AMSTERDAM Swedish Automobile SWAN.AS, owner of cash-strapped car maker Saab, said it would sell its Spyker luxury sports car business to the private equity firm of racing car enthusiast Alex Mascioli for about 32 million euros ($44 million).
Swedish Automobile has struggled for months to stave off bankruptcy, seeking new investors and selling off various assets so that it could pay suppliers and employees and resume production at its Saab plant in Sweden.
Last week, Saab won a reprieve when a Swedish court granted it protection from creditors while it awaits funding from Chinese investors.
Niche sportscar maker Spyker was one of several assets put up for sale by Amsterdam-listed parent Swedish Automobile, but a deal with Russian businessman Vladimir Antonov announced earlier this year subsequently fell through.
Spyker sports cars have appeared in Hollywood films including The Pink Panther and Basic Instinct 2. Only a few dozen are produced each year, with a list price of about 200,000 euros for the C8 Aileron.
Mascioli, 36, a managing director at North Street Capital based in Connecticut, told Reuters that even though he has owned a few racing cars, he has never owned a Spyker or an entire car company.
"I like to throw a car around a track but I've never been professional," he told Reuters, adding "it's a North Street Capital project. I am not buying this as a toy."
Mascioli said he expected the Spyker deal to close within a month and would then focus on raising awareness of the Spyker brand.
"Considering Spyker hasn't had a budget like Ferrari or Aston Martin, it's got a very decent track record," said Mascioli.
"The operations will remain where they are and Victor (Muller) will remain the CEO and deal with the day-to-day operations. My role will be an outlet for providing resources for the company in order for them to increase their operations," said Mascioli.
Swedish Automobile said North Street had the resources to take a long-term view on the development of Spyker as a high-end sportscar manufacturer.
"This is not a complicated transaction. It's a very, very straightforward, all-cash deal, which I expect will be closed within a month," said Victor Muller, who is chief executive of Swedish Automobile, Saab and Spyker, in a phone interview with Reuters.
The proceeds from the sale of Spyker will be used to pay down Swedish Automobile's debt to Tenaci, Muller's private investment company. Muller said Tenaci would then use the funds to repay a loan to Antonov.
Swedish Automobile announced in February it had agreed to sell Spyker to CPP Global Holdings, Antonov's UK holding company, saying the deal could raise about 32 million euros.
But at the end of August, it said the deal had been put on hold. Muller on Thursday denied talk of a falling out with Antonov, saying their relationship was "excellent."
Antonov has been waiting in the wings to take a stake in Swedish Automobile and put up financing, but he needs the approval of the European Investment Bank (EIB), the Swedish government and former Saab owner GM (GM.N).
This is because the government has guaranteed a loan to Saab from the EIB and GM still has preference shares in Saab.
"Antonov isn't out of the game but he currently has a passive role because he has no choice. But as soon as the way is paved for his possible return it is up to him to make that choice. It's his call," Muller said.
Muller said he is looking for a new CEO for Saab and may announce a candidate within a month.
Swedish Automobile shares initially jumped 16 percent on the news of the North Street deal but gains were later trimmed to about 4 percent by 1300 GMT.
(Editing by Sara Webb and Helen Massy-Beresford)