Saab lives! Spyker signs a deal to buy the Swedish carmaker.

Posted by: David Welch on January 26, 2010

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Saab, it must be said, has more lives than a dozen cats. General Motors said today that it reached a deal with Spyker Cars NV to sell the Swedish carmaker. The deal is reportedly worth about $500 million. The sale comes after a year of trying to peddle Saab. One deal with Swedish sport car specialist Koenigsegg AB had already fallen through. GM was so certain that a buyer wouldn’t be found that they even sent two advisors in to start liquidating the company. Assuming the sale closes, the company will be called Saab Spyker Automobiles but will still use the Saab brand.

Give Spyker CEO Viktor Muller some credit. Through pure perseverance he managed to pull a deal together to convince GM to sell. GM was set on liquidating the company. All along, executives told me, GM was wary of selling the company to a player who couldn’t make it work in the long run. If a new owner failed to fix Saab, the company could have ended up back in GM’s hands only in worse shape than before. Muller convinced GM that he can save the company.

A few big things changed along the way to make the deal happen. Spyker upped its bid and proved to GM that he had the cash to get a deal done. The Dutch maker of exotic sports cars also got Russian banker Vladimir Antonov, who owned 29.9% of the Spyker, out of the picture, according to a source close to the deal. GM was not comfortable going into business with him, just as the company was not keen to sell its German Opel unit to a consortium that included Russia’s OAO Sberbank. The Russians want access to automotive technology to help grow their own industry. Since GM engineered future Saab models using platforms and engines shared by Opel and Chevrolet cars, the company will be doing business with Spyker for years to come.

This is great news for industrial Trollhaetten (Sweden) and college professors all over the Northeastern U.S. Seriously, Saab does have a cadre of loyal followers, especially in New England. It just never had enough of them for GM to make real money on the brand.

Of course, Saab’s failure under GM also came from a serious lack of investment. GM never really gave the brand the resources to grow. Saab sells two models—the 9-5 and 9-3—and spent very little on marketing in recent years. GM’s efforts to add models were usually rebadged versions of something else. The 9-7X wasn’t much more than a Chevrolet Trailblazer with a Saab grille and a few interior touches. The 9-2X was basically a Subaru WRX in Saab clothing.

Can Spyker make it work? Muller clearly has enthusiasm for the brand. He has put together a $500 million package to buy it. GM will get $75 million in cash, $325 million in preferred shares and $100 million of Saab’s existing liquidity, Bloomberg reported today before the official announcement.

Now Muller has to turn that enthusiasm into new products and sales. GM has some new cars in the pipeline, which Saab will be able to sell. But making this work won’t be easy. With less than 100,000 sales globally last year, Saab is tiny and won’t have the economies of scale to get parts as cheaply as competitors. The brand has respect among its die-hard fans, but doesn’t command the pricing that makes low-volume luxury brands profitable. Muller will have to get the company in the black, generate the cash flow to freshen models and market them and invest in tomorrow’s automotive technology. It’s going to be a challenge. For now, anyway, Saab has a new lease on life.

Reader Comments

Cameron McNaughton

January 26, 2010 3:35 PM

Mr. Muller and Spyker have finally got a deal to buy SAAB from GM. It sounds like Mr Muller and his team understand the importance of a brand's DNA.

By rebuilding the uniqueness of the SAAB brand they will be able to re-ignite the passion of their enthusiasts and build the business. SAAB will never be a quarter of a million unit business in the US but it can be successful. Forcing SAAB into GM's"success" model was the problem, now it has a second chance.

Congratulations to Mr Muller, Spyker, and SAAB loyalists everywhere. Finally, an automotive brand that will be coming back rather than disappearing. Like Audi before it, bringing SAAB back in the US market place will be a labor of love and a "mission from God." Sign me up.

Cameron McNaughton
McNaughton Automotive Perspectives
http://autoperspectives.com/blog/

Conrad Whittall

January 26, 2010 3:40 PM

As owner of two Saabs (and many more before the current ones) this is fantastic news!

My very best wishes go to Victor Muller, Jan-Åke Jonsson, and everyone at Saab for a bright and prosperous future.

BTW, the Subaru WRX in Saab clothing was the 9-2X. The 9-4X is a brand new model that Saab Spyker will now no doubt pull out all the stops to get to market close behind the next-generation 9-5 that is just going into production.

Dniel Buck

January 26, 2010 4:15 PM

Great news. We own a 2005 Saab 93 (93?), four-door, stick. Fantastic car. Will buy another one, but not until this one disarticulates, which may be never.

