Which way now for Saab? - Andrew Noakes - Motoring Writer

The Saab saga goes on. Following an abortive attempt to sell the brand to the Swedish automotive group Koenigsegg, the Dutch group Spyker made a surprise bid. GM's announcement late last year that a deal could not be reached was no less a surprise.

Spyker then made a renewed offer, and several more potential buyers have emerged since – but rumours are now circulating that Saab's owner, GM, has already made the decision to kill off the Swedish brand.

GM's most recent statement announced the appointment of a management consultancy to begin the process of winding down Saab, but also reiterated that there were offers on the table and that they were being considered:

GM Statement Regarding Saab

8 Jan 2010

GM today confirmed it has selected AlixPartners to supervise the orderly wind down of Saab, and has requested approval of the selection by the appropriate authority in Sweden.  The use of a wind down supervisor is a commonly-used process in Sweden and works in the interest of the shareholder.

The wind down process is expected to take several months, and will ensure that employees, dealers and suppliers are adequately protected.  As stated previously, Saab customers can be assured that warranties will continue to be honored and that service and spare parts will continue to be available.

GM also confirmed that it has received several proposals for Saab and is continuing to evaluate these proposals. This evaluation is not affected by the appointment of AlixPartners.

One of those proposals comes from Spyker, which said this week it had made a revised offer to GM. Another comes from Genii, the investment group which bought 75% of Renault's F1 operation in December. That offer is being supported by F1 impresario Bernie Ecclestone. According to the Swedish press, there is also an offer from a group of Swedish industrialists.

Despite all this apparent interest in a brand which has under-used potential, as I pointed out in December, the rumours are that GM has already decided against selling Saab. Autocar's story 'Saab closure decided' claims sources inside GM Europe are saying the Saab 9-5 tooling will be shipped to GM's Buick plant in China beginning on Friday January 15.

So what is going on?

GM has been trying to dispose of Saab for a year, and on Thursday chief executive Ed Whitacre told reporters that a buyer simply had to ‘show up with the money’ – and claimed none had yet done that. The troubled US car giant will certainly want to extract as much value as it can out of any deal.

GM could be playing corporate cat and mouse, using the appointment of a consultancy to manage the winding up process and, perhaps, a deliberate leak suggesting it was about to move key equipment out of Trollhattan to put pressure on bidders to improve their offers.

Recent history suggests it isn’t easy to buy a brand from GM: the European Opel/Vauxhall arm was all set to be bought by the Canadian group Magna, until GM pulled out at the eleventh hour in November.

One way or another, the Saab story isn’t over yet.

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