China's Hawtai Motor comes to Saab's rescue

Updated: 2011-05-03 17:36
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Little-known Chinese auto maker Hawtai Motor Group has come to the rescue of Saab, only a year after tiny Dutch supercar maker Spyker bailed out the Swedish marque.

Loss-making Saab has veered toward the brink of collapse in recent weeks after running out of cash to pay its bills. Several suppliers stopped delivering parts, halting production at Saab's Trollhattan plant for most of last month.

Spyker Cars said on Tuesday Hawtai would invest 150 million euros ($222 million) in return for shares, providing funds that will enable Saab to pay overdue bills and resume production.

The move marks the second time a Chinese company has invested in a top Swedish car maker.

Zhejiang Geely, the parent of Hong Kong-listed Geely Automobile Holdings, bought Saab's Swedish rival Volvo Cars from Ford Motor last year for $1.3 billion cash and a $200 million note issued to Ford.

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The Hawtai deal is one of several pulled together to stave off collapse. Spyker also raised funds from some of its existing shareholders -- who include Russian businessman Vladimir Antonov, a Middle Eastern fund, and a Lithuanian investment group -- and proposed loans and the sale and leaseback of Saab's real estate.

Spyker shares were up 17.5 percent at 4.98 euros in a slightly lower Amsterdam market.

China's Hawtai makes SUV and passenger cars, and has production capacity for 300,000 clean diesel engines, 450,000 transmissions and 350,000 vehicles, according to its website.

It plans to build up the capacity to make 1 million vehicles, diesel engines and transmissions a year by 2015 and to become a top brand in China, where car ownership has soared.

It was founded in 2000, with headquarters in Beijing and production in Rongcheng, Shandong and Erdos, Inner Mongolia province, and has total assets of about 12 billion yuan ($1.8 billion).

Spyker, which wants to boost sales and explore production in fast-growing emerging markets, including China and Russia, as well as Brazil and India, said on Tuesday that Hawtai will pay 120 million euros for a 29.9 percent stake in the firm.

It has agreed to pay a further 30 million euros in the form of a convertible loan with a six-month maturity and a conversion price of 4.88 euros per share.

Saab said the transactions are subject to approval from certain Chinese government agencies, the European Investment Bank, and the Swedish National Debt Office.

It is unclear whether the deal will gain Chinese government approval, an issue which contributed to the failure of China's Xinmao bid for Dutch cable company Draka in January.

"With Hawtai's clean diesel engine technologies and production capacity, and its ambitious development programs, we have found the right partner to develop the Saab business and build a solid relationship," Spyker Chief Executive Victor Muller said in a statement.

As part of the transaction, Muller's investment firm Tenaci Capital will also convert 42 million euros of its current loan to Spyker into shares at 4.88 euros per share to help reduce Spyker's interest burden.

Great leap forward

Spyker bought the 60-year-old Swedish brand from General Motors barely a year ago, rescuing it from closure, but has struggled to turn Saab around.

Saab's sales target was 80,000 vehicles for this year and 120,000 for the following year, but last week the Swedish company said it would fail to meet those goals.

Spyker said on Monday it had secured a 30 million euro ($44.4 million) convertible loan agreement with Gemini Investment Fund Ltd -- one of Spyker's shareholders, which Muller said is owned by a Lithuanian businessman -- and that it would also draw 29.1 million euros on its loan from the European Investment Bank.

Spyker said it continued to work on longer-term funding, of which a purchase by Antonov of 29.9 percent stake in Spyker for up to 30 million euros is expected to be a part.

Antonov has also agreed to buy Saab's real estate and plant and lease it back to release cash, though that has been held up after the EIB imposed terms Saab did not agree with.

The EIB is also still to decide whether Antonov can become a shareholder of Spyker-Saab.

He has said he has cleared his name and Sweden's Debt Office, which has guaranteed the EIB loan, has approved Antonov's return.