed in 1976 and is best known for being the largest producer of SUVs in China. Initially the company only produced SUVs due to lack of state license to produce sedans, but starting from 2008 it is also producing traditional sedans. Great Wall Motor was listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange in 2003 and was the first private Chinese auto manufacturer to become a public company. A new technical center will open in Baoding in the Hebei province in China in 2012, and lately the company has shown ambitions towards Europe and will open a factory in Bulgaria this year. Last year Great Wall Motor sold 360,000 vehicles and reached a profit of over SEK 3 billion.

From what I can read, Great Wall Motor is an ambitious Chinese car manufacturer that only recently has begun producing and selling sedans. They seem eager to expand their business in Europe. For Great Wall Motor Company it would of course be a giant leap forward to be licenses to use Saab's PhoeniX architecture, which we must assume is an architecture with world leading safety and handling. We know from earlier that the PhoeniX architecture use a modular approach and is suitable for mid-sized to large cars and SUVs. In other words, it could fit perfect in at Great Wall Motor.

Right now from reading the news pieces, it seems like Great Wall Motor is the main lead, but Saab is also still in talks with the two other Chinese companies identified yesterday. A deal can be reached this weekend or early next week.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Updated: Saab in talks with three named Chinese car companies

Updated with the paragraph with info from Bloomberg and the one with info from Forexyard

According to Swedish Dagens Industri, Saab is in talks with Chinese Great Wall Motor Company. Great Wall Motor Company is listed on the Hong Kong Stock exchange and is best know for producing SUV's mainly for the Chinese market.

At the same time the Wall Street Journal reports that according to Dow Jones Newswire, Saab is in funding talks with three different Chinese companies, which are Great Wall Motor Company, China Youngman Automobile Group and Jiangsu Yueda Group.

In interim first quarter 2011 report published earlier today, Spyker Cars NV  confirmed that they are in discussion with several Chinese companies to fund Saab Automobile mid- and short-term.

Bloomberg now has more information about the talks with Chinese companies.  According to Bloomberg's sources, the negotiations with all three companies are progressing and a deal with one of the Chinese manufacturers should soon be finalized. The agreement could include an investment in Saab and a joint venture to build Saab cars in China.

According to Forexyard, a source has said that the negotiations are very far advanced and should produce results over the weekend. Victor Muller declined to comment on the three named companies, but said: "We are hopeful that these discussions will result in a solution very shortly so we can resume production."

Spyker Cars NV financial report Q1 2011

Updated with the operating loss and net loss and the last paragraph about transactions with GM

For those of you interested in reading Spyker Cars NV's financial report for the first quarter of 2011, it can be downloaded at Spyker Cars web page. Spyker Cars is of course the parent company to Saab Automobile AB.

The report shows a operating loss of EUR 79 million and a net loss of EUR 72 million for the first quarter of 2011.

Apart from the expected words about the recent liquidity situation, it is worth noting that Spyker Cars once again confirmes that they are in discussions with Chinese car manufacturers to fund Saab short- and mid-term. The property sale is also still an option if Saab can make a viable agreement with the European Investment Bank. The report also says that this year's sales target of 80,000 cars will be reassessed when the production stop is taken into account. Finally, Spyker Cars NV proposes to change its name into Swedish Automobile NV at the Annual General Shareholders meeting on 19 May.

It's also interesting to read that not only does Saab buy goods and services from GM, Saab also sells goods and services to GM. In the first quarter the sale to GM was EUR 15.3 million and the purchase from GM was EUR 52.4 million.

Safe to buy a new Saab

Swedish car magazine Vi Bilägare web edition has an article about why it still is safe to buy a Saab. In these times of financial turmoil, it's good to read in a fairly Saab critical car magazine that buying a Saab pose no big risks.

Below is a summary of the article. Their starting point is if the worst case scenario happens and Saab is closed down.

First they consider the availability of spare parts:
Among the most important collateral [The Swedish Government has in Saab] is the right to manufacture and sell original spare parts to around 1.5 million Saab cars all over the world. It will be profitable to run the spare part business for perhaps the next ten years, which means that consumers can feel safe that in the foreseeable future there will be spare parts for the cars sold today.

Then they look at guarantees:
Many are concerned that the guarantee is worthless if Saab disappears. But the warranty is an agreement between the car buyer and the seller - Saab Automobile is not part of the agreement. This means that the dealer is responsible for the warranty given to the consumer, and the warranty is valid whether Saab is still in business or not.

Finally they consider the second-hand value:
The second-hand values could suffer if Saab is in danger of disappearing. That became obvious in 2009 when many companies removing the ability to choose a Saab as a company car. For Swedish companies buyers, this is now solved by a residual value guarantee, in which the dealers (not Saab Automobile) guarantees the resale value of your car. For private buyers, there is no such guarantee.
But we must also remember that it was the old 9-5, a model that was totally out of date, which was hardest hit during last year's residual turbulence. Residual values of the new 9-5, especially the Sport Combi model which goes on sale this summer, is likely to be much better if Saab would not survive.

 They conclude that buying a Saab is riskier than buying a new Toyota or a Volkswagen [my note: But the price to not have to buy a Toyota or VW can not be measured in money! :)], but the risk of buying a Saab is still just the risk of losing a very limited amount of money. The car will have access to spare parts and service for many many years to come. And I would like to point out that even 20 years from now there will be spare parts to buy. Just look at 20 year old cars today. As long as there is money to be made by manufacturing and selling parts, there will be parts available.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The importance of liquidity

If you want to learn more about the importance of liquidity and some steps to improve liquidity, then check out the Snohomish County Business Journal and their excellent article on liquidity, where they use Saab as an example how liquidity issues can bring a company down to its knees. I found the article to be the best reading I have done this week. Check it out and see if you agree.

