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Swedish carmaker Saab looking to separate from parent GM, files for bankruptcy news
20 February 2009

The board of the Swedish carmaker Saab, which is owned by General Motors, has filed for reorganisation, seeking to create a fully independent business. The announcement follows Thursday's extraordinary board meeting in which senior management considered the company's future.

GM has said that it wants to sell Saab. There had been concerns about the loss-making carmaker after the Swedish government rejected GM's call for aid. GM took a 50-per cent stake in Saab in 1989 and gained full ownership 10 years later.

Saab, based in Trollhaettan, filed for reorganisation with a Swedish district court to separate itself from GM and bring resources back to Sweden, Saab CEO and managing director Jan Aake Jonsson said in a statement. The reorganisation, slated to take three months, will place Saab under court supervision, with the aim of creating an independent organization.

''We explored and will continue to explore all available options for funding and/or selling Saab, and it was determined a formal reorganization would be the best way to create a truly independent entity that is ready for investment,'' Jonsson said. Saab also said that the company ''would continue to operate as usual.''

But in the hours after the filing, it was unclear whether the Swedish government would support the company, with government officials seeming to rule out financial assistance as part of what Saab said would be a three-month process of retrenchment.

''Support in the form of money is not on the agenda,'' a spokesman for the industry ministry, Hakan Lind said.

Saab lost about 3 billion Swedish crowns or $343 million in 2008 and said it would lose a similar amount this year. But the immediate cause of the filing was GM, which decided to shed the Saab brand, as part of are structuring that will see massive job cuts and closure of several brands in exchange for access to government cash.

Saab's future was put in doubt after GM said on 18 February that it wants to cut the unit loose by 2010 at the latest or seek protection from creditors for Saab if it fails to win financial support from the Swedish government. Sweden has ruled out taking over Saab, saying taxpayers' money shouldn't be pumped into a company that's been unprofitable for 19 of the last 20 years.

At stake is the future of 4,100 Saab workers and thousands of jobs at regional Swedish suppliers. The Swedish government reiterated it would not take full or partial ownership of Saab. The state ''can try to help but we won't take on ultimate responsibility,'' Lind said.

Saab filed with the District Court of Vaenersborg, which will appoint a supervisor for the reorganisation, said court spokeswoman Inger Stroemdahl. A meeting with Saab's creditors will take place within a few weeks.

Saab proposed Guy Lofalk of Stockholm-based law firm Lofalk Advokatbyrå AB as supervisor. Creditors to Saab include suppliers BASF AG, Continental AG, Autoliv Inc., as well as SEB AB, Sweden's second-largest bank.

Saab has struggled since GM bought half of the automaker in 1990 from Investor AB, the Wallenberg family's publicly traded holding company. Saab has been on life-support for most of the past 20 years, GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz said last month.

GM has set March 31 for deciding on all its European divisions' future as the Detroit-based carmaker seeks as much as $16.6 billion in new US federal loans, which hinge on stemming losses and debt. General Motors aims to cut $1.2 billion from labor costs in Europe and options include closing plants.

GM said in a report to the US Treasury on 17 February that it would end financial support for Saab by 1 January 2010. GM said later that its Ruesselsheim, Germany-based Opel division and Luton, England-based Vauxhall unit are integral to operations (See: GM rejects SolarWorld's takeover offer for Opel and Vauxhall offers sabbaticals to staff)

Saab traces its origins to aircraft company Svenska Aeroplan AB, founded in 1937 to secure production of Swedish warplanes. The first car left the factory a decade later. The automaking operation is now separate from Linkoeping, Sweden-based Saab AB, the maker of the Gripen fighter plane. (See: Saab Gripen offers next generation Gripen IN fighter - to tie up with Tata, HAL for offsets)

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Swedish carmaker Saab looking to separate from parent GM, files for bankruptcy