The board of General Motors' Swedish unit Saab on Friday took the first formal step to wind down the ailing car maker by appointing a representative to lead the process, even as GM evaluates last-minute offers, union officials said.
Two suitors emerged late Thursday, with one including British billionaire and Formula 1 tycoon Bernard Ecclestone.
"This is clearly confusing for all parties involved when GM decides to act in two different directions," IF Metall union head Stefan Lofven said shortly after the Saab board ended its meeting.
According to the union, the board has appointed an official to lead the winding down of Saab's operations — the first formal step in GM's plans to close it down. But despite the first legal steps in scaling the company down, the union said GM is continuing to evaluate the bids it currently has on the table.
"According to the information that IF Metall has received during the day, GM is continuing the process by examining the offers that have been submitted. None of the current contenders have been rejected," Lofven said, but noted GM's dual signals were unfair both to a potential sale of Saab as well as to the wind-down process.
"It's irresponsible by GM," he said. "GM now has to clearly show where it stands and toward which direction it wants to go."
Saab's board, which is controlled by GM, met in Sweden earlier Friday to discuss plans to wind down the unit.
In a statement from GM's web site, the Detroit-based group confirmed it had hired advisory firm AlixPartners to supervise the process.
"The wind down process is expected to take several months, and will ensure that employees, dealers and suppliers are adequately protected," it said, while also confirming it has received "several proposals for Saab," which it will continue to evaluate. It did not name the contenders.
On Wednesday, GM's interim CEO Ed Whitacre Jr. announced he was not optimistic about Saab's survival and that the Detroit automaker would begin closing factories later in the week — despite a recent offer from Dutch exotic automaker Spyker Cars.
Late Thursday however, Spyker made yet another bid for Saab while Luxembourg private equity group Genii Capital also emerged as a new suitor, saying it had teamed up with Ecclestone.
In a statement, Genii said it had been brought into the bidding process at a late stage and that it is interested in acquiring a majority stake in the brand.
"The group believes that Saab has a tremendous brand value in a number of key markets," it said, adding that considering the short timeframe, it "will aggressively work towards a successful closing of the transaction."
It did not disclose any financial details, but said it believes in the future potential of Saab as the car industry moves into greener and safer technology.
Speculation is also running high that other bidders may be in the running, such as Merbanco Inc., a Wyoming-based group of investors, as well as a team of Swedish business men, including the former head of German truckmaker MAN Hakan Samuelsson.
Ian Fletcher, an auto analyst with IHS Global Insight, said GM is likely to take a close look at Genii Capital's bid, since the group is expected to come up with the required financing as well as its own links with the automotive industry, including investment in a high-performance brake firm.
"Genii Capital's bid seems to use something of a known quantity to the GM board — Koenigsegg's previous business plan," he said, referring to the Koenigsegg Group's offer which fell apart in November due to delays in the deal process.
Fletcher added that although Spyker may now have improved its bid more to the taste of GM, it could still be weighed down by "no obvious signs of financing."
"There is little to make those on the outside think that this will succeed," he said.
GM is expected to announce its final decision on Saab's future next week.
Saab still employs about 3,400 people worldwide, most of whom work at its main plant in Trollhattan, Sweden. The brand also has some 1,100 dealers.
On Dec. 18, General Motors Co. announced its intention to close down the storied Swedish brand. It is eliminating Saab along with Pontiac, Hummer and Saturn as part of a restructuring plan that will leave it with four core brands: Chevrolet, Cadillac, GMC and Buick.
AP Auto Writer Tom Krisher in Detroit contributed to this report.
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