Saab’s Phøenix moment?

June 12, 2009

Koenigsegg's boy racerThe great global automobile restructuring is throwing up some fairly unlikely bidders for some famous marques. Who would have thought Magna (who?) would end up buying Germany’s mighty Adam Opel? And who would have seen Fiat as Chrysler’s white knight?

Although, come to think of it, there’s a certain tragic inevitability about the ghastly Hummer ending up in a death embrace with the Sichaun Tenzhong Heavy Industrial Machine Co.

But when you get down to the true GM offcuts – like Saab for instance – you are really down in the weeds. It was a pretty motley trio that made it to the bidding stage. Ira Rennert, a private equity guy who once owned AM General, the maker of the Humvee armoured vehicle, was about the most credible.  Then there was Merbanco, a Wyoming-based investment company (no, me neither).

But the real biscuit is taken by the likely winner, the splendidly-named Koenigsegg. This is, um, something of a niche operation run by a Swedish toff. According to its website, it has five models in production. Last year’s sales? A juicy 18 motors, suggesting an average of 3.6 sales per model a year. Sounds like an ideal partner for Saab, an ailing manufacturer of souped up Vauxhalls while sells 100,000 a year.

So, what’s the deal here? Could the magical ingredient perhaps be the loan guarantees the Swedish government is planning to offer to tide Saab over as it is plucked from GM’s withered teat?

Students of such automotive rescues may remember the great rescue of Rover, the UK’s last volume carmaker, after it was cut loose by BMW in 2000. There wasnt a state-sponsored bailout, but the Germans left a dowry behind to keep the show on the road for a few years. The lure of this cash pot sucked in the Phoenix consortium, a quartet of chancers from the West Midlands, which essentially got the recapitalised company for nothing and spent the next few years running Rover into the ground, while flogging off various assets, before running up the white flag five years later. Swedish taxpayers can only hope that the great Saab sale – to which they will be contributing – wont just be a nordic re-run.

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