50 ways to leave your lover

Enthusiast first. Employee (close) second.

One of the reports that’s really turned into a kick in the guts for a lot of the people that I talk to at Saab, and for our dealer body worldwide, is a report going around via the Associated Press at the moment. It’s basis was in Swedish media late last week and elements of this report are now being circulated via AP.

The original report covered the decision of a Swedish dealership chain to drop Saab from its inventory. Holmgrens Bil, the dealership in question, is led by a gentleman named Benny Holmgren and he’s quoted in media as follows (translation from the original Swedish by Stockholm News):

For me, it is important to be proud of the brands that we have. SAAB does not deliver cars as they promise, they do not pay wages to their employees, nor debts to its suppliers, while the owners pick out big money. It does not feel right.

If that quote seems familiar, it’s because I also used it the other day in talking about how erroneous reports can create erroneous perceptions about the company.

There’s a deeper problem, here, however. What motivates a guy like Benny Holmgren to say this?

As noted by one of his colleagues in a report by TTELA, Holmgren has been a Saab dealer for around 20 years. He built his business largely on the back of our products and he proudly notes that his chain is one of the top 5 Saab dealers in the world. That business has grown to such an extent that BMW recently approved Holmgrens Bil’s acquisition of a BMW/Mini franchise. In some ways, we’re pleased for him. Happy dealers are good dealers and we’d love for all of our dealers to be happier right now. But if you’re going to leave a 20-year relationship that’s helped you to grow and build your base for the future, then why leave it by kicking a former business associate so viciously when they’re down?

We are very concerned for our dealerships around the world. We know they have businesses, employees and families to think about and we know that some are taking decisions to either scale back, suspend or even cease their involvement with Saab. We want to hold on to every one of them and get back to building cars for them, but we know that our current situation makes life as hard for them as it is for us.

A decision can be respected. But a public questioning and denouncement of our morals on the way out?

Saab’s problem right now comes down to one thing and one thing only – a cash shortage. We didn’t have enough cash to meet obligations at one stage earlier this year and key suppliers made a decision that it was too big a risk for them to allow us to trade our way out of that situation. To win them back, we need to find the cash.

Our fault. Our task to fix. We are working on it flat-out.

We have set deals in motion to ensure the long term future of the company. We have to wait for those deals to be approved and in the meantime, we need to find a bridge to that future.

We have tried to remain communicative about the situation, but every missed deadline that we’ve communicated leads to a degree of public condemnation, regardless of the sincerity of the stated goal. We now communicate developments when they happen and simply assure as best we can that we’re working to bridge the problem, which we are.

Contrary to the quote above, we have paid our workers, even those who have been idled by the production stoppage for some months now. There have been timing issues with recent payments but we’ve made efforts to overcome those because we are committed to keeping our workforce intact.

And again, contrary to the quote above, our supervisory board members are not taking money out of the company. On the contrary, they haven’t been paid for some time.


Mr Holmgren’s press statement did two things: It got his name and new franchises in the paper and it made life even more difficult for his (former) contemporaries in Saab dealer-land. I also note with some disappointment and some fear that parts of the media are now actively seeking similar stories and statements from Saab dealers and staff.

We know that we have only one solution to our situation – finding the finance to get things going again on a continual basis. We’re certainly doing all that we can and our #1 goal is still getting back to building cars and supporting our customers and our dealership network.

We certainly appreciate the support that our dealerships have shown for us, and for our mutual customers.

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  1. I share in your frustration with the
    above noted dealer and I think it is beyond classless for him to attack on the
    way out, when his dealers success has been built over the years with Saab.
    Also, what does that say to his customers who had recently purchased a Saab
    through him? There are other dealers that had been forced to leave because of
    finances and taken the high road, look at New Salem, they still love Saab and
    remain committed to their Saab customers. I would almost like to see some
    backlash from his Saab customers in Sweden, have a convoy with signs picket his
    now BMW lots, once again very classless. 

    1. I don’t think a convoy would be in order and I think he’s got some backlash on his website already (and some support, to be fair).

