GM says Saab closing; no viable bid yet

DETROIT (Reuters) - General Motors Co sent its clearest signal yet on Monday that none of the bidders for Saab had submitted an offer that would prompt the automaker to reverse a decision to shut down the Swedish luxury brand.

The SAAB logo is seen at Patrick Saab in Schaumburg, Illinois, November 24, 2009. REUTERS/John Gress

“We’re closing down Saab,” GM Chairman and acting Chief Executive Ed Whitacre told reporters on the sidelines of the Detroit auto show. “We’re winding it down.”

GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz said that the U.S. automaker would press ahead with closing down Saab unless a new bid emerged that was “financially better for us than the wind-down.”

GM said last week that it had hired AlixPartners, the restructuring firm that assisted in its U.S.-government backed bankruptcy last year, to handle the wind-down of Saab.

“The offers we’ve received so far in terms of risk and financing up-front just have been as good as winding it down,” Lutz told reporters.

Dutch luxury carmaker Spyker last week said it had submitted an improved bid for Saab.

Spyker Chief Executive Victor Muller told Reuters on Monday in a phone interview from Detroit where he was attending the auto show that he remained hopeful a deal could be reached.

“GM has said no bid is acceptable so far. I think you have to emphasize the words so far,” Muller said. “They are still in the middle of the evaluation process. Talks are still continuing.”

Saab has been consistently unprofitable in the 20 years that it has been controlled by GM. Lutz said the U.S. automaker had been wrong to assume that “something would come along” to change its financial performance.

“For years GM has been procrastinating when it comes to Saab,” Lutz said. “I’m glad to see that for once GM is sticking with a decision to wind something down.”

Lutz said that any bidder now has a limited time to come forward with an offer that would cause GM to reverse its decision.

“We’re listening,” he said.

Saab, which GM has controlled since 1989, posted a loss of $340 million in 2008, and is projected to post a similar loss this year.

GM’s attempts to integrate the brand into its global line-up limited Saab’s appeal to enthusiasts who liked its early hatchback styling and turbo-charged engines.

Joran Hagglund, Sweden’s state secretary for industry, was in Detroit on Monday for a meeting with GM management on the latest developments on Saab, representatives said.

Saab employs about 3,400 in Sweden. The Swedish government has announced public funding to help offset the economic loss from its closure.

Spyker’s Muller said that while GM “had hit the wind-down button” on Saab, that decision could still be reversed. He said he expected to meet with GM representatives and with Hagglund in Detroit this week.

Saab sold just over 93,000 units in 2008, accounting for 1 percent of GM’s global sales volume.

U.S. sales for Saab cars dropped almost 64 percent in 2009.

(Reporting by Kevin Krolicki, editing by Dave Zimmerman and Gunna Dickson)

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