The Dutch sports-car maker was negotiating details of an agreement, sources say, while separately a Chinese company has agreed to buy some Saab car technologies from GM
By Jeff Green, Ola Kinnander and Adam Ewing
(Bloomberg) — General Motors Co. has adjusted its plan for Saab to focus on selling the entire unit, with Spyker Cars NV emerging as a frontrunner, according to people familiar with the plan.
Spyker, the Dutch maker of $235,000 sports cars, is negotiating details of an agreement with GM over the weekend in Zurich, said two people, who asked not to be identified because the talks are confidential. GM has separately reached a preliminary deal to sell some technologies for Saab's 9-3 and 9-5 models to Beijing Automotive Industry Holding Co. and an agreement may be announced soon, a person said.
The Detroit automaker is trying to sell or wind down the Swedish unit after Koenigsegg Group AB backed out of a purchase agreement last month. A sale of Saab will also depend on Sweden's guarantee and European Union's approval for a 400 million-euro ($585 million) loan from the European Investment Bank, the people said.
"A sale to Spyker would be a step in the right direction," Mike Tyndall, an automotive analyst at Nomura Securities in London, said in a telephone interview today. "I'm not sure if it will be viable in the long term given Saab's small scale and weakened brand image."
The sale of Saab as well as the Saturn, Hummer and Pontiac brands was part of GM's plan to return to profit after a $50 billion U.S. government-backed bankruptcy from which it emerged July 10. GM has said it will review bids for Saab and decide by the end of this month whether to sell or shut the unit.
Gunilla Gustavs, a spokeswoman for Saab, and Mike Stainton, a spokesman for Spyker Cars, declined to comment. GM Europe's Frank Klaas couldn't immediately be reached.
Beijing Auto plans to announce "new progress" on Saab "as soon as possible," Zheng Gang, a spokesman for the Chinese company, said by telephone.
Spyker is bidding in a partnership with Vladimir Antonov's RMC Convers Group Holding Ltd, Spyker Chief Executive Officer Victor Muller said in a Dec. 2 interview. While Spyker hasn't made a profit since its initial public offering in 2004, the Zeewolde, Netherlands-based company is better positioned than rivals because it most resembles Koenigsegg, the Swedish maker of $1.2 million sports cars, said one of the people.
Other bidders that have expressed interest since Koenigsegg's pullout include Merbanco Inc., a Wyoming-based investor, and billionaire Ira Rennert's Renco Group Inc., people familiar have said.
Spyker divested its unprofitable Formula One racing team in 2007 and sold 12 vehicles in the third quarter. Its C8 Aileron, which accelerates to 60 miles per hour in 4.5 seconds, retails for at least $235,000 excluding taxes in the U.S., the company's main market.
Saab is retooling its plant in Trollhaettan to begin production of a 9-5 sedan, the company's first new model in seven years. The carmaker reported a 59 percent slump in European sales and a 62 percent drop in the U.S. in the first 10 months of 2009.
Saab is likely to win European Commission approval for the EIB loan, Johnny Kjellstroem, the Swedish official negotiating the case with the European Union's regulatory arm, said last week. The loan was a key element of Koenigsegg's plan. While a deal with Koenigsegg has collapsed, the financing is still seen as crucial to any transaction aimed at saving the unit.