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Saab files for bankruptcy

Delay: Production at Saab's Trollhattan plant stalled in April as key parts-makers began to withhold parts because of unpaid bills.

Future of Saab now in hands of bankruptcy administrator after rescue fails

20 Dec 2011

SAAB Cars Australia (SCA) is living in hope that a court-appointed administrator will be able to sell Sweden’s bankrupt Saab Automobile as a going concern.

The 64-year-old Swedish company filed for bankruptcy last night after Chinese investor Zhejiang Youngman Lotus Automobile withdrew its offer to invest in Saab because former Saab owner and major stakeholder General Motors refused to permit the transfer of technical licences to any restructured company involving Chinese manufacturers.

The move was described by Saab chairman and would-be saviour Victor Muller as “the last nail in the coffin”.

But Melbourne-based SCA managing director Stephen Nicholls told GoAuto today that the word from Sweden was that other potential buyers were still sniffing around Saab.

“We don’t think the light has been switched off at the end of the tunnel yet,” he said“The job of the administrator, when they are appointed, is to sell Saab for as much as they can get, and that includes as a going concern,” he said, adding that he had no definite information on any potential buyer.

Mr Nicholls said SCA – a wholly owned subsidiary of Saab Automobile NV – would continue to operate, trimming budgets to fit overheads.

“We believe it ain’t over yet,” he said. “We will just keep going and find ways to stay in business. Anything is a possibility under an administrator.”

SCA has about 40 to 50 cars in its company and dealer stocks, and a parts warehouse full of parts.

 center imageLeft: Saab Australia managing director Stephen Nicholls. Below: Saab 9-4X.

Saab Automobile has been hanging by the fingernails since GM decided to offload it in the middle of the global financial crisis.

Dutch entrepreneur and then owner of niche sports-car maker Spyker, Mr Muller, bought control the company from GM in early 2010, and has been running a valiant salvage operation ever since.

Saab ceased production in Sweden in April when unpaid parts manufacturers refused supply, and without any cash flow, spiralled into the financial abyss while it continued to explore investment options.

GM was worried that its own technologies that underpin cars such as the Saab 9-3 and 9-5 would be used against it and its Chinese partner SAIC.

The short official statement on Saab’s bankruptcy application was issued by Saab parent company Swedish Automobile NV (SWAN) from its offices in Zeewolde, Holland.

It said Saab Automobile AB and two of its associated companies, Saab Automobile Tools AB and Saab Powertrain AB, had filed for bankruptcy with the District Court in Vänersborg, Sweden.

“After having received the recent position of GM on the contemplated transaction with Saab Automobile, Youngman informed Saab Automobile that the funding to continue and complete the reorganisation of Saab Automobile could not be concluded,” it said.

“The board of Saab Automobile subsequently decided that the company without further funding will be insolvent and that filing bankruptcy is in the best interests of its creditors.

“It is expected that the court will approve of the filing and appoint receivers for Saab Automobile very shortly.

“SWAN does not expect to realise any value from its shares in Saab Automobile and will write off its interest in Saab Automobile completely.”

Saab was founded in 1937 as Svenska Aeroplan Aktiebolaget, or Swedish Airplane Company, to make military aircraft.

It branched out into cars in 1949, with the Saab 92, which went on sale in 1950 and was replaced in the mid 1950s by the Saab 93.

The company was known for its innovation and quirkiness, developing a character separate from other European car-makers, including its Swedish rival Volvo.

While Volvo found a new owner and solid future when its American owner Ford dumped it in the GFC, Saab was no so lucky, with GM’s reluctance to allow its technologies to fall into Chinese hands via the sale of Saab to dealer group Pang Da and small vehicle manufacturer Youngman, which agreed to buy Saab for €100 million.

Saab applied for court protection while the deal was negotiated, but GM stonewalled from the start, refusing any transfer of intellectual property.

Saab’s global blogger and Save Saab campaign leader Steven Wade today vented his disappointment at the result, which he said was avoidable.

“The easy thing to do right now is play the blame game,” he wrote on his Inside Saab blog.

“There are so many people/groups on my list right now it’s not funny.

“The saddest part about this whole tragedy is that it was all so very avoidable.

“What we’ve come to today, is the culmination of a collection of short-sighted, ill-considered and opportunistic decisions.

“Some of them were made by Saab, some of them were made by people or companies outside of Saab. I truly believe that all of them were avoidable.”

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