Saab rescued by Chinese automaker

AMSTERDAM/BEIJING (Reuters) - A privately-owned Chinese auto maker has come to the rescue of Saab, paving the way for the Swedish marque's new model to be made in China by pumping cash into a company in danger of collapse.

The Chinese alliance comes only a year after tiny Dutch supercar maker Spyker <SPYKR.AS> bailed out the General Motors' <GM.N> unit. GM retains an interest through redeemable preference shares.

Loss-making Saab has veered toward collapse in recent weeks after running out of cash to pay its bills. Several suppliers stopped delivering parts, halting production at Saab's Trollhattan plant for most of last month.

Spyker Cars said on Tuesday Hawtai Motor Group would invest 150 million euros ($222 million) in return for shares, providing funds that will enable Saab to pay overdue bills and resume production.

The move marks the second time a Chinese company has invested in a top Swedish car maker, and paves the way for the new Saab 9-3 model to be produced in China, starting in 2013.

Zhejiang Geely, the parent of Hong Kong-listed Geely Automobile Holdings <0175.HK>, bought Saab's Swedish rival Volvo Cars from Ford Motor <F.N> last year for $1.3 billion in cash and a $200 million note issued to Ford.

The Hawtai deal is one of several pulled together to stave off Saab's collapse, including share issues, the sale of Spyker's sportscar operations, proposals to borrow more, and to sell and lease back Saab's real estate.

"Saab is now well financed. It has secured its short and mid-term financing needs," Chief Executive Victor Muller said.

"That puts the credit crunch that the company went through in April to bed."

The Hawtai-Spyker deal still needs Chinese government approvals, a hurdle that some Chinese overseas deals have failed to cross, for example, Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machinery's bid for GM's Hummer in 2010.

Muller said it would take six to 12 weeks to obtain local permits, and that Hawtai would pay the first installment of its investment within 10 days.

Patrick Beijersbergen of Dutch shareholders group VEB was sceptical.

"The deal is not sealed yet. We have seen this with other takeovers or participations," he said, adding it was too early to say if the deal would increase Saab's chances of survival.


China's Hawtai makes SUV and passenger cars, and has production capacity for 300,000 clean diesel engines, 450,000 transmissions and 350,000 vehicles, according to its website.

Founded in 2005, it is owned by entrepreneur Zhang Xiugen who was first listed on the Forbes 400 Richest Chinese list in 2005, when at the age of 44 he ranked 368th with an estimated net worth of $62 million.

Initially, Saabs produced in Sweden will be imported and distributed in China. Muller said production of the new Saab 9-3, due to start in October 2012, will begin in China in 2013, for sale in the local Chinese market. Saabs produced in Sweden will be sold in Europe and elsewhere.

Hawtai vice president Richard Zhang said the companies would set up a joint venture with a sales target of 100,000 to 200,000 cars per year in China. Rival Volvo Cars has said it wants to sell up to 200,000 cars a year in China by 2015.

Spyker, which wants to boost sales and explore production in fast-growing emerging markets, including China and Russia, as well as Brazil and India, said on Tuesday that Hawtai will pay 120 million euros for a 29.9 percent stake in the firm, short of the threshold that would trigger a takeover offer.

Spyker has struggled to turn Saab around, producing only 31,700 cars last year. It set a sales target of 80,000 vehicles for 2011, but last week said it would fail to meet that.

As Spyker faced a cash crisis, it scrambled to raise funds from shareholders -- who include Muller, a Middle Eastern fund, and Gemini Investment Fund Ltd which is controlled by a Lithuanian businessman -- and from new investors and banks.

Muller said it was unclear what the final shareholder structure would look like following the various proposed deals.

Spyker said on Monday it had agreed a 30 million euro convertible loan with Gemini and that it would draw 29.1 million euros on its loan from the European Investment Bank.

Vladimir Antonov, a Russian businessman and former shareholder in Spyker who was forced by GM to relinquish his stake, also proposed buying a 29.9 percent stake in Spyker for up to 30 million euros, and agreed to buy Saab's real estate and plant and lease it back to release cash.

Those deals have been held up after the EIB imposed terms Saab did not agree with. The EIB is also still to decide whether Antonov can become a shareholder of Spyker-Saab again.

He has said he has cleared his name and Sweden's Debt Office, which has guaranteed the EIB loan, has approved Antonov's return.

(Reporting by Aaron Gray-Block and Gilbert Kreijger in Amsterdam, Wan Xu in Beijing, and Lee Chyen Yee in Hong Kong; Writing by Sara Webb; Editing by Chris Wickham, Louise Heavens and Mike Nesbit)

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