As Saab teeters on the precipice, the company is shedding fixed assets to gain the operating funds it needs to keep the assembly lines, or more precisely, to restart them, while tipping its hand on future products–notably the subcompact Saab 9-1 and Saab 9-6 and Saab 9-7–in conjunction with to assure the public and assure creditors, potential investors and consumer that Saab indeed has a future.
An agreement has been reached Swedish Automobiles (SWAN), the Dutch company formerly known as Spyker, with a consortium of Swedish real estate investors to purchase 50.1% of the shares in Saab Property, a subsidiary of Saab Automobiles, the Swedish carmaker owned by SWAN. Meanwhile, progress with plans by Russian businessman Vladimir Antonov to become part-owner of Swedish Automobile along with Chinese auto companies Pang Da Automobile Trade Co., Ltd. (Pang Da) and Zhejiang Youngman Lotus Automobile Co., Ltd. (Youngman), that advanced the non-binding memorandum of understanding with Pang Da and Youngman into binding agreements subject to regulatory and other third party approvals.
It’s a complicated skein of agreements and “transfers of equity” that buys more time for Saab to stay in the car business. The deal to sell off the majority of Saab’s real estate holdings unlocks the value of Saab’s fixed assets to turn them into cash, while assuring creditors and customers with a 15 year leaseback agreement on the factory to assure Saab Automobile will have a place to build cars.
Perhaps most intriguing consumers is the announcement of new cars. While not specifying introduction dates, the agreement with Youngman says Youngman and Saab will establish a joint venture to design a small Saab model called 9-1, and two additional vehicles, a Saab 9-6 and Saab 9-7. Although rumors have the latter vehicles as being larger than the current Saab 9-5, Saab did not specify what type of vehicle would be, only that the two new models would be. General Motors earlier used 9-7x for badge-engineered version of the Chevrolet Trailblazer. It’s worth noting that the Saab 9-4X is the Swedish carmaker’s midsize crossover, comparable to Saab’s 9-5 full-size sedan, and that early Saabs were named consecutively, using the engineering project number for the model name.
” This joint venture (between Youngman and Saab) offers Saab Automobile the opportunity to develop models that were not envisaged nor funded in our original business plan: for instance, we will now be able to develop a small entry level Saab, a car that has long been on the top of our wish list,” said Saab CEO Victor Muller. The original business plan, on which the original loans were made, included only the Saab 9-3 (including the new 9-3 due out in 2012, which recently was announce to be powered by an engine sourced from BMW), the new Saab 9-5 variants, and the GM-sourced Saab 9-4X crossover.
Speculation has the Saab 92-inspired Saab 9-1 as being Mini-based, which considering Saab’s current relationship with BMW and Saab’s limited resources for new model development isn’t unreasonable. However, it is purely speculation and wishful thinking without further hard information. According to Saab, “…Saab Automobile will source existing capabilities and expertise from its state-of-the-art technical development department in Trollhättan” for the new models while Youngman is solely responsible for financing.
Speculation allowed to run rampant, however, would place the Saab PhoeniX concept car in limited production. Swedish Automobile, as Spyker, brings considerable experience to such a project, not only building it but also jumping the regulatory barriers to getting an exotic car on the road. And while Muller is enthused about bringing the Saab 9-1 to market, he’s positively giddy about the PhoeniX.
Reality, however, is a likely a bit closer to earth. China’s Beijing Automotive Industry Holdings Co. Ltd (BAIC) already has the rights to produce older Saab models, including the Saab 9-3 and the outgoing Saab 9-5, the rights to the automobile models accompanied by ” powertrain technology and tooling,” the latter of which was moved to China. And there’s no indication that the Saab 9-6 and Saab 9-7 are anything but vapormodels at this point.
Everything in the current deal still hinges, however, on the Chinese government’s approval of the Pang Da/Youngman/Saab linkup–remember the Hummer agreement that was derailed somewhere in the People’s Bureaucracy–and the ultimate goals of Pang Da and Youngman–and how much of Saab will remain in Sweden. Even if Saab wins the current round, Saab by winning could lose.
Follow on twitter @ autoreview.