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Saab Lines Up New Chinese Partner

Will deal finally allow Saab to reopen its assembly plant?

by on May.16, 2011

A partially-assembled 9-5 body sits on the currently idled Saab Trollhattan assembly plant.

Cash-short carmaker Saab has lined up a new white knight, it claims, a week after an earlier deal with China’s Hawtai Automotive Group unexpectedly collapsed.

The new deal pairs Saab with Pang Da Automobile, a major Chinese dealership chain, and could be worth more than $150 million to the Swedish maker, which has been struggling to reopen its headquarters assembly plant.  That factory was idled on March 29 when key suppliers began a boycott demanding Saab cover unpaid bills.

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As part of the new partnership Pang Da will take a 24% stake in Saab – compared to the 29.9% equity holdings Hawtai had negotiated.  Pang Da will pay about $100 million for its stake, then another $45 million for vehicles that will be sold through its network of 1,100 dealerships across China.  It has also agreed to another $23 million purchase of Saab products within 30 days.

For the Swedish maker, the deal, “will secure Saab automobile’s medium term funding,” said Spyker Cars, Saab’s parent company, in a statement.


First Drive: 2012 Saab 9-4X

The Swedes deliver their first crossover.

by on May.13, 2011

The new 9-4X should be reaching U.S. dealers this month.

Sometimes current events have a way of creeping into even the most routine aspects of daily life.  The run-up in fuel prices forces us to rethink every journey we take, even if it’s just a mundane run of weekend errands.

For Saab, the national demand for more fuel-economical vehicles should be good news as it replaces its old 9-7X sport-utility vehicle with the more modern, efficient and, frankly, much more fun-to-drive 9-4X.  Unfortunately, even here the headlines might creep into the buying decision for many potential customers.

The Swedish automaker experienced something of an unexpected miracle, in early 2010, when the Dutch-based Spyker Cars acquired the brand from General Motors, which seemed intent on shutting Saab down. The long-struggling marque seemed to be on the mend, this year launching more products – including the 2012 Saab 9-4X – then at any time in its history.

Unfortunately, a cash crunch has disrupted production of some Saab models – though not the new crossover.  Saab seemed to have dodged the bullet and lined up yet another white knight when it agreed to sell a chunk of the company to the Chinese automaker, Hawtai.  But as we were ready to post this review that deal appeared to be coming undone.

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Even if Saab can put Humpty Dumpty back together – and there’s no question the maker’s Chairman Victor Muller is a remarkably resourceful entrepreneur – it’s possible the recent uncertainty will convince at least some potential buyers to steer clear of Saab showrooms.  It’s hard to argue against such concerns.  Even the most inexpensive automobile is a major purchase, and at $50,000 or so for the Aero edition, $40,000 for the base, once you pay for freight, taxes and the typical adds-ons, the 2012 Saab 9-4X isn’t cheap.

That said, anyone looking for a roomy, comfortable and well-appointed SUV who doesn’t at least take a look at the new Swedish offering is making a mistake.  All the drama aside, the new 9-4X is a worthwhile and compelling product.


Saab China Deal Unexpectedly Collapses

Swedish maker scrambles for alternative.

by on May.12, 2011

Image By: Len Katz

Despite deal's collapse, "I'm always optimistic," said Saab boss Muller.

The deal with Chinese automaker that was supposed to rescue cash-starved Saab has collapsed, the Swedish maker revealed this morning, leaving it scrambling to find an alternative source of cash to pay suppliers and re-open its shuttered factory.

The collapse of the partnership appears to have been caused by Hawtai Automotive Group’s inability to get the necessary approval from Chinese bureaucrats who closely regulate the industry. A similar problem prevented the planned Chinese takeover, two years ago, of General Motors’ now-abandoned Hummer brand.

Strained for cash to pay its bills and unable to get approval from the European Investment Bank to sell its factory and other assets to a Russian banker, Saab announced last week it would sell a 29.9% stake to Hawtai. The Chinese also offered a short-term loan in a deal collectively valued at 150 million Euros, or $216 million.

The proposal would have also given Saab access to Hawtai production plants in China, potentially opening up an opportunity to penetrate the world’s largest automotive market.  And, as reported, Saab was considering ways to distribute Hawtai – or other Chinese – products in the U.S.  (Click Here for more.)

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But most importantly, Saab had hoped to use the cash to pay off suppliers who have been boycotting its Trollhattan assembly plant since March 29, putting a hold on production of its core 9-3 and 9-5 models.  Saab Chairman Victor Muller told he was hoping to re-open the factory next week.


Saab Deal Could Open U.S. Doors to $10,000 Chinese Vehicle

Will Swedish tie finally give China an entry into coveted American market?

by on May.12, 2011

Saab could distribute a $10,000 Chinese-made car in the U.S., says Chairman Muller.

Seemingly every year for much of the past decade, one or more of the ambitious Chinese automakers has paid cash for a spot at Detroit’s North American International Auto Show, promising to soon have a product ready for the U.S. market.  This past January, BYD outlined plans to open up a limited distribution network with dealers that would sell not only cars but solar generators and high-efficiency light bulbs.

So far, none of the brands has made the jump across the Pacific, whether due to quality, safety, pricing or other concerns.  In fact, one of the biggest challenges for an automotive wannabe is simply setting up an American distribution network.  So, tying up with an established brand could be the critical step needed for a maker, say Hawtai Automotive Group, that doesn’t want to wait any longer.