National Debt Office will allow Antonov to become part owner of Saab

The Swedish National Debt Office had a press conference at 14:30 local time about the application from Saab Automobile AB to let Vladimor Antonov be shareholder of Spyker Cars NV and thereby part owner of Saab Automobile AB.

The National Debt Office can find no reason why Vladimir Antonov should not be allowed to become part owner of Saab. They have also sent their recommendation to the Swedish Government.

The National Debt Office has done a careful investigation of Vladimir Antonov and his companies using all available sources, including a three hour interview with Antonov himself. The National Debt Office believes that Antonov has a genuine interest in Saab and has serious business ambitions for Saab. The investment Antonov wants to make amounts to EUR 30 million and will give him 29.9 per cent of the voting rights in Spyker Cars and thus Saab. The National Debt Office has set as conditions that Antonov must be subject to the same regulations as all other shareholders in Spyker Cars and that Saab must be entitled to the whole investment.

This means that the approval of the Swedish Government, General Motors and the European Investment Bank (EIB) remains before he can become part owner.

According to Dagens Industri, the press secretary of the Minster of Enterpise says that the Swedish Government will make their decision as soon as possible, but first they have to await information from the EIB and GM. The secretary stressed that both GM and the EIB know that time is of essence.

Also according to Dagens Industri GM and Saab has reached a tentative agreement which would allow Antonov become part owner in Saab:

According to a statement from GM, the company is continuing active discussions with Saab and the European Investment Bank. The company has reached a tentative agreement with Saab, which would allow Antonov become part owner. But the agreement calls for "specific measures" from Saab's side which have not yet been implemented. In addition, some "formal approvals, consents and authorizations" that Saab has not yet received, according to a statement by information manager James Cain.

Spyker Cars NV has issued a press release about the National Debt Office approving Antonov. Here's what Victor Muller and Vladimir Antonov say:

Victor Muller, CEO of Spyker and Chairman of Saab Automobile said:

"This is a great day for our company and for me personally. We worked relentlessly for 11months to achieve the desired result: restore the reputation of Vladimir Antonov, who made so many valuable contributions to Spyker since 2007 as financier and shareholder. We are convinced he will be able to make such contributions again in the near future and look forward to the decisions of the Swedish Government, General Motors and the European Investment
Bank (EIB), following the recommendation of the NDO which was the result of intense scrutinising.”

Vladimir Antonov, Chairman of Conversgroup said:
“I am very happy finally getting the recommendation from the NDO to the involved parties, being a future investor in Spyker. The past months of speculations around me, as an individual investor and my businesses has been exhausting. Clearly this has been a disturbing factor for many of my businesses. Finally we have managed to obtain a clean bill of health and we need to move fast forward to secure the cash flow of Saab Automobile. I hope all involved parties now further take on their responsibility so we can close all processes fast to secure the future of Saab Automobile.”

The situation may be tough, but Saab has an even tougher team!

Another day and another story about the cash crunch saga at Saab. The past few weeks have been more or less like a roller coaster. One day there are lot's of optimism, and the next day new challenges and problems arise. We read about property sale, technology sale, European money, Chinese money, the EIB putting the foot down, the EIB opening to reconsider demands, etc, etc. It is hard to keep track of everything and even harder to know what is true and what is not.

And so I will remind myself, and everybody else, that Saab's Chairman Victor Muller is a financial mastermind. Time and time again he has succeded when noone believed that he would. The effort he put down to buy Saab from GM speaks for itself. And he has saved Spyker from annihilation ever so often. He's capacity to work is unprecedented. And on his team he still has Jan Åke Jonsson, the guy who steered Saab through the raging storms in 2009. And of course Vladimir Antonov, the guy whose heart seems to be beating just as hard for Saab as it is for good business deals. In addition to these now well known men, hundreds of others are working in the background to give Saab a bright future.

The situation may be tough, but Saab has an even tougher team!

Updated: Muller and Jonsson are off to China

Update: Dagens Industri writes that Victor Muller has confirmed to the news agency TT that he is in Beijing on behalf of Saab. 

According to Dagens Industri, Victor Muller and Jan Åke Jonsson last night checked in to a flight to Helsinki with a probable transfer to Hong Kong. In China they will try to reach an agreement with a Chinese car manufacturer to sell licenses and cooperation:

DI met Victor Muller and Jan Åke Jonsson at the airport on Wednesday evening, by the check-in to Helsinki for a possible transfer further eastward. None of them wished to comment on the trip.
According to DI's knowledge, the goal is sale of licenses and cooperation on Saab's new platform Phoenix, which among others is used in the new 9-3 model.
The trip to China may also mean that Saab can solve the long-term financial problems, by admitting a new majority owner.

According to Lars Carlstrom, the property sale is now not the primary lead to quickly raise money:
The property transaction that would save Saab seems to be stuck with the EIB. The hope of finding a quick solution is now very small, says the Russian businessman Vladimir Antonov spokesman Lars Carlström.
- The property transaction is no longer considered to be the main lead, he says, to DI.
The main lead to solve Saab's problem is according to DI to quickly reach a agreement with a Chinese car manufacturer.

Muller and Jonsson on their way to China?

According to TTELA, Saab is negotiating with four different Chinese companies, some of them are big companies. It is supposed to be about much larger amounts than the property sale could have brought in to Saab.

At the same time Saab is working on raising fund from elsewhere in Europe, money that wouldn't come directly from Saab enthusiast Vladimir Antonov.

TTELA also reports that the 90 days time frame the EIB set for Saab to repay the EIB loan if the property sale is completed, can be reconsidered and increased to much more than 90 days. But since the bureaucracy in the EIB is working very slowly, such a change can take several days, which is too long now that time is of essence.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Saab's cash crunch solution made in China before weekend?

