December 19, 2009 in Business

Talks break down, signaling Saab’s end

GM had hoped to sell brand to Dutch automaker Spyker
Dan Strumpf Associated Press
 
Associated Press photos photo

Saab Managing Director Jan Ake Jonsson, left, Deputy Prime Minister of Sweden Maud Olofsson and Undersecretary of State Joran Hagglund, right, during a media conference Friday in Trollhattan, Sweden. General Motors said it will wind down Saab. Associated Press photos
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

By the numbers

3,400: Saab employees worldwide.

1,100: Saab dealerships.

NEW YORK – General Motors is killing off another well-known brand – Saab, a quirky line of cars known for angular roof lines and ignition keyholes between the front seats – after talks with a Dutch would-be buyer collapsed.

GM, Dutch automaker Spyker Cars and the government of Sweden, where Saabs are made, were in discussions as late as Friday morning. Spyker said the sale was too complicated to complete quickly. GM declined to elaborate on why the deal failed.

“We worked 24/7 for three weeks, but the complexity of the transaction in combination with the strict deadline simply did not allow us to complete the transaction,” said Victor Muller, CEO of Spyker, a producer of exotic sports cars.

The announcement almost certainly means the death of a brand with a small but devoted following.

Enthusiasts appreciated touches like placing the ignition lock between the front seats rather than on the steering column. Saabs were also known for unusual design, with flatter front windshields and sloping rear windshields that gave the cars an almost backward silhouette.

Saab was also a pioneer in turbocharged engines, beginning with the release of the Saab 99 in the 1970s, and the first carmaker to offer heated seating, in 1971. In his namesake sitcom, Jerry Seinfeld was a proud Saab owner.

GM bought a 50 percent stake and management control of Saab for $600 million after it split from Swedish truck maker Scania in 1989. It bought full ownership in 2000 for $125 million more.

It’s the third time this year GM has failed to sell an unwanted brand. With Pontiac also closing, that leaves GM with just four brands: Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick and GMC.

GM has endured an excruciating 2009. It came through bankruptcy and accepted more than $50 billion in government assistance, handing the government a majority stake. CEO Fritz Henderson was ousted in December, the second CEO to be forced out this year.

“This is a year that we’d choose not to repeat,” GM Vice President John Smith told reporters Friday.

“It’s devastating. It was a very unique brand,” said Ray Ciccolo, owner of two Saab dealerships in the Boston area, one of which has been in business since 1957.

Smith would not rule out the possibility that Saab might live on in some form, with some vehicles in development now that “might be attractive to some folks.”

But no buyers have stepped forward, and GM plans to begin liquidating the brand in early January.

The Swedish government called the decision surprising and regrettable.

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