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Fresh hope for Saab as F1 boss Ecclestone joins bidders

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Fresh hope for Saab as F1 boss Ecclestone joins bidders

GM receives 3 late bids for its Swedish brand

Paul McVeigh

Automotive News Europe -- January 8, 2010 09:16 CET

MUNICH -- Investment group Genii Capital said today it has made an offer for Saab with Formula One motor racing boss Bernie Ecclestone.

Genii's offer was one of three last-minute bids for the Swedish brand, which owner General Motors Co. plans to close unless it finds a suitable buyer.

Luxembourg-based Genii said it will "aggressively work" toward closing a deal to buy a majority stake in Saab.

"The group believes that Saab has a tremendous brand value in a number of key automotive markets as well as an innovative image allowing it to be at the forefront of the car companies," Genii said in statement.

Dutch luxury carmaker Spyker Cars NV also said it had made a revised offer for Saab.

"We believe the Saab brand has lots of potential and would be keen to close a deal as quickly as possible," Spyker CEO Victor Muller said in a statement.

3rd bid from Sweden

Swedish media reports on Friday named Jan Nygren, a former executive of the aerospace arm of Saab and former senior official in Sweden's defense ministry, as the head of one group of Swedish investors submitting a last-minute bid for Saab.

Nygren told Reuters he is part of a group of investors interested in Saab, but declined to offer more details about the deal.

"I can confirm that I am part of the group that has showed formal interest for saving Saab from winding down, but that's about it," he said.

Lars Carlstrom, a Swedish investor who is coordinating the Genii-Ecclestone bid, said the Formula One boss and his partners were keen on buying Saab mainly for the value of its brand.

"What Genii and Ecclestone have found is that Saab is an amazing brand, comparable to brands such as Porsche and BMW," he said. "They love brands and they really value Saab's brand. They are really supportive and will definitely be able to bring Saab to new heights."

Carlstrom said the joint bid would seek to secure loans from the European Investment Bank, although the bidders had not yet heard a response on their bid from GM.

Saab a good brand, Ecclestone says

Genii and Ecclestone, 79, whose net worth is estimated at $3.7 billion by Forbes, already have links after the investment group last month bought a stake in the Renault SA's Formula One team.

Ecclestone told Bloomberg News that he considered Saab "a good brand that has probably been neglected by the current owners."

He added: "We don't own it yet, so let's see what happens."

In its statement, Genii said it has a strong knowledge of the automotive industry and believes that it can add value to Saab by working on synergies with some of its portfolio companies in the areas of energy efficient engines, OEM components and on-board IT and media technologies, including pay per listen/pay per use systems.

Genii operates in North America, Europe and Asia. Its core investment target areas include brand management, emerging technologies, hospitality, entertainment as well as the auto industry.

Whitacre has doubts

GM is moving ahead with plans to wind down Saab operations first announced in mid-December but could stop that process if it finds a buyer for the brand under the right conditions.

As recently as Wednesday GM CEO Ed Whitacre said he was "not confident" of reaching a deal, citing difficulty by potential buyers in arranging financing for a purchase of the brand.

Saab spokesman Eric Geers said any decision over the brand's future and the latest round of bids was in the hands of GM.

"We all hope these bids are strong enough for General Motors to consider them," he said.

Swedish government officials plan to meet with GM's board early next week in Detroit to clarify what loan guarantees are available to potential bidders, but also to ask for details about the winding-down process if no sale materializes.

"One thing is to continue the dialogue with GM to facilitate the process for loan guarantees," Swedish government spokesman Frank Nilsson said. "The other track is to get more information about Saab's future, if they stick with the decision to shut it down."

Reuters contributed to this report

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Ecclestone told Bloomberg News that he considered Saab "a good brand that has probably been neglected by the current owners."

That will get you in bed with GM soon, Bernie.


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