I’ve just had a tip-off from a Saab source in Sweden about a serious bidder for the ailing carmaker. The source pointed me at a story in the Swedish newspaper GT without any comment. Which possibly speaks volumes.
According to GT, Chinese carmaker Geely is not only interested in buying Saab, it has hired British investment bank Rothschild ‘to help with the purchase of Saab’.
GT also says that Geely will be assisted in the purchase by Sheikh Maktoum Hashar Maktoum al Maktoum, often regarded as one of the richest men in the world.
GT adds that Geely boss Li Shufu admitted this week that he had been ‘studying’ the European market and that it is ‘likely’ that he will buy a manufacturer or sub-contractor’.
Why Saab? GT says the company is likely to a bargain and Geely then gets its hands on a global dealer network that could eventually be dual-branded for Saab and whatever badge Geely’s own mainstream cars will be sold under.
Geely is probably one of the most advanced Chinese domestic carmakers, and Autocar recently snapped its attractive coupe being tested on the roads around Lotus’s Norfolk HQ.
Intriguigingly, a friend in the Hong Kong markets told me a couple of years ago that Geely had made an attempt to buy Aston Martin, but Ford blocked the idea to prevent technology transfer to a company that might become a serious rival in the future.
GM is unlikely to have the same qualms, as it races to get Saab off its hands. Saab’s PR chief Eric Geers has recently said that between six and eight bidders are interested in the company and that the ‘serious’ players will be known in ‘two weeks’.
Although a new owner is going to have to cough up for the launch costs of the new 9-5 and next year's 9-4X SUV , Saab could be a bargain buy. Unlike the old MG Rover, it has a fully established styling and engineering team, which is probably capable of designing whole cars.
My guess is that Geely and its advisors will need to look very closely at the cost of licencing GM’s technology, such as the new 9-5's platform and engines. It’s that calculation which will determine whether Saab can make a profit in the future.