Dan

James Berkes

January 26, 2010 5:08 PM

We are Saab fans and previously owned two 9-3s. We wanted a sport sedan with utility and we got that with the hatchback design. GM re-vented Saab to be like most all mid-size sedans. Saab lost it's unique position/quality.

Now look at the hatchback designs coming out from Honda and BMW.

Congratulations to Spyker, Victor Muller and the future for Saab!

James Berkes

January 26, 2010 5:08 PM

We are Saab fans and previously owned two 9-3s. We wanted a sport sedan with utility and we got that with the hatchback design. GM re-vented Saab to be like most all mid-size sedans. Saab lost it's unique position/quality.

Now look at the hatchback designs coming out from Honda and BMW.

Congratulations to Spyker, Victor Muller and the future for Saab!

Michael

January 26, 2010 5:22 PM

It's amazing how easy life is for GM under government's bailout that they can choose who they sell to!? Aren't you bankrupt? Aren't you supposed to pay back the tax payers, who allowed you to survive, by selling brands that loose money? Oh yeah, I forgot, you are too big to fail and we support your stupid decisions.

ed

January 26, 2010 7:48 PM

Whoohoo! I love my 2005 9-3 Aero! Saab rocks! So glad it got saved!

Donovan

January 27, 2010 6:36 AM

This company must die, their cars are just (junk) and they broke down very frequently , SAAB sucks it is just a pile.

Bruno

January 27, 2010 8:43 AM

Dear Donovan, I do not agree. Have had a SAAB 9-3 Aero and now a SAAB 9-5 3.0 V6 Turbo Diesel. Wonderfull, powerfull, safe and reliable cars. Actually this brand will surely be my next car. Forza SAAB!

TJ

January 27, 2010 8:54 AM

Awesome news! Great work by Mr. Muller and Spyker. My 2006 Saab 9-3 is the best car I have ever owned. It may be a while, but I would love to buy another Saab after this one.

Atanas Iwanow

January 27, 2010 9:13 AM

The car industry is a mature industry and has been such for a long time already. What makes today's reality different is the need of real differentiation which can be best achived by nimble niche players like Subaru and probably SAAB. Future will show.

Harynyar

January 27, 2010 10:45 AM

I bet GM could have reaped more success if they had actually let Saab keep its quirkyness and actually marketed it as a unique and different flavor like Subaru has. I cannot recall the last advert for Saab or even a road test in recent years. There was nothing new and even the comments on here bear that out. Every Saab owner so far has a 4 or 5 year old vehicle with little motivation to upgrade.

Dave

January 28, 2010 7:16 PM

I like all 4 of my SAAB cars , and w/ proper care ( more than likely an independent shop ) they all run fine. Thank you Jan Ake Jon Jonsson , Victor Muller , GM , Swedish finance minister, and now back to the SAAB cars we buy
David Warren , Columbus OH , US

Mark

January 29, 2010 7:19 PM

Michael...So, so very tired of hearing the conservative rants about Bailouts! Bailouts! WHY IS IT OUR RESPONSIBILITY TO KEEP GM AFLOAT?! Have you NOTICED that Cash for Clunkers WORKED? Have you NOTICED that GM is PAYING BACK their "bailout" money early? Google it. Stop believing everything you hear on Fox. The company's starting to turn around. They're PAYING BACK their loans, as compared to Wall Street. It's NOT okay for Wall Street to TAKE hundreds of billions of OUR dollars and not pay it back. GM's being responsible, for better or for worse. Don't they teach you that whole "responsibility" thing on Fox? No. Hat's off to GM. I hope they do well. I hope Toyota has a really tough time. Why? Maybe it will quiet like-minded idiots like you, Michael.

frank brown

February 15, 2010 3:06 PM

how obtuse can people be if they had even bothered to look at the way that GM usa denegrated the saab brand over many years it would still be a very profitable company.

Geoff

February 25, 2010 12:11 PM

I have owned a 2009 9-3 Aero TTid from new and think it is a superb car. It perhaps does not have the quirkiness of the previous Saabs but it is a good car depite it's GM underpinnings and drives well while having plenty of power in a refined package. All in all I would buy another one and hope that the engineers get a free hand in shaping it. The GM parts bin is not a bad place to come from after all.
For the record I did not purchase a SAAB for the quirkiness but for the engineering excellence and attention to detail which I deem to be more important.

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Want the straight scoop on the auto industry? Our man in Detroit David Welch, brings keen observations and provocative perspective on the auto business.

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