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Boston-area Saab dealers breathe relief after GM sale

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh  January 26, 2010 01:54 PM

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Saab models sit in the showroom at Herb Chambers Saab in Boston. (AP Photo/Eric J. Shelton)

General Motors agreed to sell Saab to Spyker Cars Tuesday for an estimated $74 million in cash, according to terms released by the Dutch supercar manufacturer.

GM had been in talks with several buyers since November, including Swedish exotic automaker Koenigsegg and Formula One billionaire Bernie Ecclestone, but talks crumbled as officials continued to state that the brand would be dissolved. Dutch-based Spyker Cars, which sells a few dozen cars a year, had been in discussions with GM since at least December, when Koenigsegg dropped its bid.

"I don't think size has anything to do" with success, said Ryan Emge, the Maine Saab enthusiast who made national headlines after he led a protest at GM's Detroit headquarters earlier this month. "Saab needs a smaller, more flexible management team to survive."

In a media conference call with GM executives this afternoon, vice president John Smith said that Spyker's previous bids were not a "fair value" and that their latest offer had been "reformulated in a way that was more attractive to us."

"We also liked the financial strategy that Victor Muller [president of Spyker] and the Spyker team had put in place," Smith said, declining to reveal further details about the bidding history.

Ray Ciccolo, owner of Charles River Saab in Watertown and a director of the Massachusetts State Automobile Dealers Association, said he had been "aggressive" in purchasing Saabs from other dealers as the brand hung in limbo.

"I bought 30 Saabs in Florida," he said. "The more they were talking about closing it, the more these Saab people came out to buy cars."

Many dealers, including Ciccolo's, had been flushing out their inventories with lucrative deals of up to $8,000 off new models. Those deals, Ciccolo said, are likely to continue as Saab dealers await word from Spyker and anticipate the production of the new 9-5 sedan.

"We're quite anxious for them to restart production and get this car out to us," he said. Smith said full production would start in April.

Fred Shaw, owner of Shaw Saab in Norwell, wrote in an e-mail newsletter today that "I would be remiss if I did not take a moment to thank all of you for your support in this cause."

Shaw, in a telephone interview, said that he was "very confident" in Spyker because GM "had to be certain that the business plan was sound." He said he had been selling "as many used Saabs as we could" and that many customers, given the steep discounts, were able to slide into 2009 models instead.

The Spyker deal is concurrent with a $566 million loan from the European Investment Bank. GM will retain a $326 million stake until 2016 and less than 1 percent of voting rights in the new company.

"Throughout the negotiations, GM has always had the hope to find a solution for Saab that would avoid a wind down of the brand,” said Nick Reilly, president of GM's European division, in a press release.

Emge, who runs the website Saabhistory.com, said it was the "real diehards" -- roughly 40 separate convoys of Saab enthusiasts around the world, he said -- who helped sustain support for the troubled brand.

"The combination of all these clubs doing this really got the ball rolling."

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Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
In the garage: 1995 21-speed Iron Horse, 2002 Jeep Wrangler X (by association)
Bill Griffith is a veteran Boston Globe reporter, having reviewed cars for more than 10 years and serving as assistant sports editor for 25 years. He was also the paper's sports media columnist.
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AAA's Car Doctor, John Paul John Paul is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England, a certified mechanic, and a Globe columnist. He hosts a weekly radio show on WROL.
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Craig Fitzgerald has been writing about cars, motorcycles, and the automotive industry since 1999. He is the former editor of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car.
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Keith Griffin is president of the New England Motor Press Association and edits the used car section on About.com. He also writes for the Hartford Business Journal and various weekly newspapers in Connecticut.
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