      My point with this one is just to say that some things aren’t OK, and this was one of them.  We cop our share or criticism and often, we try to let it wash over.  Sometimes I try to respond and this was one of those instances where it was just too far, too much.

      1. Although
        I would never react like this dealer did, I can at least understand the channel
        he used: Ever since JAJ left the company we dealers never got any information
        on the status of the company via letter or direct call. All the information we
        got were on public News- and Information-systems so he uses the same channels
        as well.

    1. and I would like to say that the silence that surrounded over the last 2 weeks the Swedish Government, the Debt Office, the EIB, VA, etc. makes me feel that something is brewing in the background ..

      it is that a deal with several actors and pieces that need to fall into place at the same time, for example, the repayment of the EIB loan would trigger the investment by other parties …

  2. Mr. Holmgren violated a tenet I’ve always observed.  Namely, never step on the toes of a company from which you are leaving since those toes are connected to the ass you may have to kiss in the future.

    1. I used to play in a band and there was a saying in the music business – be nice to people you meet on your way up as you’ll meet them again on your way down.  Similar principle, I think.

  3. This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.

    By the way, Mr. Holmström’s acting is outrageous. If his claims were true I could have understood him, but they were not.

  4. I can feel for the dealers, especially when you’re at a Cadillac/Saab dealer. Does that make any sense at all? No I don’t think about the two demographic extremes. The Wife and I were going to purchase a new 9-4x, but because of the lack of motivation from the salespersons (they kept trying to sell us SRX loaner cars telling us that 9-4x’s are simply re-badged SRX’s.) We ended up purchasing a certified 9-3 Aero SportCombi, therby supporting the Brand but sadly not supporting current finances.

    1. Very nice! You did what you could! I’m not surprised the Cadillac kept coming up, though it might have been motivated by commission or an order from the salespeople’s superiors to push the Cadillac. Good to hear you stuck with what you wanted!

      Yeah, Cadillac and Saab is an odd combination. That’s how it is at the nearest one to me, in Los Angeles. I guess they’re both small compared to Chevy; both “niche” brands. I was hoping to see them separated since Saab split, but oh well.

      Kudos again!

  5. Yeah, rather distasteful to say something like that, whether it was what he truly thinks or if it was motivated to get word out he dropped Saab for BMW. It makes him sound spiteful to the dedicated Saab follower, who has been trying to keep up with current events and knows the truth. Still, one would think he has knowledge about the situation the general public wouldn’t–surely he wouldn’t be uninformed. Maybe he’s found it difficult dealing with Saab and this was the perfect opportunity to stick it to them. It makes me not want to do business with people like that.

  6. StevenJust a quick (although not brief) note of appreciation.When SAAB was announced for sale by GM, I hungered for news and stumbled upon Saabsunited. Its my wife who has always been enamored by the brand, but I’ve since come to develop a passion for the brand. I still receive a smile each day as I pilot my convertible to work. Your post of the 9-5 combi at SOC was all the incentive needed for Denise and I to take a day trip to New Jersey. It was nice to be surrounded in an environment that was all about product instead of the media’s constant barrage of finances. It is the details of the 9-4x which are certain to create or reenforce the brand loyalty in the cuv segment. Ex: The collapsable u-rail system locks into place under the floor if not needed. (Gee, can you see what Jason and the design team can do about emulating that concept with the wind diffuser for the next generation of convertibles???)Perrine SAAB brought a 9-5 turbo4 sedan for test drives. (Java with the cashmere leather, wood trim and cocoa brown dash is particularly luxurious looking.) I must confess to having scoffed at your praise of the turbo4. My bred-in-the-US mentality is that bigger is better- so while yes I appreciate the size of the new 9-5, after driving the turbo6 last year why would I even think about a test drive of the turbo4? Was I mistaken in my assumption? Absolutely. The power band and torque for the turbo4 was smooth and readily available, no lag- no feeling under powered. After drooling over the 9-5combi in person, who cares what is under the hood. it will sell on looks alone. I do think the turbo4 is the right choice for the US market as this trim distinguishes it from the 9-4x trim levels. (Although, it would be nice if aero trim included the hirsch upgrade in horse power to distinguish trim levels, but I’m no product planner.)The most enjoyable part of the day was the interactions. During our test drive of the 9-4x aero, we had the opportunity to converse with John. What great tenure and expertise. Where I work, we refer to employees of twenty-five plus years of service as Legacy employees. If my memory and math skills are adequate, John will reach that milestone next year. They’ve helped define our brand and create our culture, leading to our legacy. It is that passion and determination that distinguishes companies from their competitive set. Passion is inherent, you are either impassioned by your work or you are not. As a Human Resources guy- Human Talent is my area of expertise. I truly believe that it is the power of the individual , the human asset, that makes an organization unique. The competition can’t copy synergy, mettle nor fortitude. So regardless of one year of service or twenty-five years, my thanks to both you and John for the impact and passion you’ve ignited in me. I look forward to the day when conversions and media can focus on product. I have every confidence that similarly impassioned individuals are working towards the financial solutions needed for such a realization.-Derek M.