It's getting more and more probable that a solution to Saab cash crunch may be in China. Already in October of last year, reports came in telling us that Saab was in contact with automaker in Asia about selling technology. This became even more relevant three weeks ago when we became aware that Saab was running into financial troubles. The Chinese connection was in the beginning believed to be funding for the long-term, but the recent crisis must have speed up the process or changed the perspective somewhat. Now the Chinese connection is even mentioned as a solution to the short-term financial problems.

Earlier today we could read that key people was telling the press that a solution could be near. Now even Swedish Radio claims that a Chinese solution to the problems can be imminent:

So far there has not been any statement on the future of Saab Automobile. But everything point to that the company is seeking financing from Chinese automakers. That's according to both Saab and financier Vladimir Antonov's spokesman in Sweden, Lars Carlström, who says that a solution to Saab's problems can come during the week.
- My understanding is that Saab will tell us within the next few days. I do not think you will be disappointed in the results that will be communicated, says Lars Carlström.

Vladimir Antonov also seems certain that a solution is near. Here's what he says on Twitter:
To SAABs very valuable suppliers! Please don't fire your people for a while! Hold on a bit PLEASE!!! 

Short-term solution near?

Swedish spokesman for Vladimir Antonov, Lars Carlström, has just told Swedish Radio that there is a short-term solution within reach for Saab that does not involve Antonov. He also says that we will probably know more about this solution very soon.

TTELA also quotes Carlström saying that a solution can be near and that this solution does not involve the European Investment Bank or the Swedish Government.

Swedish Radio can also report that Saab's communications director, Eric Geers, confirms talks with Chinese automakers and that they hope for a speedy solution:

In parallel with discussions about Antonov [becoming part owner of Saab], Saab's owner Spyker Cars is also talking with several Chinese automakers, says Saab's communications director Eric Geers. He will not say exactly how many or who they. But he says there has been progress and there are hopes of a speedy solution.

Vi Bilägare interview with Jan Åke Jonsson from a few weeks back

Here is a breath of fresh air with no loans, banks, government agencys etc.

Swedish car magazine Vi Bilägare has published an interview with Saab's retiring CEO Jan Åke Jonsson on their web page. Note that this interview was done before Saab's latest financial difficulties became apparent to the outside world, so there is (thankfully!) no talk about financial troubles. Below is a translation of the interview:

Jan Åke Jonsson on Saab's future
Incurable optimist Jan Åke Jonsson has decided to leave his post as CEO of Saab. But the business plan is unchanged.

Why are you retiring?
- I have worked here for nearly 40 years, the last six as CEO. As you can imagine the last three years have been extremely demanding - I have hardly had time for anything but work. Now it's time for me to devote myself to other things, mainly my family. I want to emphasize that there is no conflict or other sudden situation behind this decision - my departure has been planned for some time.

Last year, the sales forecasts were 60,000 cars, but you only reached 31,000. What happened?
- Several factors affected the result. Of around 800 subcontractors, we had difficulties to re-start relationship with a handful, and unfortunately precisely these subcontractor turned out to be difficult to replace. It resulted in disruptions in deliveries and long lead times. But it was far more difficult on the marketing side. GM took care of 90 percent of the distribution before the sale of Saab, and to set up the logistics, the systems, and to motivate the dealers turned out to be much more difficult than we thought. Nor did we realize how long it would take to regain the buyers' confidence.

What makes you believe you can raise the forecast to 80,000 cars in 2011?
- Again, several factors come into play. First, we can now sell the new 9-5 for a whole year, also the launch the 9-5 SportCombi and 9-4x will happen this summer. But equally important is the fact that our efforts to re-start new markets have advanced since last year.
- But 80,000 is surely a challenging sales goal. Among our major markets the US has a weak currency and the economy is shaky and the same applies to the UK. Thankfully the Swedish market is moving in a positive direction. In 2011, we will still not be in a normal mode, it will take some time yet. But in 2012, when the new 9-3 arrives, we have a completely renewed product range and the car buyers’ confidence in us have hopefully normalized.

You turning the traditional truth that a manufacturer must have large volumes to be profitable up side down?
- Yes. Seeing that we develop products jointly with others, not having our own engine production, generally buying an unusually large part of our product value and also have a flexible production, we can survive with much less volume than other manufacturers.

- The extreme example is the 9-4X where we buy the whole car from GM. When we source components such as engines from other manufacturers, our small size will be also an asset - we are never seen as a threat. This low volume strategy is affecting the whole management of Saab. We are not going to become huge and will never chase volume at the expense of profitability.

How can you act differently now when you are not a part of GM?
- We can make decisions on your own, we may enter into alliances with whomever we want, we can take on production duties for other manufacturers. The list goes on!

Are you going to concentrate on certain markets or be present everywhere?
- We currently have 60 percent of our sales volumes in Sweden, USA and UK. This means that we are too dependent on these few markets. For this reason we now aim to restart in some European countries, Australia and emerging markets in Russia and China.

As a low volume manufacturer Saab can of course never be everything to everybody. How will you find your niche?
- We must dare to stand out more in terms of design and continue to build on our relationship with aviation. We will also be more clear than before that we produce exciting "driver's cars. They should also be safe, practical and combine good performance with low consumption.

But Saab can hardly be a technology leader with its limited development budget?
- We shall be leading in some areas of focus such as turbo charging, while we become "fast followers" in others. On the environmental side, we will focus more on improving and refining existing engine technology, aerodynamics, and so on than to invest in technology leadership in electric or hybrid technology.

- Our new 9-3 with 180 hp and 119 g of CO2 emissions proves that we already have come a long way. To minimize the costs of developing new models and model variants, we will in the future follow a clear modular approach according to the Scania model.

