Friday, September 09, 2011

Saab Story

What happens when costs exceed revenue? Here you have it. The Saab Story of a niche carmaker with unsustainable operations. However, does the unfavorable flow of costs and revenue mean the company is at the end of the line? Maybe not. What does the interest from China mean? It means that like many other products sold around the world today, the next generation of Saabs may come from China.

Saab, Denied Court Protection, Faces Bankruptcy

On Thursday, a Swedish district court rejected Saab’s bid for protection from its creditors, leaving the automaker with few options other than filing for bankruptcy. The company reportedly owes its suppliers 150 million euros ($210 million).

“The situation is fairly grim,” said Jack Nerad, an executive market analyst at Kelley Blue Book, in a telephone interview Thursday. “I don’t think we’re going to see an 11th-hour rescue. When Saab was orphaned by General Motors and no other car company came in to scoop it up, a lot of us became concerned about its future.”

Saab was previously controlled by G.M.

Victor Muller, the automaker’s chairman and chief executive, announced on Thursday that it would appeal the Vanersborg District Court ruling. In the interim, however, the two largest unions representing the company’s workers would probably file petitions demanding that the company enter bankruptcy.

Saab, with production essentially idled at its primary plant in Trollhattan, Sweden, since April, has 3,700 employees, and unpaid August salaries may be the issue that finally forces the company into bankruptcy.

“If the company itself does not find another solution or seek to put itself into bankruptcy, we could be forced to do so in the next few days,” said Stefan Lofven, head of the IF Metall North Alvsborg union, which representing 1,500 Saab employees, in a statement reported by Reuters. The union will decide within a few days whether to ask that Saab be declared bankrupt, added Leif Hakansson, a spokesman for the union.

Saab had said that a voluntary reorganization would not include its overseas affiliates, including Saab Cars North America, but bankruptcy would impact the ability of those divisions to do business.

Saab had hoped for a lifeline from Chinese automakers Pang Da Automobile Trade Company and Zhejiang Youngman Lotus Automobile, which together would have invested 245 million euros and taken majority ownership, but that option had not been approved by Chinese regulators. The Swedish court expressed skepticism that the deal could move ahead in a timely fashion.

“We regret that Saab Automobile is not going to get the time it needs until the funding from Pang Da and Youngman arrives,” Mr. Hakansson said in a statement.

Reacting to the court ruling, Mr. Muller said on Thursday that the company was now “completely unprotected” and asked stakeholders to “hold their horses.”

“We are not dead yet,” Mr. Muller had told a news conference on Wednesday after the submission of the application to the court. The same phrase was used by Timothy Colbeck, the chief operating officer of Saab Cars North America, at an owners convention last month in New Jersey. On Thursday, however, it was not clear what would keep the company alive.

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