Beijing Auto says "stay tuned" on GM's Saab

NANJING, China Mon Nov 30, 2009 2:07am EST

An emblem of a Saab car is covered with raindrops at an car dealership in Hamburg in this February 20, 2009 file photo. REUTERS/Christian Charisius/Files

An emblem of a Saab car is covered with raindrops at an car dealership in Hamburg in this February 20, 2009 file photo.

Credit: Reuters/Christian Charisius/Files

NANJING, China (Reuters) - Beijing Automotive Industry Holding Corp (BAIC) might still be interested in buying General Motors' Saab unit, according to the Chinese car company's general manager.

Asked by reporters on Monday whether BAIC would consider approaching Saab as a solo buyer or only as a part of a consortium, Wang Dazong said: "I would just say, 'stay tuned a little bit'."

Speaking on the sidelines of a China-European Union business summit, Wang said BAIC's strategy of going global was still in place.

"For us, I don't see a need to buy a plant. I don't see a need to buy a building. I don't see a need to buy a robot. So what's left? You figure it out," he said.

BAIC must decide its next move after a consortium of which it was a member, led by tiny Swedish luxury car maker Koenigsegg, pulled out of talks last week to buy Saab, putting in doubt the future of the loss-making GM unit.

"I cannot control GM's timetable. I obviously have no way of influencing GM's timetable. I would just say we are very dynamic and impatient people. We want to do things fast."

Asked what he liked about the Swedish marque, Wang said: "Saab, as I said before, has a pretty good brand. It has global recognition and a good history. From my dealing with them, it has pretty good people and a pretty good technology depth as well."

Several Chinese carmakers are keen to break into foreign markets and are aggressively developing their own brands in a bid to move up the value chain from the small, low-priced segment.

Intellectual property rights are seen as a key issue hindering Chinese carmakers from taking over struggling overseas automakers. BAIC cited IP as the reason behind its failure to reach a deal with GM over its Opel unit in July.

Turning to China's sizzling domestic auto market, Wang said it was natural to have a slowdown after a 45 percent surge in industry-wide sales so far this year, powered in part by aggressive tax breaks on fuel-efficient cars and other subsidies.

"We would certainly like to encourage the incentive programme to continue. All the indications are that it is moving in that direction," he said. "But this year had tremendous growth, so normally there is a little bit of hangover, so it may impact next year's volume in the industry."

Vice Commerce Minister Jiang Zengwei said at the weekend that the government would expand schemes that give consumers a discount if they trade in old cars for new ones.

Wang described BAIC's outlook as "cautiously optimistic".

He said the automaker was aiming for 30 percent sales growth next year, outpacing an expected industry average of 10 percent.

(Reporting by Simon Rabinovitch; Editing by Alan Wheatley & Ian Geoghegan)

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