It was a black day for Trollhättan, and the blackdest in the history of the car brand Saab. The 19. December 2011 brought the final out for the Swedish cult brand. Before, there were dramatic months, and there were always signs of hope.
And there was Victor Muller. The man who overestimated himself by buying Saab. But who didn't want to give up and who gave everything to save the brand. As bloggers, Mark and I have seen a lot of things first hand. In crisis mode, Saab was very open and cultivated a culture of communication that was exemplary.
Military take reporters into the war zone, Saab took us into the fight for survival. If there was one of the regular “International Market Calls”, we were always there live. Messages from headquarters came unfiltered and based on trust. While others copied blogs from newspapers, SU and we had the direct line. The background was clear. The aim was to avoid disinformation and - in the chaos of events - to provide objective information.
The last days of Saab are clearly remembered. Muller knew he wouldn't win against GM. He said this openly, and he put all hope in Pang Da - the only partner who had stayed. There were days of hectic negotiations late into the night; Plans to save Saab with Chinese money without losing GM licenses. A “firewall” was under discussion that should have protected American intellectual property from Chinese access.
But GM turned it down before the plans were made public in detail, and presumably without knowing or checking the details. The refusal was not discreet, as it should have been in communication between partners. But immediately and publicly, and it became the death knell of all efforts. The talks were broken off immediately, and on December 19, 2011 at 9:33 am, the insolvency.
Muller had bet on the wrong horse with Pang Da and Youngman in the Saab drama. The game against the administration in Beijing and against GM, who would have preferred BAIC as buyers, was not to be won. On December 19, Victor Muller called for his last “International Market Call”. Dejected and visibly taken by the events, he spoke to Saab employees around the globe for the last time. His last words are worth mentioning.
One should never forget that Swedish law allows companies to come back from bankruptcy on the market. Victor Muller, December 2011.
Without Muller, though, and maybe with a new owner. At least that's how it was seen in Trollhättan. Saab had survived many crises and was hardened. The employees went home celebrating Christmas and expected to be able to go back to work in January. Hardly anyone cleared their desk, many left jackets and other items behind. But there was no return.
The bankruptcy trustees took over, and with them a few people, now in the service of the lawyers, came back to the stallbacka. They had an eerie time in empty offices, but they looked as if their former colleagues had only disappeared for lunch.
If there's one thing that sets Saab and Saab people apart, it's pragmatism. The survival of the brand was organized in Sweden, Germany and in many other countries. It quickly became clear that Saab Automobile Parts AB would be the only part of the company to survive. Nyköping, the historic Saab location, became the anchor, while the plant in Trollhättan staggered towards the end. In the days that followed, there was organization and improvisation, and in January it was clear that spare parts and supplies for dealers and customers would continue.
Much of that time seems unreal today. Because many did something in this exception, without a mandate or a contract of employment. The things made sure backups moved, and with their commitment secured the survival of the brand.
On December 19, 2011, nobody suspected that the end of the GM empire would begin with the end of Saab. At Opel they were happy to get rid of the Swedish lateral thinkers and were optimistic about the future.
It depends on the Opel engineers themselves how many of them would still be needed in a few years. Carlos Tavares, December 2017.
Today, 6 years later and a little wiser, it is clear that Saab was not allowed to survive. Muller made mistakes in a situation that did not forgive a single mistake. But the mastermind was in Detroit, and GM wanted Saab to be disposed of at all costs. Even later, after the tragic December 19, 2011, every effort was made to make life more difficult for the successors in the Stallbacka.
This seems very strange today, in the year 2017. The GM empire has been around since the 19. December 2011 pretty atomized. The loss of Saab, the only European premium brand in the American portfolio, was just the start. Since then, plants have been closed worldwide, and the withdrawal from the markets has taken place on a large scale.
Opel - the company that Saab always bullied and handicapped in the group - ended up on the leftover ramp and is sold by the PSA group. The supposedly unique technology licenses from 2011 are no longer even suitable for the rooting table. You are out of date. The news for Opel and Vauxhall is bad. Short-time work has been in place in Eisenach for months, and from January 2018 also in Rüsselsheim. Research, development and administration report for at least 6 months short-time work at. It depends on the Opel engineers themselves how many of them would be needed in a few years, said PSA boss Tavares. That does not sound good!
Why Saab had to die is a question that may remain unanswered forever. The company had some exciting developments in the portfolio. The ePower concept went bankrupt, the electric rear axle made its way with other manufacturers. The visionary IQon Concept with his apps was ahead of its time, and then there are the rumors. One of these concerns engines that were allegedly developed together with AVL in Södertälje. It cannot be proven, the facts are thin and speculative. An engine block for diesel and gasoline, which could once again have been a typical Saab idea. And there is much to suggest that this development for little money ended up with another manufacturer at the right time.
And Victor Muller? The man who polarized, whose PR talent was called “Circus Muller” in Sweden? For the Saab veterans, he's a hero because he's the man who tried. It has now been settled in court that, contrary to many assumptions, his commitment to Saab did not make him rich.
But he also paid for the Saab drama, and he still pays. After an initial acquittal trial ended, he has been on trial again in Vänersborg since December 12. The charge is "gross fraud". The prosecutor uses evidence and recordings from Swedish television as evidence. Maybe Saab and Trollhättan was the adventure of a lifetime for him. In a life that is certainly not poor in adventures.
And the bloggers? Mark and I write Saab, still. We drive Saabs, as do some members of our family. Maybe you can say that we live the brand. As before, and 6 years later. There seems to be no end in sight. And to be honest, December 19, 2011, it's like an open wound that won't heal.