DETROIT -- Saab Cars North America President Tim Colbeck said he remains optimistic about the automaker's future even after its parent company filed for protection from creditors in a Swedish court earlier today.
Communication with dealers, owners and consumers is a priority today and in the future, Colbeck said in a telephone interview with Automotive News.
Saab's owner, Swedish Automobile NV, said in a statement that Saab Automobile AB is seeking court approval for a voluntary reorganization to secure short-term stability while it waits for funding from Chinese investors Pang Da Automobile Trade Co. and Zhejiang Youngman Lotus Automobile Co.
"It is business as usual," Colbeck said. "We want to communicate this especially to the public because I think there is a misperception that this is a bankruptcy proceeding and that the company is bankrupt.
"In essence it is a transitionary stage for us to really get us in a solid footing to relaunch the brand with new equity partners and recapitalize business," he said.
Talking to dealers
Colbeck said dealers were contacted this morning via e-mail to alert them about the filing in Sweden. Saab management held a conference call with dealers this afternoon.
Lynn Thompson, a Springfield, Mo., dealer who sells Saabs, Cadillacs, Buicks and GMCs, said today's announcement "was inevitable. Something had to be done. Is it reorganization? Is it bankruptcy. What exactly is it?"
Over the past year, "too many times people were saying, 'we got it done. We got this done and then it would fall apart,'" said Thompson. "There is a reason it kept falling apart. That leads me to believe there is more to it than reorganizing."
Bernie Moreno, president of Collection Auto Group in the Cleveland area, and a member of the Saab dealer council, said he remains optimistic about the brand. The group also sells Acura, Buick, GMC, Lotus, Infiniti, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and Smart.
"You have to remember that two years ago everybody wrote off Chrysler and now they almost outsold Toyota last month," Moreno said.
"If this was a situation that was happening in '06 or '07," before the economy tanked and General Motors and Chrysler went through bankruptcy, "then I would be really concerned. But I think at the end of the day (Saab CEO Victor Muller) will pull it out, and Saab will be right on track and move forward."
Colbeck also said Saab opened a central call center today to answer owners' questions about parts availability, warranties, and other topics. The vehicle warranty is unchanged, for example.
A statement directed to consumers explaining the reorganization also was posted this morning at saabusa.com.
"We believe that communication is critical in this time frame so that everybody knows exactly what is gong on," Colbeck said.
Regarding floorplanning, Colbeck said its lender, Ally Financial Inc., formerly GMAC, is supporting Saab and its dealers.
"They see no financial impact of this reorganization. They continue to lend for retail and wholesale to dealers that are creditworthy. They are supportive of the Saab business," Colbeck said.
While it is unclear when vehicle production will restart in Sweden, it is also unclear when production of the 9-4X crossover will resume. Production of the 2012 model had been scheduled to begin later this month. The 9-4X was developed when Saab was a division of General Motors. Crossover sales began this spring, as a 2011 model.
"GM is a supplier and now all suppliers are being treated equal," Colbeck said. "Can't be sure what is going to happen for the next model year. That will be determined during the scope of this reorganization."
No reorganization in North America
Colbeck said the North American organization is a separate subsidiary and it will not be reorganized. It employs 64 and there have been no layoffs since production in Sweden was halted in June. North American salaries have not been affected by the reorganization in Sweden, he said.
"I think the future of this company is very strong," Colbeck said. "We just got to get there and this is what this is all about."
Victor Muller, CEO of both Saab and Swedish Automobile, said in the statement: "We have concluded that a voluntary reorganization process will provide us with the necessary time, protection and stabilization of the business, allowing salary payments to be made, short-term funding to be obtained and an orderly restart of production to be prepared."
Like Colbeck, Muller said he remains optimistic about Saab's future. "While the voluntary reorganization process will no doubt present us with a number of tough issues and decisions, I believe that Saab Automobile will emerge stronger from this process," he said.
Muller added that "the potential for Saab Automobile as a viable, independent premium car manufacturer is there, as shown by the rejuvenation of our product portfolio, approximately 11,000 orders and the conditional long-term funding already in place through the binding agreements with Pang Da and Youngman that will give us access to the Chinese market."
Terms of investments
Muller has agreed to sell a combined 53.9 percent stake in Saab to Chinese auto distributor Pang Da and automaker Zhejiang Youngman for 245 million euros ($351 million). The deal is awaiting approval from the Chinese authorities.
Saab's subsidiaries Saab Automobile Powertrain AB and Saab Automobile Tools AB are part of the reorganization filing submitted to the Vanersborg court at 9 am local time. But other units, including Saab Great Britain, Saab Cars North America and Saab Parts AB, were excluded.