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And Hawtai may have just bought into one of those established brands, having spent 120 million Euros to acquire a 29.9% stake in cash-starved Saab, (while also offering the Swedish maker another 30 million Euro loan).

One of the reasons Saab Chairman Victor Muller agreed to the deal was to gain access to the booming Chinese market.  But Hawtai, it seems, sees Saab as a way to get into the U.S., according to a report in the trade journal, Automotive News.

Muller said Saab could start distributing a Chinese-made product that would be priced as low as $10,000, and which could start showing up in the States within two to three years.


Saab Plant Ready to Resume Production

"I blame myself," says Saab's Acting CEO.

by on May.11, 2011

A partially-assembled 9-5 body sits on the currently idled Saab Trollhattan assembly plant.

With its new investors on board and a new chief operating officer in place to direct its business in the U.S., Saab AB expects to restart its main assembly plant in Trollhattan Sweden, the company’s chief shareholder and  acting chief executive officer told

Victor Muller, Saab’s acting CEO, also said he expects to recruit a new, permanent CEO soon and took responsibility for the recent confrontation with suppliers that forced Saab to close the Trollhattan plant and undermined the company’s reputation.

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“I blame myself for what happened,” Muller said during an unusually candid moment before a dinner with journalists in Washington D.C.  Muller earlier told that when suppliers threatened to halt deliveries over unpaid bills he decided to resist – to unexpected results.

Earlier this year, Saab was beginning the transition away from the GM’s purchasing organization, which meant that the terms and conditions of specific contracts were also in flux. As the terms began to change, some of the suppliers balked and in Muller’s words he decided “to call the bluff” of one key supplier.


Saab Snatches Subaru’s Colbeck as New U.S. CEO

Sign that things are getting back to normal?

by on May.09, 2011

New Saab Cars North America CEO Tim Colbeck.

Saab Cars North America has wooed Tim Colbeck away from his job as the top sales executive at Subaru’s as Saab’s top executive in North America.

Colbeck will report directly to Saab Automobile AB vice president and head of global sales & aftersales, Matthias Seidl and the Saab Cars North America Board of Directors.  Seidl had been serving as interim chief executive since January, when the Swedish maker ousted former Saab North American boss Mike Colleran.

Colbeck joins SCNA with 25 years of automobile industry experience in the United States with Subaru of America.   But his hiring could bring more than just an experienced hand to Saab.  The Swedish company has been struggling to get its house in order since it was acquired by the Dutch Spyker Cars, in early 2010.  But financial problems forced a month-long closure of Saab’s headquarters’ assembly plant, a crisis only resolved by its tie-up, earlier this month, with Chinese automaker Hawtai. (Chinese deal saves cash-starved Saab. Click Here for that story.)

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Colbeck has an enviable track record as Subaru’s senior vice president sales.   Under his direction, the Japanese maker achieved record sales and market share in the last two years and was the only brand to achieve sales increases in each of the last three years.

“Tim’s impressive accomplishments during his automotive career in rebuilding the Subaru brand are invaluable to the Saab team and represent his ability to further Saab’s vision for success,” Seidl said.


Chinese Deal Saves Cash-Starved Saab

Production set to resume, Swedish maker eying range of new product offerings.

by on May.03, 2011

Production of the Saab 9-5 will resume in Sweden and could soon begin in China, as well.

Swedish automaker Saab has found its white knight – or more accurately several of them – securing at least its near-term survival.

The maker has lined up a new alliance with ambitious Chinese manufacturer Hawtai Automotive Group, while also securing some much-needed cash in the form of a loan from the Gemini Investment Fund. Meanwhile, Saab officials say they anticipate a further investment will follow from Russian businessman Vladimir Antonov.

The impact of the various deals will be significant for cash-starved Saab, both in the short and long-term.  The initial financial infusion – 180 million Euros, or $266 million – should permit Saab to quickly re-open the headquarters assembly plant, in Trollhattan, Sweden, that was shuttered on March 29th due to a boycott by unpaid suppliers.

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The alliance will also provide a manufacturing base for Saab in China, which the company hopes will significantly expand its presence in the world’s largest and fastest-growing automotive market.

Longer-term, Saab Chairman Victor Muller told, Saab may now be able to fund the development of some much-desired new product programs, including a small luxury car tentatively named the 9-2, and possibly a large SUV, among other vehicle options.


Saab Forming Partnership with Chinese Automaker Hawtai Motor Group

Additional deal with Gemini Investment should help reopen Saab plant this week.

by on May.02, 2011

Saab hopes to restart its Trollhattan plant this week.

Struggling to head off a collapse, the cash-strapped Swedish carmaker Saab has lined up a pair of deals that could allow it to reopen its headquarters assembly plant later this week.

Saab’s Dutch parent company, Spyker Cars NV, plans to borrow 30 million Euros ($44.6 million) from the Gemini Investment Fund, money that apparently will be used to pay off suppliers who have been boycotting the Swedish maker for nearly a month.

“We’re hoping to restart production in the next week, however it’s dependent upon our conversation with suppliers and parts availability,” cautioned Saab’s U.S. spokeswoman Michele Tinson.

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While the Gemini deal could head off a near-term catastrophe, the longer-term news involves the aspiring Chinese automaker Hawtai Automotive Group, which plans to announce a new partnership with Saab on Tuesday during a Beijing news conference.

Sources tell that Vladimir Antonov, the wealthy Russian businessman who had hoped to pull off a deal of his own with Saab may yet align himself with the struggling maker as part of the latest developments.