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Hope yet for Saab as GM fields bids

Maybe: The fate of Saab and its new 9-5 flagship should be known within a month.

Beijing Auto back in the bidding for Saab as GM sets one-month deadline for sale

Saab logo2 Dec 2009

By RON HAMMERTON

GENERAL Motors has confirmed it has received renewed interest from potential suitors for Saab Automobile and has given itself another month to sell the Swedish brand or start an “orderly wind-down”.

The company said in statement released after the GM board’s monthly meeting in Detroit last night that it could not comment on any potential transactions due to non-disclosure agreements.

However, speculation in Sweden suggests up to four main contenders have stepped forward since Scandinavian supercar-maker Koenigsegg Group AB pulled out of an agreement to buy the troubled prestige car company last month.

China’s Beijing Automotive Industry Holding Company – which was to have been a minor partner with Koenigsegg in the Saab deal – is believed to have thrown its hat in the ring, while another niche sportscar-maker, Holland’s Spyker Cars NV, also reportedly has approached GM about Saab.

Beijing Auto, China’s fifth largest car company making 700,000 vehicles a year, was one of the bidders for GM’s other European operation, Opel. However, the deal fell over after stalling on the thorny issue of intellectual property rights.

Now, Beijing Auto president Wang Dazong has told Bloomberg that the company plans to “move fast” on Saab to help improve its technology.

 center imageLeft: Production at Saab's Trollhattan plant in Sweden.

US merchant bank Merbanco Inc and New York-based investment company Renco Group are also said to be interested in Saab. The latter recently acquired Delphi Global Interiors and Closures from bankrupt parts maker Delphi Corporation through its subsidiary Inteva Products LLC.

Inteva has 17 facilities across North America, Germany, Hungary, South Korea and China, making product such as car cockpits, dash assemblies, door latch and window systems, as well as contract assembly.

Renco Group also includes AM General – the company that makes the famous military Humvee workhorse vehicle. In the early 1990s, it sold the civilian Hummer brand to GM which now is in the middle of off-loading it to China’s Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machinery Company.

The future of Saab was high on the agenda at the GM board meeting this week, although the resignation of GM president and CEO Fritz Henderson grabbed the headlines.

Saab management and Swedish government representatives apparently flew into Detroit for talks with GM executives before the meeting.

In its statement released on its media website, GM said its board of directors had received expressions of interest in Saab since the conclusion of negotiations with Koenigsegg Group AB.

“The Board will evaluate potential bids between now and the end of December,” it said.

“At that time, we will determine whether a suitable arrangement for Saab exists. If not, we will begin an orderly wind-down of the global Saab business at that time.

“Due to non-disclosure agreements, we will not confirm or comment on any potential transactions or other matters unless, and until, we determine that disclosure is appropriate.”

It is unclear if the approaches to GM about Saab involve keeping the Trollhattan-based manufacturer in the car business or picking over the carcass for assets, including manufacturing equipment.

The future of Saab’s production-ready new vehicles, the flagship 9-5 and 9-3X crossover, is also up in the air, pending an ownership decision.

Saab has been retooling its Trollhattan plant for the 9-5 – its first new model since the arrival of the new-generation Saab 9-3 seven years ago.

While Saab’s existence sits on a knife edge, fellow Swedish car-maker Volvo Car Corporation appears to be in the home straight in sale negotiations by owner Ford with preferred bidder Zhejiang Geely Holding Group.

Geely claims it has reached agreement with Ford on intellectual property rights for Volvo technology, clearing the way for the deal, reportedly worth $US2 billion ($A2.15b).

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