There are rumors about the forthcoming Saab 9-2. What sort of car will it be?
- The model is not in the current business plan, and its unlikely that development work will begin before the new 9-3 is launched in late 2012. Size-wise, it's probably a car in the B-segment (like a VW Polo or Mini Cooper, editor's note). To keep control of the development costs, the car must be developed together with someone else.

Will there be a motorsport venture of Saab?
- We support some private drivers, particularly in rallying. But there is noe plans for a factory team today. It would require a huge investment in both energy and money to have any chance to win - we can simply not afford it today. Moreover, our target group is not so interested in motor sport.

Favorite Cars, a Saab and a non-Saab?
- Must be the 9-3 convertible, it has been an icon from the start and continues to be popular. As for other brands, I must admit that I always had a weakness for Porsche 911!

What happened in the historic Mille Miglia rally that you and Victor Muller raced in last year?
- It was a fantastic experience to be part of the race - I wish that everybody who is interesting in motors could have participated in the competition at some point in their lives. But best of all, I beat Victor!

Saab's efforts to secure funding continues

According to the local Trollhattan news paper TTELA, Saab's efforts to raise money continues full speed ahead. They are still working on the property sale transaction, but also on a "plan B" to secure fund without selling properties. Talks with a possible Chinese partner also continues.

Saab is working on Plan B
At the same time the National Debt Office's review of Vladimir Antonov as a possible part owner of the Saab continued yesterday, there were feverish work done in Stockholm to work out a plan for a short-term financing of the company that does not need the European Investment Bank's approval.
The situation that followed the tough conditions set by the EIB to allow Saab to carry out the sale transaction with Vladimir Antonov's company, put the whole process on its head last Thursday. And suddenly the whole question of short-term financing of the company and the ability to restart production was again uncertain - as the future of the entire company.
But the management of Saab with Muller in charge, have according to sources familiar with the process since the weekend continued to work on solving the short-term financing. It's simply put about getting in cash without going through with the real estate sale that requires EIB's approval and without the use of the funds from Vladimir Antonov, which was on a Swedish bank account just waiting to be paid to Saab.
As TTELA has reported earlier, the first payment in the sale transaction would be an amount of SEK 270 million - but much more at a later stage.
Another question is whether the EIB can modify the conditions set, conditions which required that the deal would be valid for only 90 days. A longer period than three months would mean that one would be approaching the time frame set by Vladimir Antonov and his Swedish contacts Lars Carlström to repay the EIB loan - they have been talking about a time frame of half a year or even one year.
And the lead on a Chinese partner that TTELA reported about earlier, is also still relevant. An annoucement could come this week if everything works out.
At the same time the National Debt Office and Vladimir Antonov had a meeting, a meeting that the National Debt Office announced last week. The meeting, which was slightly behind schedule, started at half passed three in the afternoon and lasted for several hours. After the meeting, the director of the National Debt Office, Bo Lundgren, told TT the following:
- We have asked questions and we have received answers, and added that he expected that the National Debt Office would be able to make a decision within days.
According to TTELA's sources, the tone of the meeting was positive. Another question, if the National Debt Office gives a yes, is what the EIB decides about the ownership issue. The process surrounding the sale transaction can suggest that the EIB can assess the situation differently than the Swedish authorities.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

National Debt Office needs a few days to decide on the ownership issue

Dagens Industri can report that the meeting with Vladimir Antonov is completed. They got answers to all their questions and will make a decision on the ownership issue in a few dags. Here's what the DI article says:

The meeting between Vladimir Antonov and the National Debt Office, represented by the head of the National Debt Office Bo Lundgren and Banking Division Chief Daniel Barr, has come to an end. The decision will be reached in the next few days, Lundgren promises.
- We have asked questions and we have received answers, Bo Lundgren told TT on the way out of the meeting.
Today's meeting focused on the ownership process.

Bo Lundgren, head of the National Debt Office
- We have discussed the background and what ambition Antonov will have if he becomes owner of Saab, says Lundgren.
- Now we have had this meeting, which we had wished would have occurred a little earlier. Next we'll sit down and evaluate and discuss what our decision will be and also provide support to the Government for their decision, says Lundgren.
According to Bo Lundgren, the National Debt Office should hopefully reach a decision within days.

TTELA writes that according to their sources, the meeting ended with the National Debt Office getting a positive impression of Antonov. 

Spyker Cars: Still working with all parties involved to complete property sale

Spyker cars has just issued a press release about the ongoing work to find a solution to Saab's financial troubles. Here's some excerpts:

...the EIB informed Saab Automobile last Thursday that it will only give its consent to the sale of Saab Property if certain additional Conditions are met. The conditions relate - amongst others - to the obligation of Saab Automobile to refinance the sale of Saab Property or replace the purchaser within a limited period of time. Further, the consent to the transaction by the EIB would relate to a partial sale of Saab Property only. In addition, the EIB is requesting further clarification and confirmations from the NDO, the Swedish Government, GM and Saab Automobile.
Spyker and Saab Automobile continue to work on securing additional funding. To that end Spyker and Saab Automobile are negotiating equity and debt financing and/or technology licensing with various strategic partners, including various Chinese car manufacturers. No commitments have been received to date.
Finally, Mr. Vladimir Antonov awaits the approval from the NDO and the EIB to be allowed to act as a financier of Saab Automobile and to become a shareholder of Spyker.
To me it looks like the EIB do not object to the sale of the property, but they object to the buyer Vladimir Antonov. We know that GM do not object to the buyer and the Swedish Government and the National Debt Office do not object to the buyer. So why does the EIB object?

The complete press release can be read over at Spyker Cars Internet page.

