The saga of Saab Automobile is the auto industry’s version of the Perils of Pauline, but it appears that the on-again, off-again drama is coming to a close.
Today General Motors announced that they reached a binding agreement to sell the Saab brand to Dutch company Spyker Cars NV. A new company, called Saab Spyker Automobiles, will be formed after the sale is complete.
When we last checked in, Saab was tied to the railroad tracks. Earlier this month, General Motors Co., had appointed a suburban Detroit liquidator called AlixPartners LLP to wind down the operations of its Swedish subsidiary.
Then Dutch sports car maker Spyker Cars NV revised its bid, raising a reported $500 million in cash and stock to buy Saab. Last week, Spyker CEO Victor Muller announced that he was closing in on a deal that could be announced as early as this week.
But three crucial issues remained (and still remain): Spyker must deliver the cash, the Swedish government must guarantee a loan, and Spyker Chairman Vladimir Antonov must leave the company.
Saab’s sale to Spyker needs to clear the usual hurdles, including regulatory approvals. If those conditions are met and the following three hurdles are cleared, Saab could be off GM’s books by the middle of February.
The Swedish Government
The Swedish government has been asked to guarantee a $566 million loan for Saab from the European Investment Bank.
Since 3,500 Saab jobs hang in the balance, one might assume that’s a no brainer.
Indeed, a government delegation recently journeyed to Detroit to discuss Saab’s fate with GM, and Joran Hagglund – Sweden’s state secretary for industry – has played shuttle diplomacy with GM and Spyker.
The Swedish government met this week to discuss the deal and has the next few weeks to guarantee the loan in the deal.
Spyker must have the cash to make a deal.
Earlier this week, Bloomberg News reported that Spyker is offering GM $75 million in cash, plus $325 million worth of preferred stock in the new Saab Spyker NV company to be formed. GM would receive an additional $100 million that currently resides in Saab’s coffers.
Spyker CEO Victor Muller has declined to reveal how he raised the money. Rumors continue to circulate that his financial backer is Dutch billionaire Marcel Boekhoorn, although Boekhoorn has previously denied it.
The Russian banker
Third, rumors are circulating that Spyker must ease company Chairman Vladimir Antonov out of the company. Antonov is CEO of the Convers Group, a Russian bank, and he controls 30% of Spyker’s stock.
Antonov has a murky background. His father, banker Alexander Antonov, survived an attempted assassination on March 11. At the time, the Russian newspaper Kommersant speculated that the mafia-style hit was related to the Kaliningrad Seaport, a business venture that involved both father and son.
According to press reports, GM is insisting that Vladimir Antonov must depart.
Provided Spyker can make these moves over the next 30 days, they might have just bought themselves a car company.