I’ve just watched an extraordinary little slice of automotive history.
After a few hours of conducting interviews at the Geneva show I wandered up to the Saab stand to see if I could get the latest on the attempts to prop the company up.
As luck would have it Saab chairman Jan-Ake Jonsson was unaccompanied. So I got stuck in with a few questions about the likelihood of Saab surviving.
After a few minutes, somebody grabbed his attention because Bob Lutz, GM’s retiring global ‘product czar’, had appeared on the Saab stand.
Over the years Lutz had promoted Saab’s case from within GM, though his quick-fix Saab 9-2x and 9-7x SUV models are not the proudest part of Saab’s heritage.
Jonsson wandered over to talk to Lutz and within a few seconds Carl-Peter Forster, boss of GM Europe/Opel (and by extension, also the ultimate boss of Saab) also appeared.
(In the picture, Forster is on the left, Lutz has his back to the camera and Jonsson is on the far right).
To see the three men – all major league automotive players and all now fighting for the survival of their respective brands – standing about in semi-public discussing their various problems, was bizarre.
I struggled to hear the conversation because of the strategically placed security guards/PR minders.
What I didn’t know when I took the picture was that Forster had just warned that Opel could run out of cash as soon as this month and was poised to make ‘massive’ job cuts. GM Europe wants £3bn of state aid to prevent the whole company going under dragging Vauxhall and, probably, Saab with it.
One thing is for sure. By the time the Frankfurt show comes around in September, Lutz will have retired after a massively influential automotive career and Forster and Jonsson will either have pulled off their rescue bids or the European car industry will have been changed forever.
Incidentally, after the three bosses departed, I watched as an American GM official walked up to one of Saab’s directors, shook him by the hand and loudly wished the struggling car maker ‘the best of luck’ before complementing him on his ‘nice tie’ and walking off.
Somehow, I don’t think Saab will miss GM after 20 years of marriage.