    1. Great story, Derek.  Thanks for posting, and I’m glad someone else has notices the very significant virtues of the Turbo4.  A very elastic and classy engine.

      You’re right – people are the most important thing and we’re fortunate to have loads of good people.

  7. There is an article at Financial Times Germany from a journalist named Henning Hinze titled: Carmaker on the verge of bankruptcy: Saab’s creeping death

    He is citing from a letter that customers receive from the only remaining Saab dealership in Munich, Germany (Autohaus am Gotheplatz). Almost 40 years this was the traditional home of Saab car sales in Munich. Now it tries to recover at least its customer base – by aggressively promoting a shift away from Saab:

    “Is it not regrettable and unfortunate as it is for Saab? The messages range from, the production will start again to can not supply spare parts Saab. Now we can offer an interesting alternative, namely the other Swedish manufacturer Volvo. So you can easily observe the development of Saab and in the meantime become familiar with Volvo. We are sure that you feel comfortable in a Volvo as we are.”

    The Autohaus sells beside Saab and Volvo, also Subarus.

    In Germany there are only 50 dealerships left (used to be about 90).

    1. That’s sad to see, Alexandros.  One can understand the business decision they have to make, but to promote it that way is saddening.  Hopefully we can given them reason to send letters with a different emphasis soon.

  8. Steve, it’s really hard for me to judge: I’m neither a SAAB employee nor SAAB dealer nor even SAAB customer yet, only a potential customer. But thoroughly reading all the news about the company I keep on wondering what are in fact the conditions for production restart. ‘Need cash’ – ain’t it too generic?.. And is lack of cash the one and only obstacle indeed? I do totally rely on the professionalism of your management – but even for me, a (relatively) disinterested spectator, it’s weird to read news about ongoing negotiations and agreed deals without any understanding what they mean for a bigger picture. Premises lease-back – great! But would they trigger new SAABs crawling through conveyor?..
    I’m not sure what is the way you keep your dealership engaged, but a major dealer resigning after two decades of ongoing success is actually a very bad sign. Did Mr. Holmgren do it in right way? Absolutely not. Should it be a learning for SAAB? Absolutely yes. You all (and you personally) did fantastic job to establish consistent and honest communication with the world, but currently it’s all about emotions – utmost important, yet sometimes insufficient aspect of relationships. My belief is that when it comes to your partners, they cannot rely only on intangibles for ages; they also need some confidence that those emotions are indeed supported by a reasonable business plan and its rigorous execution…

    1. Hi Philip,

      We agree that it’s a bad sign and keeping our distribution network intact is, of course, a high priority for us.  The best thing we can do for everyone concerned is to get the deals done to get back to producing again.  And yeah, it mostly comes down to the simple need for cash.  There is also a need to have proper agreements in place with our suppliers and conversations have been ongoing in that regard.  But even those arrangements are secondary right now because we have to pay them first.