By Jim Taylor, MACS ACtion Magazine
As almost everyone has heard, SAAB Automobiles filed for bankruptcy in Swedish court earlier this week. The court has appointed administrators to oversee the winding down of the company after potential purchasers were blocked by government and corporate decisions on opposite sides of the globe.
Without recounting the entire long and twisted story, a consortium of Chinese companies had made an offer to buy the company. After reviewing the proposal, the Chinese government demanded that if the deal were to happen, the purchase must include the entire company—hard parts, patents, technology, design rights, and so on.
But General Motors, who once owned SAAB Automobiles and invested a lot of money in attempting to resurrect the ailing company in the 1990s, took a dim view of their intellectual property moving to China with any new owner. GM put its foot firmly down and refused to authorize the sale, providing an effective roadblock to the buyers.
While some are already savaging GM for contributing to the demise of the smaller company, they conveniently forget that GM’s purchase of SAAB in 1990 probably saved the company from going under then. Sales of the once popular 900 models were tailing-off and the newer models such as 9-3 were not catching on with buyers.
Now, it appears that the company must be liquidated to pay its debts. Although a small amount of advance funding from the potential buyers was used to pay the most urgent debts, many suppliers remain unpaid and the factory staff in Trollhatten are six to eight weeks behind on their wages. A Swedish government program is attempting to get the workers paid by Christmas.
At this writing, there are rumors that Youngman, one of the original proposed purchasers, may still be interested in buying SAAB’s assets and moving them to China. In this case, the deal would be the factory, soup-to-nuts, but not the brand name or any technical or patent rights. Yet another possible player, a company from Turkey, has been named as an interested party as well.
SAAB was a pioneer of front wheel drive, occupant seat belts and many other innovations. The cars were rugged and reliable, if a bit unusual. They were never a big seller in this country – their best U.S sales year was 1986 at just over 48,000 vehicles – but they were always there and owners loved them.
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