Vladimir Antonov: "We will make it"

8:31 updated with Antonov's statements to Dagens Nyheter and the EIB's continued reluctancy.

Today Vladimir Antonov will meet the National Debt Office to discuss his request to be approved as part owner of Saab. Here is what he says to the newspaper Expressen:
"We will make it" 
Today Vladimir Antonov - the main character in the Saab saga, is meeting Bo Lundgrenfrom the National Debt Office (NDO) . Antonov tells Expressen what he will say to people at the NDO.
- I have been looking forward to this day for a long time.
Vladimir Antonov wants to solve Saab's cash crisis - and become a part owner. Today he is coming to Stockholm to meet Bo Lundgren, head of the National Debt Office, which makes an ownership inquiry after Saab requested that Antonov should be approved as owner.
What will you say to Bo Lundgren when you meet at the National Debt Office?
- I have been looking forward to this day for a long time. Now we finally meet. The pleasure is on my side! Vladimir Antonov says to Expressen.
Requires approval by GM
At the same time Antonov is requesting approval from the European Investment Bank, EIB. Saab wants to sell its properties to Antonov to release SEK 270 million. But the fact that it is he who wants to buy the properties, makes the bank reluctant.
The agreement between Spyker and GM says that he should have no influential in Saab and the EIB requires a formal approval from GM.
The Bank also sets up strict requirements for the purchase to go through: Saab must repay its loan of SEK 3.6 billion within 90 days.
"Straight ahead for Saab"
Can you meet EIB's deadline?
- The situation with the EIB is very complex. The text sent from them to us is very difficult to understand even for a skilled lawyer, so we'll see how their final proposal will look like, says Antonov.
About Saab's financial problems, he says:
- I am sure we will find a way out of it. It is straight ahead for Saab. If I am accepted as a part owner, we will be able to arrange a safe and healthy future for Saab through our broad network. We see no future problems for the company.

To Dagens Nyheter Vladimir Antonov writes the following in an email:

- I am a fighter and I never give up. A challenge like this must at all costs to be overcome.
What about Saab entices you to continue?
- The values that we have identified in Saab is to me simple math. We have one of the automotive world's strongest brands with a product range that is unprecedented, the plans we have for Saab is challenging but the result could be revolutionary, writes Vladimir Antonov.

At the same time the European Investment Bank is still being the difficult part and still claims that GM must approve the deal and it must be a formal approval:

EIB Vice President, Eva Srejber, maintains that GM must approve the deal. To the news agency TT, she says that the bank can not comment on the statments from Antonov Swedish spokesperson.
In an email from GM's top management dated Good Friday April 22 which DN Business has been made aware of, however, GM says that they have no objections to the deal. In the e-mail GM also offers to join the EIB, Saab and the Natiotnal Debt Office in conference call to clarify any question that remain.
GM's proposal for the conference call was yesterday, Monday, but the conference fell through when the EIB according to DN's sources did not respond to the offer.

Monday, April 25, 2011

If anyone can save the day, it's Victor Muller

This week can prove to be a very important week for Saab. To use a tabloid term: This week the future of Saab can be determined. But we have had many weeks like that the last two years, and what I have learned is that things can change and decisions can drag on. So you never know. But I have also learned that it ain't over till it's over.

After three weeks with no production, Saab needs to set a date for when the production will be resumed. And to do that, Saab needs to secure funding to restart production. If no date is set, the suppliers will start to let people go, which will make a restart even harder later on. Also, the question is how long Saab can afford to have the factory shut down.

Last week a deal to sell Saab's property was prepared, but then the European Investment Bank (EIB) set some tough conditions which may jeopardize the deal. Now the question is if Saab can comply with the conditions so that the deal can go through, or if Saab and the EIB can agree on less tough conditions, or if Saab can come up with a whole new plan for short-term funding.

I don't have the answers to those question. But what I do have is an absolute confidence in Saab's Chairman and acting CEO, Victor Muller, and his ability to find solutions to financial challenges. I am also certain that Victor Muller is wholeheartedly devoted and committed to Saab.

As CEO of Spyker Cars, Victor Muller saved the company from bankruptcy several times. When everybody were certain that Spyker would go under, Victor Muller saved the day time and time again. One big difference from then and now, is that the amount of money needed to run Saab is several times bigger. That will make the task harder. But he is a man for big occasions. After all, he managed to buy and save Saab when everybody said Saab was doomed.

If anyone can find a solution to Saab's current financial problems, then I am certain that Victor Muller is the one.

Union demands straight answers

According to Privata Affä the Union at Saab, with the head of IF Metall, Stefan Löfven, demands that everyone involved in the Saab property sale transaction comes out straight and explains what's going on:
IF Metall's chairman Stefan Löfven demands clear information on the conditions the European Investment Bank (EIB) has set on Saab. 
- It is time that everyone involved talks straight, he says in a statement.
Löfven consider the lack of information and objectivity leads to "unnecessary speculation".
- The lack of clarity makes the situation even worse for the company and its employees, " he says

All I can say is: Hallelujah!

BAIC Sport Phantom

At the Shanghai Auto Show Chinese auto manufacturer BAIC has displayed it's first own design based on the pre 2006 Saab 9-3 technology the company bought in 2009. The car is named the BAIC T60 Sport Phantom and is a concept car. The real deal is supposed to go into production next year.

To everyone who feared it would be a Saab copy: to me it looks more like a Volvo than a Saab!

At least the front :

The rear:

Saab has the Sport Sedan, BAIC the Sport Phantom:

The engines are supposed to be Saab's old 2.0 and 2.3 turbo engines.

