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Saab Looks To Have Bitten The Dust At Last

Reports Persist Chinese, Indians, Turks Might Want Some Assets

Once again, Saab of Sweden is receiving the last rites, and there is still a remote chance it might survive its current predicament, although this would probably involve only parts of the company.

In late December, Mahindra & Mahindra, India’s biggest sport-utility maker, was said to be interested in buying at least parts of Saab.  There were other reports that an unnamed Turkish company was interested. Then in January the Chinese media reported that Dongfeng Motor Corp wanted to buy Saab’s remaining assets including its assembly plant after the Swedish company was liquidated in April.

Saab filed for bankruptcy earlier in December, citing failure to persuade General Motors to allow Chinese suitor Zhejiang Youngman Lotus Automobile to use its technology.

According to IHS Automotive analyst  Ian Fletcher the only hope of survival for Saab is for another company to move in and buy up the remaining assets.

“With very little intellectual property or a brand on offer, however, there seems to be little of interest,” Fletcher said.

“The brand will most certainly not be up for grabs though, given that it is still owned by the aircraft and defence company that initially bore the automaker, meaning that it will be very unlikely that we will see its resurrection under new owners in the future,” said Fletcher.

But in January, Zhejiang Youngman was again said to want to buy some Saab assets.

Puzzling scramble
The intensity of the scramble to rescue Saab, a chronic loss-maker and damaged brand which only rarely looked like selling enough cars to break even, was always a puzzle. If Saab was saved, any sales would have to be won against competition from German champions BMW, Mercedes and Audi. That always looked like a big ask. Saab always wanted to face down the Germans as an equal, but was never able to generate the brand power to pull that off.

Those thousands of employees and dealers hoping for Saab’s survival might find their last best hope is Beijing Automotive Industry Holding Co, which paid $200 million for some of Saab’s old platforms in 2009. If the cost of acquiring Saab was negligible, it might step into the breach.

Saab has escaped the last rites before, but this time it looks like the exits are sealed.

Neil Winton – January 10, 2012

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