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Spyk’d – SAAB to be saved at the last minute or consigned to Valhalla?

As one of the three main major markets for SAAB worldwide, we in the UK might be forgiven for taking more than a passing interest in the tempestuous fortunes of Sweden’s ‘other’ car manufacturer.
We’ve commented before here at UkMotorTalk on the travails of the company and have made no secret of the fact that we would be very sorry indeed to see this once innovative marque disappear for good into the acrid smoke of General Motors’ financial implosion.
With yesterday’s hints that the tiny Dutch sports car company Spyker was close to finalising its protracted purchase of SAAB and a huge 70-something percent leap in their share price on Euronext Amsterdam it appeared to us that perhaps this unlikely purchase was indeed about to come to fruition.
This news came as Luxembourg investors Genii Capital – who had also tabled a last minute bid in conjunction with none other than one Bernard Ecclestone (aka “The King of F1 © ® TM”) – looked to have fallen out of the running to take over the company, leaving Spyker as the sole remaining suitor asking for the Swede’s hand in marriage.
So – deal done then or will The General still be of the opinion that the Dutch bid wasn’t serious enough?
Well, later on in the day, a much anticipated press conference (partly responsible it seems for fuelling the rumours of a successful deal with its attendant skyrocketing of Spyker’s share price) in Detroit appeared to pour a liberal dose of cold water on the story with GM’s Head Honcho Ed Whitacre stating bluntly that no deal had yet been done and the winding down of SAAB would continue as planned.
To those of us following this saga with interest and, it has to be said, crossed fingers this came as just another opportunity to exhale resignedly and slump the shoulders that little bit more as the old ‘one step forward, one step back’ dance routine played itself out yet again.
Ever since Spyker, a diminutive manufacturer of bespoke and, dare we say, slighly mad motor cars for the well-heeled individual threw its hat into the ring we’ve been somewhat confused as to just where the Hell they were going to get the money from, let alone how a tiny little operation such as they are was going to take on the running of the operation which in 2008 produced approximately 90,000 vehicles. (Spyker’s projected output from its new Midlands facility – 50 cars per year).
The Dutch company has investment from both Russian and Middle Eastern sources and doesn’t appear to be suffering unduly in the teeth of the worst economic downturn since the 1930s but all the same, given that Koenigsegg (another relatively well-funded potential owner and producer of slightly less mainstream automobiles) got cold feet and bailed out of the deal earlier on, a Dutch/Swedish tie-up still looks as tenuous as it ever did.
From a more optimistic point of view, were Spyker and General Motors to come to a 12th-hour style arrangement, what could we expect from this new outfit?
The general feeling by those in the industry is that SAAB have for quite some time now been a shadow of their former quirky, innovative selves, getting by with creaky, re-hashed versions of cars that originally saw the light of day – in the case of the venerable 9-5 at least – as long ago as 1997. And whilst a bold replacement for the aforementioned midsize exec is still being readied for production despite the continuing shutting down of the company it remains to be seen whether this much-needed car will ever see the dim light of a Scandinavian Spring or be offered to the Chinese to go with the rest of SAAB’s ageing line-up to which they have purchased the rights, further complicating Spyker’s task of rebuilding the brand.
For what it’s worth, we believe that there is much that the two companies could learn from one another.
Spyker has expertise in constructing its own chassis and major components whilst buying in engines and transmissions from such manufacturers as Audi (in the case of its bonkers C8).
Couple this with SAAB’s undoubted underlying innovation; they were first with direct ignition, turbo-charged mass-production engines, active safety systems and so on – honed perhaps through neccessity as GM pulled the purse-strings ever tighter – and the two companies would seem to have the making of an unlikely yet complementary relationship as a lean yet innovative producer of safe & thoughtful (SAAB) yet well-built and enjoyable (Spyker) sporting saloons and coupes.
Appealing perhaps to those who look for quality, innovation, quirkiness and sporting characteristics in their motor but are dissuaded from maybe buying an Alfa Romeo due to (partly unfair) concerns over quality, SAAB might well find that they flourish under the reins of a company who know how to build fun and excitement into their products whilst they bring a dose of Scandinavian practicality and real-world pricing to the party.
All this may well come to nought, and given the ominous noises coming from Motor City this is sadly looking more likely by the day, but we here at UkMotorTalk are still holding out some hope for what we at least believe could be the making of a beautiful relationship..
Dave Wakefield
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