Is Beijing the new Trollhatten? And does Hyundai really hold the key to the future of Saab?
These are just two of the questions I’m left pondering following yesterday’s news that Koenigsegg Group had backed out of an agreement to purchase Saab from General Motors.
The Beijing connection comes by way of Beijing Automotive Industry Holding Corp (BAIC), which has been eagerly shopping around for a cut priced western based car maker of late. And, as those close to General Motors’ dealings on the Saab sale reveal, it appears the very last hope for the financially embattled Swedish car maker.
“Without a fresh injection of capital in the next 100 days, we can likely say goodbye to Saab as we know it today,” was how one senior European automotive industry analyst put Saab’s dire financial position to me this morning.
Right now it’s unclear what will transpire.
BAIC had, of course, already expressed its interest in Saab by announcing it was willing to fund a minority of the capital Koenigsegg was seeking to raise. The plan, say those in the know, was for Koenigsegg to act primarily as a go between in talks with General Motors, the Swedish government and European Union and for BAIC to eventually gain control of Saab once the deal and a government based financial rescue package had been sealed.
Most significant now is BAIC’s relationship with Hyundai. The two produce the Elantra for the domestic Chinese market in a joint venture known as Beijing Hyundai (BJ). So far this year, its sales have increased by 83 per cent, in the process increasing Beijing Hyundai’s share of what is now the world’s single largest car market from 8.1 to a solid 9.9 per cent.
This has led to plans for other Hyundai models to be produced in China, including the i10, i30 and iX35. At the same time, it has strengthened BAIC’s relationship with the Korean car maker – to the point where analysts say its bid for Saab (as well as its earlier flirtation with General Motors on the sale of Opel and Ford with Volvo) could be in some way connected with Hyundai and its own plans for expansion.
You may remember that Hyundai once had an interest in purchasing Jaguar in a move aimed at tapping into the premium car market at a level beyond its own Genesis and iX45 models. Well, apparently its now considering a similar move with Saab. Not directly, mind you. But through its links with BAIC.
BAIC and Hyundai could be the perfect match for Saab. Neither is perceived as a premium brand and between them they possess world class design, manufacturing and engineering operations that could be called into use to pump life back into the Trollhatten’s problem child. General Motors boss, Fritz Henderson, knows this, which is why he is taking time before he announces the next move with the ailing Swedish car maker.
Imagine a Saab 9-2 based on the i30. A new 9-3 from the just unveiled YF Sonata. Or a 9-4X off the four wheel drive underpinnings of the iX35. How about a future generation 9-5 sitting on the rear wheel drive platform of the impressive new Genesis? Or a new Sonnet coupe sharing components with the Genesis coupe? Now imagine them all boasting a design penned in a studio located in Germany, hailing from a factory in China and engineered in Korea.
Apparently such a scenario is not too far away from what BAIC envisages for Saab. The question that remains is: has it left its run too late?