I blame GM for killing Saab. I’ve said that several times during the recent crisis, citing a litany of mismanagement, lack of sympathy for the brand, poorly conceived product and, in the final reel, the veto of Saab’s desperate final rescue plan.
But in the course of this awful story I’ve talked to a lot of knowledgeable people with varying perspectives, several of whom have cautioned against my ‘knee-jerk anti-GM’ reaction. It’s not all GM’s fault, they say. Here are eight reasons why:
1) The first 10 years of GM ‘ownership’ were in fact a 50% stake, with minimal management involvement.
2) Once GM did finally get involved Saab’s DNA had already been compromised by the economics of sharing chassis and components.
3) GM themselves resisted interest from the Chinese because of concerns about technology transfer.
4) Selling Saab to Spyker meant GM did not close the company, which they probably should have done.
5) Had GM undergone their usual due diligence process then the sale to Spyker would probably not have happened, and Saab would have closed.
6) Spyker should not have bought Saab. It was an impulse purchase – a trophy brand to give the company some credibility. But Spyker – and specifically Victor Muller – had neither the experience nor the skills to run a company of this scale.
7) Spyker was extremely naïve in its dealings with the Chinese, believing itself to be in control of negotiations. It was also very naïve in thinking that GM would waive its clearly stated objection to Chinese involvement.
8) GM tried hard to let the deal go through. When the proposition was a 54% Chinese stake GM approved the deal – it was only when that stake became a total ownership that GM blocked it.
One question remains on the file: GM originally nipped in and pinched Saab from under the noses of Fiat, having lost out to Ford in the race for Jaguar. Would Saab have been better or worse off had the Italians won that battle?