Bankrupt Swedish carmaker Saab received a new lease on life on Wednesday, with Asian investors aiming to revive the iconic brand to make electric cars for the Chinese market.
National Electric Vehicle Sweden AB (NEVS), a new company created by two firms in Hong Kong and Japan just a few months ago and registered in Sweden with the express purpose of buying Saab, said it would buy the ill-fated automaker for an undisclosed sum.
"I am delighted that we can build on Saab Automobile's skills in vehicle design and production to start a new future-oriented venture in Trollhaettan (where Saab has its headquarters in southwestern Sweden), where world class manufacturing facilities are available," NEVS chairman Karl-Erling Trogen said in a statement.
The move brought to an end months of speculation over what would become of Saab, which was finally forced to file for bankruptcy last December after teetering on the edge of the abyss for years.
A number of suitors were eager to snap up the company, including Chinese carmaker Youngman, which reportedly placed a preliminary bid in late January or early February of about two billion kronor (220 million euros, $280 million).
Youngman had aimed to buy Saab even before it went bust, but those efforts were thwarted by Saab's former owner, General Motors, which had sold it to tiny Dutch company Spyker in early 2010 and which balked at transferring the necessary technology licences to the Chinese.
The deal announced Wednesday likely succeeded where the others failed since it covers just the main assets of Saab Automobile, Saab Automobile Powertrain and Saab Automobile Tools as well as the facilities in Trollhaettan, but not the intellectual property rights for the Saab 9-5, nor Saab Automobile Parts.
NEVS, which is 51-percent owned by Hong Kong-based alternative energy specialist National Modern Energy Holdings and 49-percent owned by Japanese investment firm Sun Investment LLC, said it planned to completely convert the Saab 9-3 to an electric vehicle, creating "an all-new model ... based on additional cutting-edge technology from Japan."
"Marketing and sales will be global, with an initial focus on China, projected to be the largest and most important EV market," it said.
The car should be rolled out at the end of 2013 or beginning of 2014 and is aimed primarily at the Chinese market, it said, stressing that it aimed "to become a leading manufacturer of electric vehicles."
Swedish, Japanese and Chinese engineers, who are currently being recruited, would together create the new cars, according to the statement.
Trogen meanwhile told a news conference that he could not promise the first electric cars would carry the Saab logo.
The parties did not reveal the amount NEVS would pay for the Saab assets, but according to the TT news agency the sum would be revealed at the latest on November 19, when documents must be presented to a local court.
Bankruptcy administrators said in April that Saab, which was already on the brink of bankruptcy when GM sold it to Spyker for $400 million, had assets to cover only just over a third of its debt of 13 billion kronor.
"The sale to NEVS is our most important action to realise the assets of the estate," Anne-Marie Pouteaux, one of the Saab administrators said in Wednesday's statement, adding "we are very pleased today, having reached this agreement."
Swedish union IF Metall, to which many Saab workers belong, hailed the agreement and the new owners' innovative spirit.
"It's exciting to focus on electric vehicles, which are very timely in an international perspective," the union said in a statement.
"We have too few electric cars on the road in Sweden and are far behind many countries. With this new focus, new export opportunities will likely open up," it said.
Swedish Enterprise Minister Annie Loeoef also welcomed the deal, saying in a statement it was "positive news for the Swedish auto industry and for the region."
Saab began life in 1937 as an aircraft manufacturer, something which became evident in the aerodynamic, sporty shape of its first concept car designs.
It built its first prototype cars in 1947, with the first production version rolling off the assembly line two years later.
The iconic brand was forced to halt production in April 2011 as suppliers stopped deliveries over mountains of unpaid bills.