More pictures and info at and

SvD summarize the recent events and answers common questions

One of the Swedish reporters I have come to respect the most regarding his reporting on Saab, is Jonas Fröberg at Svenska Dagbladet. He is a tough reporter, he doesn't hide the truth, but he doesn't overdramatize either. Today he has written a good summary of the recent events and he tries to answer to most common questions. Here's a translation:

"If Saab is to survive, the factory must get up and running"
The European Investment Bank, EIB, places high demands on Saab if Saab is to sell their factory to raise money - but what does it mean? SvD Business reporter Jonas Froberg explains the concepts. 
What does the EIB's new requirements mean? 
 - If it really is true that Saab’s loan with the EIB must be terminated and repaid within 90 days,  the situation will get  very difficult for Saab. The Trollhättan company has to up till now borrowed 217 million euros (about SEK 1.9 billion) from the EIB for specific development projects. Ironically, Saab really want nothing more than to get rid of the EIB loan, but in the short term it will be very difficult to get new loans elsewhere. It also means that the EIB and the Government must approve Vladimir Antonov as owner - he has promised to invest almost half a billion Swedish kronor. But it that’s not enough.
Doesn’t Saab negotiate with Chinese car companies?   
 - Yes, it was confirmed by Victor Muller to SvD Business report on Thursday. It can be a solution, but nothing is clear and the time frame is tight.
Can Saab go bankrupt because of this?
 - If the National Debt Office's tough requirements [I think this is a typo and it should be EIB] really is true and they won’t reconsider - and Saab cannot get financing quickly, then bankruptcy can happen. We must remember that for Saab to survive, they must get the factory up and running again. Saab is losing big money every day it's shut down.
Why does the EIB set so tough conditions?
 - That's the big question. We can currently only speculate on the EIB's motives. Perhaps they no longer believe in Saab. Maybe they do not want to do business with Saab if Vladimir Antonov is on board, but the really remarkable thing is the method. Let us remember that the Government and the National Debt Office in fact, after several considerations, agreed that Saab can sell the factory to Vladimir Antonov to quickly raise money. The EIB must tell us about their motives. Otherwise the situation will get unbearable.
What does all these back and forth mean?
 - That the Government, the EIB, the National Debt Office and GM do not seem to have talked to one another at all. It seems, to say the least, unprofessional. It's one thing to deny Saab to go through with the sale, but then they have to do it in a professional manner, dare to face the consequences and make it time efficient. The EIB set new conditions just minutes before the bank closes for the Easter weekend - while the Government made a large number in the media of the fact that they endorse the sale - it is nothing short of unprofessional. Add to that the head of the National Debt Office, Bo Lundgren, who at the same time goes publis in the Daily News and start throwing pies at the EIB, which he thinks is too bureaucratic. Simply unprofessional. Those prone to conspiracy can see it as if Saab would go under due to all this, then the Government can blame the EIB which is located far away down in Luxembourg.
What is the background?
 - Saab must raise money quickly. The company has run into a liquidity crisis because they were selling too few cars. Since Saab can not pay all suppliers,  the production in Trollhättan has been stopped for several weeks. Now they must get the factory started. Fast. But Saab has a very big loan in the EIB - a loan of EUR 400 million of which Saab has drawn EUR 217 million. The EIB loan is tied up in various development projects and can not be used to pay daily bills. Everything of value is pledged.
 That is why Saab wants to reduce the EIB loan from EUR 400 million to 280 million. Then Saab wants to release values ​​and can sell the factory in Trollhattan to Vladimir Antonov. All of this is the first step to solve the financial crisis at Saab. The second and longer-term step is to let Antonov become part owner. In the latter case, the National Debt Office has so far not been successful in making an appointment  with Vladimir Antonov, who, strangely enough, was out travelling this week. They will meet early next week.
Who are supposed to approve of what?
 - The whole process has become more complicated and strange during the Easter weekend. The first step - the transaction - must be approved by the EIB, the Government which has previously received a recommendation from the National Debt Office. But then the second in command at the EIB, Eva Srejber, claimed that even GM must approve the arrangement, which was news to everyone else. Saab claims that GM has already approved it.
The second step - to approve Antonov as owner – is to be approved by four parties:  the EIB, the Government, the National Debt Office and GM. Where all have the power of veto.
What happens now?
 - Probably nothing of importance will during Easter Monday. But on Tuesday the EIB must tell everybody why they do what they do. At the beginning of the week the examining to see if Antonov can become owner of Saab  is also supposed to be completed. This coming week will simply determine Saab's future.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

EIB's conditions make property sale transaction impossible

Yesterday we got the disturbing news that the European Investment Bank has set unreasonable conditions for the sale of Saab's property to Vladimir Antonov's Convers Bank, and thus did its best to thwart Saab's plans. The EIB's behavior is baffling. The sale deal would mean that properties valued to SEK 1 billion in collateral was freed up for sale and at the same time the EIB loan would be reduced with EUR 120 million which equals SEK 1.1 billion. In other words, the remainder of the loan would be better secured than before. But the EIB says that if the properties are to be sold, the loan must be paid back within 90 days. An absurd requirement.

Today Lars Carlström, the spokesman of Vladimir Antonov in Sweden, says that the conditions set by the EIB makes the transaction impossible. Here's a translation of the news piece from Swedish Radio from earlier today:

The EIB requires shorter repayment schedule
The Russian financier Vladimir Antonov has offered to buy Saab's real estate and thus free up money for Saab. But the European Investment Bank (EIB) requires that the remaining loan with the EIB after a property sale, must be repaid at an impossible pace, says Antonov Swedish spokesman.
According to Antonov Swedish spokesperson Lars Carlström, the demands the EIB set before the transaction can be carried through, are unreasonable - the EIB requires that the loan that remains with the EIB is to be repaid over a shorter period of time than the old larger loan.
- The conditions which are set by the EIB is totally unreasonable for Saab to live up to. It would mean that Saab can not continue to have a loan from EIB with the premises which are stipulated in this proposal from the EIB, says Lars Carlström, who is a spokesperson in Sweden for Vladimir Antonov.
What are the conditions?
- The problem with the conditions are that if you carry out this transaction, it also means that the loan must be repaid over a short period of time than is possible.
You talk about that part of the loan that will remain with the EIB for the future?
- Yes, that's right.
So the repayment schedule is different from the original repayment schedule?
- That's one way to express it, in this situation we therefore run into problems when we want to borrow less money from the EIB.

