Saab Automobile Breakup Looms on Chinese Cash Limit, GM’s Snub

Saab Auto Files for Bankruptcy After Running Out of Options
Saab 9-5 and 9-3 vehicles stand for sale in the showroom of a Saab Automobile dealership in Trollhaettan, Sweden, on Oct. 31, 2011. Photographer: Erik Abel/Bloomberg

Saab Automobile’s assets may be broken up and sold to pay debt as the unprofitable Swedish company ends more than six decades of carmaking following a bankruptcy filing.

Saab Auto submitted the application at Vaenersborg District Court after a potential Chinese partner wasn’t able to provide funding while General Motors Co., a former owner, said it would block the proposed tie-up, parent company Swedish Automobile NV said today in a statement.

“There’s no doubt this is the blackest day in my career,” Chief Executive Officer Victor Muller said at a press conference today at Saab Auto headquarters in Trollhaettan. The company’s workforce totals about 3,600 employees, including 3,400 in the southeastern Swedish town.

Muller has been seeking funding for Saab since his Zeewolde, Netherlands-based company, then named Spyker Cars NV, bought it in February 2010 from Detroit-based GM, which was about to shutter the brand. Muller was in talks earlier this month with potential Chinese financial backers, including Zhejiang Youngman Lotus Automobile.

The court said in an online statement that it accepted the petition and appointed two Gothenburg, Sweden-based attorneys, Hans Bergqvist and Anne-Marie Pouteaux, as administrators.

GM’s Role

GM, which still has a say in Saab’s strategy because of the carmakers’ technology ties, said on Dec. 17 that recent proposals for rescuing Saab were similar to earlier plans that it had rejected as being “detrimental to GM and its shareholders.”

The U.S. carmaker “made it clear it would not approve of a transaction involving Youngman,” while difficulties with rules on transferring funds out of China prevented a financing deal, Muller said today.

Muller said that he received “two or three” expressions of interest today from potential buyers, and that he’ll refer them to the bankruptcy administrator that the court appoints.

“Although this may seem like the end, it is not necessarily so,” he said.

Saab Auto traces its roots back to the establishment of aircraft manufacturer Svenska Aeroplan AB, which was set up in 1937 and began building cars 10 years later. The auto business was split off from the aerospace operations, now called Saab AB, in the 1990s, with GM gaining a 50 percent stake in 1990 and full control in 2000.

Missed Targets

Muller set targets for Saab to sell 120,000 vehicles and become profitable by 2012. Deliveries, which peaked at 133,000 cars in 2006, never met intermediate goals. Sales totaled 31,696 cars in 2010, compared with a target of 50,000 to 60,000.

The Swedish carmaker’s production lines have been largely suspended since March as the company fell behind on paying suppliers. Saab won protection from creditors in September. Guy Lofalk, its court-appointed administrator, applied on Dec. 7 to end the reorganization, saying the carmaker was out of money and had no realistic hope of gaining financing soon.

“Saab is so central to Trollhaettan,” said Perry Svensson, a taxi driver in the city who worked at Saab as a welder in the 1980s and whose sister is an assembly-line worker there. “We already have high unemployment here, and this certainly doesn’t help.”

The government of Sweden pays wages of employees of bankrupt companies for a limited time. Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said at a Stockholm press conference today that the state will work to help Saab’s workers “move on to other parts of the labor market.”

Stock Plunges

Swedish Automobile plunged 62 percent to 8 cents at the close in Amsterdam. Shares in the Dutch manufacturer, which makes the $235,000 Spyker C8 Aileron supercar, have dropped 98 percent this year, valuing the company at 2.9 million euros ($3.8 million).

Muller was pursuing a 600 million-euro loan from Youngman and a Chinese bank following a failed attempt earlier this year to sell a stake to the Jinhua-based carmaker and auto dealer Pang Da Automobile Trade Co.

Other suitors whose talks have collapsed this year include Russian banker Vladimir Antonov, a former Spyker investor seeking to return after GM’s terms of Saab Auto’s sale forced him out, and Hawtai Motor Group, another Chinese company.

Saab’s suppliers, which total about 900 companies including 75 in Sweden, are unlikely to close as a result of the carmaker’s collapse because its production suspension since March allowed them to adapt, Fredrik Sidahl, CEO of the FKG Swedish car-industry supplier association, said in a phone interview.

Suppliers ‘Prepared’

“All the suppliers have prepared themselves for this possibility,” Sidahl said. “Still, I’m worried about the future of Sweden’s auto industry.”

Volvo Car Corp., the Swedish automaker owned by Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co., also doesn’t expect any big effects on component makers from Saab’s disappearance from the market, said Per-Ake Froberg, a spokesman at the manufacturer.

Saab’s creditors include the European Investment Bank, the investment arm of the European Union. The state’s collateral is enough to cover Sweden’s guarantee on the EIB’s 2 billion-krona ($290 million) loan, Bo Lundgren, head of the Swedish National Debt Office, said at the government press conference.

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