GM Says 'No' To Saab Sale: We Recap The Saga's High Points Up To Today

December 7, 2011
2011 Saab 9-5

2011 Saab 9-5

The long, strange, saga of Saab may finally be coming to a close. Even though there's a shaky deal with Chinese investors in the works, GM has said that it will block any sale of Saab that involves the sharing of GM technology. As a result, Saab's reorganization administrator is once again pushing for liquidation of the company.

The Saab plotline has gotten so confusing in recent months that we'd probably all benefit from a CliffsNotes recap of the details. Here's a brief chronology:

1990 -- GM buys Saab, hoping to turn it into a robust, prestige marque. It never turns a profit.

2008 & 2009 -- Financial markets around the world collapse. GM begins shrinking its family of brands, downsizing from eight to four. Pontiac is shuttered (possibly to be resuscitated down the line.) Saturn looks like it's being sold to Penske, but Penske backs out at the 11th hour; Saturn also shutters. Chinese firm Sichuan Tengzhong expresses real interest in HUMMER, but Chinese authorities refuse to okay the deal; HUMMER goes down

January 2010 -- After a long, drawn-out search for a buyer and threats of being sealed in a crypt, Saab is finally sold to Dutch holding company Spyker N. V., headed by Victor Muller. Spyker N.V. also holds supercar marque Spyker Cars.

April 2011 -- Reality begins to set in. Saab has been in limbo for so long that it has few new products to offer, and the company's ailing finances force production to a halt. Saab doesn't even have enough cash on hand to pay workers. Lingering economic woes across much of the world aren't helping.

June 2011 -- Spyker N. V. (Saab's holding company) changes its name to Swedish Automobile, despite being headquartered in Holland. This isn't super important, except for nomenclature later on.

July 2011 -- Saab aims for a comeback, promising three new models and announcing a pending investment deal with Chinese firms Pang Da and Youngman.

September 2011 -- Saab files for bankruptcy protection, hoping to stave off creditors until it can hammer out the aforementioned deal with Pang Da and Youngman. 

October 2011 -- That deal with Pang Da and Youngman? Still in the air. Saab secures a $70 million investment from American firm North Street Capital -- which, as it turns out, has just bought Spyker Cars from Swedish Automobile -- but that's not enough to keep Saab afloat for long. The man in charge of Saab's reorganization, Guy Lofalk, asks the courts to end the company's reorganization process, which would effectively throw Saab into the Swedish government's hands. That, in turn, would mean liquidating Saab's assets to pay its outstanding debts, which would be the end of Saab as we know it. Victor Muller stamps his feet loudly.

Here's the thing: Lofalk knows that Saab's troubles are so severe that no amount of "investment" can save it. He wants to see the company sold whole-hog. This is exactly what Pang Da and Youngman are hoping for, because they're not interested in putting their hard-won yuan into a failing company; they want to own the whole thing. Which is exactly what they propose -- and for the staggeringly small sum of $141 million.

December 2011 -- While finalizing the details of the sale, Pang Da drops out, leaving Youngman holding the bag. Maybe Pang Da got cold feet, or maybe the company realized that the chances of Chinese regulators approving the deal were pretty slim. Either way, Youngman can't quite shoulder the entire burden itself, so it drafts an unnamed Chinese bank to help out. 

Meanwhile, back in Detroit, General Motors says that it won't support the sale of Saab to Youngman. Most of Saab's technology is owned by GM, and GM isn't exactly thrilled at the prospect of handing that tech over to Chinese investors -- mostly because China's enforcement of intellectual property law is about as lax as Michael Lohan's parenting skills. 

Still with us? Good.

Lofalk understands that without GM's approval, there's not much for Saab to sell. In other words, Saab is doomed (again). And so, earlier today, Lofalk returned to his original plan, asking the Swedish courts to end Saab's reorganization. With little money in the bank, no vehicles rolling off the assembly line, and very iffy prospects for a sell-off, it looks like Saab may finally be headed to that great showroom in the sky.

Then again, we've typed that sentence before -- many times, in fact. Will this be the real end for Saab? Or, like most epic sagas (and soap operas), will it drone on? Stay tuned.

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