According to Dagens Industri, there is still some hope:
According to Lars Carlström, representatives of Antonov have tried to get in touch with the EIB to discuss the conditions but have been told that it is not possible until after the Easter weekend.
If the transaction can not be carried through, Carlström says that Saab will end up in a difficult position. But he also says that they are exploring other alternative ways to raise money for Saab.

Three good reasons why Saab must overcome the cash crunch

With all the turmoil going on the past weeks, I think it's a good time to come up with some good reasons why I look forward to Saab finding a way out of this finances black hole and get back to producing cars again. So here is three good reasons why I still will follow Saab closely the next years.

The excellent new line up
This year Saab will start to sell both the all new Saab 9-5 SportCombi as well as the all new Saab 9-4X. The Saab 9-5 SportCombi is a beautiful car that brings a unique design to the market. And this is a very important car for Saab. In the previous 9-5 generation, Saab sold an equal number of station wagons as they did sedans. In the Nordic countries, which includes Saab's homeland and one of Saab's most important markets Sweden, the station wagon makes up almost all sale. So when Saab gets this car out it will increase the sale by several thousand units each year.

The Saab 9-4X can prove to be equally important to the US market. Small luxury SUVs and crossovers are still big sellers in the US. The Saab 9-4X's cousin, the Cadillac SRX, has been a huge success for GM. If the Saab 9-4X can only sell a fraction of the numbers the Cadillac has sold in, it will be a success for Saab. And as Swade noted at his Inside Saab blog, people were constantly poking around the 9-4X at the New York International Auto Show.

And so I look forward with excitement to see how these cars are received by car magazines and buyers. 

Design on future models -  Qui Audet Adipiscitur
After seeing the Saab PhoeniX in person two weeks ago, my expectations to the next Saab 9-3 and other future models went off the charts. For the first time in 20 years, it feels like the designers at Saab have been given more or less free rein to let a Saab be a Saab. A Saab is not supposed to be a car for the masses, it's supposed to a car for a specific part of the mass. Don't get me wrong, the current Saabs are beautiful, but I feel that they could have taken more risk when designing the cars. As Saab's chief designer has said: "Indifference for me is akin to death. Love or hate what I do".

Electric cross-wheel drive
Last but not least, the technology that makes me believe in Saab as a innovative company for the future. The electric hybrid rear axle, to be produced and marketed by e-AAM Driveline Systems. This new four wheel drive system was developed in secrecy within Saab since 2007, and is said to be two years ahead of the competition. The system is cheap, it only cost the equivalent of a mechanical four wheel drive system. It's compact and can be installed in nearly any car. It can easily be developed into a fully electric car or a plug-in hybrid. It cuts the fuel consumption and emissions by 30 percent. And best of all, it gives the car unprecedented driving ability and characteristics.

In closing I have to mention that there are of course other important reasons to keep Saab here, like all the people whose livelihood depends on Saab. But here I have presented my reasons. So what are your reasons? Why do you desperately want to see Saab still here two years from now?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

EIB has approved the sale, but with unreasonable conditions?

In an interview with Dagens Industri web edition the vice president of the European Investment Bank (EIB), Eva Srejber, says that the EIB has made its decision about Saab's proposed sale of its properties to Vladimir Antonov's Convers Group, and this decision was communicated to Saab on Thursday. She also says that it's only the approval of General Motors that remains. And in doing so she also implies that the EIB has approved of the sale.

But Dagens Industri has also been in contact with their sources within Saab, which tells the newspaper that the EIB set some conditions to approve the deal and these conditions are highly unreasonable. One condition is that the whole loan of SEK 3.6 billion must be terminated within 90 days when the collateral in Saab's properties is handed back to Saab. Here's what the source says to the
 - An unreasonable demand for a company that must give the subcontractors predictable working conditions and confidence in Saab's ability to pay, says a source with connection to Saab and the Antonov group, who are upset about the fact that the EIB then gives Saab such a short time for such a large refinancing. 
The EIB also claims that General Motors must approve of the deal and that GM so far has not. But Dagens Industri's sources says that GM has approved and GM's management in Detroit has even sent a letter to the EIB about the issue. In the letter the following is said:
 "GM will, if necessary, remove all restrictions about ownership in the agreement if it is necessary to complete the property sale"
"If necessary, we will be available to clarify any uncertainties in the sales transaction and participate in a teleconference with the EIB, the National Debt Office and Saab Automobile on Monday, April 25"  

I will repeat what I wrote a few days ago: What's up with the EIB?
Is this an example how bureaucracy can virtually kill a company?

The EIB faces no risk with the loan to Saab. It is the Kingdom of Sweden through the National Debt Office and the Government that takes all the risk by guaranteeing the loan. So why set all these new and unreasonable conditions?

Saab really needs to get out of this mess of bureaucracy and politics! 

Bad boys, bad boys whatcha gonna do

Whatcha gonna do when the new Saab 9-5 Sedan police car comes for you?!

The siren sound effect was added later on and is not from this car.

I wonder if it's too late to change my career to a police man in Sweden? Or alternatively to a traffic violator?

