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Saab finds a buyer


General Motors found a buyer for its long-struggling Saab business. Koenigsegg Group AB, a consortium led by Koenigsegg Automobile AB, a Swedish producer of super-exclusive sports cars. The performance carmaker won the bidding, with the deal expected to close in the third quarter. GM, Koenigsegg, and the European Investment Bank will provide funding for new models.

Is Saab worth saving? Saab has a couple of decent models, but the Swedish brand has a narrow niche of buyers both in Europe and the U.S. That has been the company’s problem. Saab has fiercely-loyal buyers in the U.S., especially among the college-professor crowd in the Northeast. But GM never found enough of them and Saab was a perennial money loser.

Just look at these ugly sales numbers: Saab sales dropped 52% globally in the first quarter. In the U.S., Saab sales were down 55% through May, to 4,600 cars. No one can make a business out of that.

Koenigsegg will have to get Saab some new models pretty fast. Saab only has the 9-3 and 9-5. GM hasn’t exactly poured investment capital into the brand. The company says there are some new models in the works. But it’s hard to imagine the lineup getting much bigger anytime soon.

What’s more is that Koenigsegg wants to pull 9-5 production into Saab’s plant in Trollhaetten, Sweden. There’s a pitfall there, too. GM struggled with exchange rates exporting out of Sweden. Between the currency problems and the lower prices Saab gets for its premium cars, it’s hard to imagine the company making money, unless the buyer makes big changes.

So why would Koenigsegg want it? Maybe some Swedish car guys want to preserve the hometown marque. While I can appreciate the sentiment, this strikes me as a deal that’s similar to when the Phoenix Consortium, a group of British investors, took MG Rover off of BMW’s hands in 2000 and tried to revive it. Rover was the last English car name that wasn’t owned by Americans, Germans, or Malaysians. But Rover was too far gone and by 2005 it was insolvent.

It will be up to Christian von Koenigsegg, founder of the company, to avoid the same fate. Saab will have one thing going for it: Koenigsegg will probably care more about investing in the name than GM ever did. That, at least, is a start.


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