Swedish carmaker Saab went bankrupt last December, but was its death a case of natural causes, euthanasia, or murder? Saab’s last owner, Dutch supercar builder Spyker, thinks it’s the latter. The company is suing General Motors to the tune of $3 billion because the General blocked the sale of Saab to a Chinese company, which Spyker called “unlawful.”
In late 2011, after the new 9-5 sedan and 9-4X crossover flopped, Spyker began looking to unload Saab. Since both cars (and the existing 9-3) were based on GM platforms (the 9-4X was actually built alongside the Cadillac SRX at a GM plant), the Detroit company wanted to maintain control over its designs and technology, even though it had given up on Saab itself.
Consequently, when Spyker courted Pang Da Automobile Trade Company and Zhejiang Youngman Lotus Automobile (no relation to England’s Lotus Cars), GM blocked both deals. It said it would stop supplying vehicles and technology if either company took over, leaving the potential new owners with a brand name and a factory in Trollhattan, Sweden, but no new cars to produce.
According to Spyker, allowing Spyker to sell its Swedish possession to China “would have permitted Saab to restructure and remain a solvent, going concern.”
The company is also accusing GM of deceiving investors into thinking it would support a deal with a Chinese company, then pulling out at the last minute.
“GM created the appearance of initially encouraging Saab to enter into a deal with Chinese investors to save the company, only later to unlawfully pull the rug out from under Saab, driving it into bankruptcy liquidation,” Spyker said in its lawsuit. “Indeed, it was GM’s intent by whatever means necessary to quash any financing or investment deal that could save Saab from liquidation, because GM simply sought to eliminate Saab from competition, particularly in the Chinese automobile market.”
GM has not commented, other than to say that its lawyers are reviewing the suit, which was filed Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. At the time of the Saab-Youngman Lotus deal, the company said it did not want to give trade secrets, in the form of Saab vehicles based on its models, to competitors in the emerging Chinese market.
In a way, that is already happening. Saab’s assets were recently acquired by a Chinese-Japanese concern, which plans to sell an electric car based on the 9-3 in China under the National Electric Vehicle Sweden brand name.
While all vehicles being produced by Saab at the time of the bankruptcy were based on GM designs, the company was developing its own platform, called PhoeniX, which would have formed the basis for a new 9-3. The collapse of Saab’s finances prevented it from seeing the light of day.