More on Vladimir Antonov's extraordinary life

In two previous blog entries we have had the chance to get to know Vladimir Antonov a little better. First we got a summary of some fact, then more about his upbringing, education and business. Today Svenska Dagbladet's reporter Jonas Fröberg, the man behind the excellent book "The fight for Saab", gives us even more information about Antonov and his business. I won't translate the whole article, it's too big and there are too much there that we already know from the previous posts. But here are some notes from the Svenska Dagbladet article:

Vladimir Antonov was born straight into the Soviet academic elite. His grandfather, Yuri Antonov, was a prominent figure in the Russian nuclear program and when the Soviet Union conducted its first nuclear weapons test, Yuri Antonov was the first to study the explosion's epicenter.
Vladimir grew up in Tjkalovsk, where most of the academic elite of the Soviet Union's nuclear program lived. His father advanced to assistant chief engineer of the atomic plant with 600 workers below him. Vladmir's grandfather was head of the entire plant.
Life for the academic elite in Tjkalovsk lacked all kinds of luxury and the rugged city was far from the elusive pulse and nice cars of the Western word.
Already as a student in 1996, Vladimir took a job as a controller at Russia's Savings Bank. Unlike Victor Muller, who never owned a Saab before 2010, Vladimir Antonov loved this odd car brand from the west. In 1996 he had saved enough money to buy Saab's most expensive and sportiest model, a 9000 Aero.
In 1997 he became chief economist at Lefko-Bank. He was responsible for selling Russian bonds, which he did just before the banking crisis became evident. With 10-percent return on sales, he received staggering $ 5,000,000 in bonuses, which in 1999 he used to purchase Akademhimbank, which was on the verge of bankruptcy, for only just over one million dollars.
Akademhimbank had ties to a man named Sergei Ponomarev. He was not formally employed by the bank, but had the bank's business card and the duty to bring in new customers. Ponomarev was shot to death in 2000 in the house he lived in. At the same time rumors came up in the Russian media that Akademhimbank was involved in major money laundering - all according to the report that Vladimir Antonov himself commissioned the international survey company, IPSA to conduct in order to exonerate himself.
Shortly thereafter, the bank's security chief Yuri Molchanov, a former KGB officer, tried to extort Antonov of money. The security chief was fired and convicted of extortion.
According to the report, the Russian Ministry of Interior suspected a link between the murder of Ponomarev and the safety manager's departure. The murder case was never solved, and neither Akademhimbank or Antonov was accused of anything.
 Vladimir Antonov. Photo from Svenska Dagbladet.
Antonov bought Convers bank in 2003 and several regional banks in Russia. But they wanted to grow in Europe, which was difficult for Russian banks.
Then a opportunity opened up. In 2003, Convers bank bought Snoras bank in Lithuania, just before the country was accepted as a member of the EU. EU membership gave the right for banks to open branches in other EU countries. Snoras would now become a bridge to Europe.
But before Antonov had time to put the plans into action, new media rumors arose; Antonov new bank - Snoras Bank - was accused in 2005 of involvement in a money laundering in Australia.
Antonov was found to be innocent - father and son Antonov also helped the Australian Federal Police in the investigation, according to the report from Kroll.
At the same time both the business and the number of rumors grew. When Akademhimbank in 2004 applied to join the Russian deposit insurance system, it was denied membership several times until 2006. Vladimir Antonov was not given any good explanations as to why and ended up in an argument with the head of the Russian Central Bank, Andrei Kozlov.
Shortly afterwards Andrei Kozlov was murdered. Father and son Antonov was investigated yet again, but was found innocent and another banker, Alexei Frenkel, was convicted of murder.
As mentioned, Antonov wanted to expand in Europe with Snoras Bank. But when they wanted to start a branch in London they were stopped by the British Financial Services Authority, the FSA. Snoras appealed and an investigation was launched.
In retrospect, the FSA argues that they were provided inadequate and misleading information about the fact that Akademhimbank was denied access to the deposit insurance system in Russia. It all ended with Snoras Bank withdrawing the appeal in March 2009, just before the matter would be decided in April that year.
Antonov's group of companies has grown explosively in recent years and is now available in twenty countries: Antonov devotes himself mostly to finance operations. Two controversial purchases have been Griffon Bank of Dominica in the Caribbean in 2005 and Banco Trasatlantico in Panama in 2008 - two countries known as havens for money laundering. But he is far from the only banker that owns businesses there.
In 2008 a new strange death occurred. This time in Moldova. It was wine wholesaler Igor Vainberg Gers who was found dead in the capital Chisinau in the middle of July. He had outstanding debts to the Convers Group and the suspicions were directed against the father and son Antonov.
But according to the report that the Swedish National Debt Office ordered, Vladimir Antonov has shown documents from the Moldovan police to prove that Vainberg Gers committed suicide.
On March 10, 2009, Vladimir Antonov's father Alexander was shot down outside his home in Moscow. He was hit by five bullets in the stomach, shoulder and hand, but injuries were not life threatening.
Around the same time also Vladimir Antonov was victim of an assassination attempt. He stopped at a red light in Moscow when another car came up beside him. Vladimir Antonov could heard the bullets patter against his armored car. He got away unscathed. According to Vladimir Antonov, the  attempted assassinations were part of an extortion attempt in the amount near to 1 billion Swedish kronor.
As far as Svenska Dagbladet (Swedish daily newspaper) has found, Vladimir Antonov has never been under official suspicion of crime or been convicted.

In other words, there has been more than enough drama around the Antonovs, but as I have written earlier, I am ready to welcome Vladimir Antonov as part owner of Saab!

With the big premium markets emerging in both Eastern Europe and China, wouldn't it be ideal for Saab to be owned one third by Western European shareholders, one third by Russian and one third by Chinese?