How Swedish is Saab now?

September 8, 2009

Less by the hour if there is any truth to the story in Reuters that China’s SAIC is considering funding the iconic Swedish car brand’s buy-out from GM.

The deal, announced in August, was originally supposed to be a patriotic flag-waving exercise, in which a tiny Swedish supercar maker, Koenigsegg, would “repatriate” Saab from American control. The Opelisation of the Saab range would be stopped. A new generation of quirky cars designed by Nordic designers in square specs would be manufactured at the company’s historic (and splendidly named) Trollhattan factory. Saabs would again be as Swedish as a meatball or an Ikea “Billy” bookcase.

A moving vision? Certainly. But how practical given Koenigsegg’s small size? Well, about as practical as owning an insanely fast Koenigsegg car in Sweden, where the speed limit is 60kph. Incidently Koenigsegg sells less than two dozen cars a year (although they are quite pricey), while Saab sells closer to 100,000.

Anyway, that as I say was the vision. What appears to be emerging seems more like a foreign-funded buy-out of Saab from GM. Assuming SAIC makes it, the Chinese group’s 3 billion kronor investment ($410 million) should help to unlock Swedish government support in the form of guarantees of some 400 million in European Investment Bank loans. That in turn will allow the company to fund a business plan that involves continuing to source components from GM.

And it will be interesting to see  what SAIC gets in return for any cash it puts up. The company has a fairly chequered history of investing overseas. It made a total pigs ear of its investment in Ssangyong of Korea – although its punt on MG Rover has turned out a bit better.


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