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Saab not saved – yet

In production: Saab's 9-4X SUV is said to be in production in Mexico, despite GM's protestations that it is winding down Saab.

GM continues to wind down Saab as 11th-hour talks with Spyker continue

Saab logo26 Jan 2010

By MARTON PETTENDY

CONTRARY to renewed press speculation this week – and despite news that production of Saab’s new 9-4X crossover has commenced at a General Motors plant in Mexico – GM says it has not done a deal with Spyker Cars to sell its troubled Swedish brand, Saab.

Chairman and CEO Edward Whitacre said on January 25 that GM “had not changed direction” and would continue to wind down Saab’s operations, despite a new offer from the Dutch supercar-maker.

According to figures from Automotive News, Saab has produced 147 examples – including 49 last week – of the XC90-sized five-seat SUV, which is based on the same all-wheel-drive Theta platform as Cadillac’s SRX crossover, at GM’s Ramos Arizpe plant in Mexico.

The news comes before GM has officially confirmed the 9-4X would enter production, further fuelling speculation that US auto giant sees a future for the Scandinavian brand under a new owner.

Indeed, Mr Whitacre left open the possibility that Saab could be saved by Spyker after all, saying: “If and when that changes, we’ll let you know.” On the same day, Spyker indicated talks with GM would be resolved soon.

“Spyker confirms that talks are ongoing, the outcome of which is still uncertain. As Saab is currently in liquidation talks must end soon,” it said.

 center imageLeft: Saab 9-5 production in Sweden. Below: GM CEO Ed Whitacre.

Earlier this week Bloomberg News reported that Spyker had offered GM a combination of cash and preferred shares worth $US500 million ($A553m), a deal which it said satisfied GM in principle.

Later, Swedish TV station Sverige Television said Spyker was preparing to announce its purchase of Saab, following the Swedish government’s agreement to guarantee a €400 million ($A626m) loan from the European Investment Bank.

GM had also received a bid for Saab from Luxembourg investment company Genii Capital, backed by Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone.

Meantime on January 26 – the same day GM officially removed the word ‘interim’ from his CEO title, Mr Whitacre said he would continue indefinitely in the role of CEO – a position to which he was appointed temporarily in December.

Speaking at a press conference at GM’s Detroit headquarters, Mr Whitacre, 68, said the GM board was committed to paying back in full loans from the US Treasury and the Canadian and Ontario governments by June.

“The board of directors asked if I would be willing to stay on at GM and help continue the company’s road back to success,” said Mr Whitacre, who was named chairman of the ‘New GM’ after Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings last June, but also took on the role of CEO after the resignation of Fritz Henderson.

“Having spent the past few months learning the business, meeting with our employees, customers, suppliers and dealers, and working with the GM leadership team, I was both honoured and pleased to accept this role. This is a great company with an even greater future and I want to be part of it.

“We’ve made significant progress in the past couple of months, so much so that I can confirm with certainty that we will pay back in full the US Treasury and Canadian and Ontario government loans by June.

“This represents a significant milestone in our journey back to being a profitable and viable company,” said Mr Whitacre, who retired from a 44-year career with US phone company AT&T in 2007.

As part of a management reshuffle overseen by Mr Whitacre, GM last week named former Microsoft chief financial officer Chris Liddell as its new CFO, and in December appointed former GM Holden chief Mark Reuss as president of GM North America – a position also previously held by Mr Henderson.

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