November 29, 2023

A Year After G.M. Unloaded It, Saab Is in Trouble Again

Production has been halted since Tuesday at the Saab plant in Trollhattan, near Gothenburg, after several disruptions last week and amid disputes with suppliers over payments and contracts. Saab said Thursday that assembly lines would not resume until early next week as it scrambled to find money to pay its suppliers.

“Some components are not getting through, so we wanted to avoid stop-go production,” said Eric Geers, a Saab spokesman. He conceded the company faced a “tight cash situation,” but added that it was confident that it could agree on terms with suppliers this week for work to resume by Monday.

The disruptions punctuated weeks of uncertainty at Saab, which Spyker Cars, a little known maker of sports cars based in the Netherlands, bought from G.M. in 2010 for $74 million in cash and $326 million in preferred shares from a new Saab-Spyker entity.

Last month, Saab’s chief executive, Jan-Ake Jonsson, unexpectedly announced he would step down in May. Meanwhile, the Russian investor Vladimir Antonov — whom G.M. blocked from participating in the deal last year — has renewed his interest in a stake in Saab’s parent, but it is unclear whether he will be allowed in.

Spyker is hoping to make an announcement about financing for Saab on Friday, according to a person briefed on the plans who was not permitted to speak publicly. He declined to elaborate.

Spyker’s chief executive, Victor R. Muller, who is also in temporary control of Saab, insisted this week that Saab was not on the verge of collapse but was merely suffering from “a small glitch.” Those words have not reassured investors. The company’s shares fell 3.5 percent on Thursday, to 3.85 euros ($5.50), in Amsterdam, and are down 11 percent this year, giving it a market capitalization of 77 million euros ($110 million).

The problem threatens to exacerbate difficulties across a swath of Saab suppliers, which have delivered millions of dollars in parts but have yet to be paid, said Svenake Berglie, chief executive of FKG, a suppliers’ association.

Many are just now emerging from the global recession and have not been able to strengthen their balance sheets, he said. “This has to be solved by next week; otherwise it will be really troublesome for our members.”

Mr. Berglie described Saab as the lifeblood for local engineering jobs. “We need Saab in Scandinavia,” he said.

The Swedish automaker built up a strong brand reputation, particularly from the 1970s onward, for its stylish designs and powerful sedans, although the reliability of its cars was often questioned. It employs 3,800 people, mostly at the Trollhattan plant, in which G.M. invested 750 million euros, ($1.1 billion). Several thousand more supply jobs depend on Saab. Saabs are also produced at a G.M. plant in Mexico.

“The situation is certainly not very good,” said Peter Cooke, a professor at the Center for Automotive Management at the University of Buckingham in England. “My concern from day one was that Spyker might have bitten off more than it could chew.”

Spyker, which made only several dozen luxury cars in 2009, bought Saab in February 2010, after G.M. had threatened to shut it down as part of a restructuring.

Mr. Antonov, chairman of the Convers Group in Moscow, had owned a big stake in Spyker before the purchase, but G.M. compelled him to sell his holding before it would negotiate the sale because news reports had linked him to organized crime.

Spyker has recently applied to allow Mr. Antonov back as a shareholder, but the Swedish government has a potential veto because, as part of the original sale, it guaranteed a 400 million euro ($571 million) loan to Saab from the European Investment Bank. The Swedish authorities are investigating claims of impropriety involving Mr. Antonov, who has denied wrongdoing.

Andrew E. Kramer contributed reporting.

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