Would-be Buyers Call Saab – Detroit FreePress

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Would-be Buyers Call Saab – Detroit FreePress 

Reorganization is to be done in spring; clearer picture expected within weeks 

By Mark Phelan – March 4, 2009 

GENEVA, Switzerland — Saab, the money-losing Swedish automaker General Motors has said it must sell or put into bankruptcy by the end of the year, has had contacts from several potential buyers, company Managing Director Jan Ake Jonsson said in an interview at the Geneva Auto Show Tuesday. 

Despite its troubles, Saab has value, said Rebecca Lindland of analyst IHS Global Insight. “They’ve got great, loyal customers. Unfortunately GM didn’t cultivate them or understand their value.” 

Jonsson is confident the Swedish government will provide the money Saab needs to reorganize and find a new owner. Under Swedish law, Saab’s reorganization must be completed by May 20. Jonsson said he expects to have a clear idea who the serious bidders are within a couple of weeks. 

“We have committed to carving out Saab from GM and finding a new owner,” he said. “We need to get this done as quickly as possible. We need to sort out our financing and future ownership.” 

About half the current potential buyers are involved in the auto industry. 

Saab’s small size will pose challenges for it to develop new vehicles and technologies alone. Jonsson expects to address that by working with a number of automakers. 

“In today’s auto industry, there are many more cooperative projects between manufacturers without ownership,” he said. “I trust that going forward, we’ll have a lot of different relationships with many different automakers.” 

Saab’s technology and global distribution network could make a good fit for an Indian, Chinese or Russian buyer, he said. A European automaker that does not already have a premium brand might also want Saab, he said. French automaker Peugeot-Citroen is the only company that seems to fit that description 

We could be looking at a Chinese automaker looking for a global dealer network” as Saab’s next owner, Lindland said. 

The company is going ahead with development and sales plans for its upcoming 9-5 sport sedan and 9-4X luxury crossover, Jonsson said, adding that GM will build the 9-4X at an assembly plant in Mexico. 

“The 9-5 and 9-4X are almost completely engineered,” he said. “We just have to put them into production.” 

The 9-5 is to go on sale late this year, the 9-4X in September 2010. GM had planned to build the 9-5 in Ruesselsheim, Germany. Production will now move to Saab’s plant in Trollhattan, Sweden. 

Saab introduced its new 9-3X crossover wagon at the Geneva show Tuesday. The car is to go on sale in the United States in September. 

Once Saab is separated from GM, the company will redefine its image with a sharper focus on traditional Saab characteristics like safety and small, efficient engines, he said. 

“There will be a lot of people cheering the day we become independent,” he said of Swedish sentiment for Saab.

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