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Potential bidders circle Saab as deadline looms

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Potential bidders circle Saab as deadline looms

January 7, 2010 09:31 CET

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) -- Bidders in Sweden, Luxembourg and the Netherlands are making last-ditch efforts on Thursday to buy Saab as a deadline for its sale loomed, threatening the Swedish car brand with closure.

After twice seeing deals to sell Saab fall apart in recent months, General Motors Co. CEO Ed Whitacre indicated ahead of today's 22:00 GMT deadline that GM was proceeding with the winding down of Saab as planned because no buyer had proved it could finance a purchase.

Swedish parties interested in Saab have emerged at the last minute, a Swedish source familiar with the matter said.

"I know that Swedish parties are involved," he said, adding that a meeting of Saab board members would take place on Friday, instead of on Thursday, as originally planned.

4 last-minute bids

Earlier, a Swedish daily reported that two anonymous Swedish groups are likely to enter last-minute bids proposing management buy-outs of Saab.

Separately Dutch luxury carmaker Spyker said it was preparing an improved bid. Asked whether Spyker would bid by the deadline, CEO Victor Muller said: "definitely."

Swedish union newsletter Dagens Arbete reported that Luxembourg-based investment firm Genii Capital made a bid for Saab and has met with the Swedish government to let them know of its plans.

Dagens Arbete quoted a source close to Genii as saying "Genii Capital is in good financial health and has strong partners."

Genii Capital is a private investment firm active on the North American, European and Asian markets. The company specializes in investment in innovations within the fields of brand management, technology, entertainment and the auto industry.

The Dagens Industri business newspaper quoted Joran Hagglund, Sweden's state secretary for industry, as saying the Swedish bids are likely to meet today's deadline, though neither group had been able to show it had the financial backing necessary for a purchase.

"We have had contacts with several different groups since the 18th of December, among them three from Sweden," Hagglund told the paper. "I should think that at least two of them will submit bids to General Motors during Thursday."

"The problem is that none of them can show that they have financing in place," he said, adding that Koenigsegg, which retracted its bid late last year, was not one of the groups.

Bidders want Saab brand value

Spyker has already revised its offer for the ailing Swedish carmaker several times to address GM's concerns about the source of its financing for the deal.

With hours to go before GM's offer expires, analysts said bidders would be looking first and foremost to secure Saab for the value of its brand, as key engineering technology would mostly remain under the ownership of General Motors.

"The actual equity in the brand is probably well beyond the value of market share of the company," said Michael Tyndall, an auto analyst at Nomura International. "The technology belongs predominantly to GM."

Tyndall saw little chance of a reversal on GM's decision to start winding down Saab. "The idea of there being an 11th hour white knight seems far fetched to me," he said.

Spyker's Muller said last month if his offer were to succeed Saab and Spyker would operate as sister companies.

Spyker would benefit from Saab's technical resources and its distribution network, while Spyker would bring entrepreneurial skills to Saab.

"The synergies are very, very clear," Muller said.

Abu Dhabi firm could back Spyker bid

Also, the acquisition could meet the ambitions of Abu Dhabi's Mubadala Development Company, which owns about 23 percent of Spyker shares, according to a January 2008 filing with Dutch market regulator AFM, and wants to create an advanced technology industry centre in Abu Dhabi.

At the same time Russia is keen to obtain Western technology to re-energise its local car industry.

Russian state-controlled Sberbank and Canada's Magna International Inc. tried to buy a stake in GM's Opel unit until GM decided to keep it last year.

Russia's Vladimir Antonov holds almost 30 percent in Spyker Cars, according a recent AFM filing and has been Spyker's chairman since April 2008.

Analysts, however, remain cynical about how Spyker, which has never made a profit, is going to finance the offer.

Sweden's IF Metall union said in a statement there was "every chance" of a positive outcome for Saab and it expected a solid bid to materialize during the course of the day.

GM's attempts to boost Saab failed

Saab, which has made cars in Trollhattan, southwest Sweden, since 1949, employs 3,400 people, while thousands more jobs at the company's dealers and suppliers depend on its business.

GM bought 50 percent of the Saab car operations in 1989 for about $700 million. It paid $125 million and assumed debt for the remainder of the unit in 2000.

The Swedish luxury brand, which is best known for its 9-5 and 9-3 sedans, has consistently lost money over the past two decades. Saab has said it lost about $340 million in 2008.

Efforts to use GM platforms to engineer recent Saab models failed to win back buyers and an ad campaign to sell the brand as "Born from Jets" fizzled.

Saab sold 93,295 vehicles globally in 2008, representing 1.1 percent of total GM sales volume, down 25 percent from 2007.

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