Fresh hope for Saab as new bidders join race

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Hopes that Saab will find a buyer rose on Friday after new bidders joined the race just before a deadline expired, despite prospects General Motors will close it down in the absence of a credible offer.

As Dutch luxury carmaker Spyker made an improved bid for the struggling maker of the 9-3 and 9-5 ranges, Formula One motor racing boss Bernie Ecclestone joined forces with Luxembourg-based private investment company Genii Capital to pitch a rival proposal.

Saab's board is meeting on Friday, although it had not been convened to discuss the bidding process, a source familiar with the matter said.

Genii Capital, which recently invested in Renault's Formula 1 team, said it will aggressively work toward a successful closing of the transaction with all the relevant stakeholders of the company.

Genii added that Saab has a tremendous brand value in a number of key automotive markets as well as an innovative image.

Spyker, which confirmed late on Thursday it had made an improved bid, is hoping to gain Saab's technical resources and its distribution network, while bringing its entrepreneurial skills to the new group.

Swedish media reports on Friday named Jan Nygren, an ex executive of the aerospace arm of Saab and former senior official in the defense ministry, as the head of one group of Swedish investors submitting a last-minute bid for the ailing carmaker, after news of at least one home-grown bid for Saab emerged on Thursday.

FORMAL INTEREST

Nygren, reached by telephone, confirmed he was part of a group of investors interested in Saab, but declined to offer more details about the deal. I can confirm that I am part of the group that has showed formal interest for saving Saab from winding down, but that's about it, he said.

GM has been trying to sell Saab for a year and has said it will close the 60-year old company if a suitable bid isn't received. As recently as Wednesday GM Chief Executive Ed Whitacre said he was not confident of reaching a deal.

Saab spokesman Eric Geers said any decision over its future and the latest round of bids was in the hands of General Motors. We all hope these bids are strong enough for General Motors to consider them.

Swedish government officials plan to meet with GM's board early next week in Detroit to clarify what loan guarantees are available to potential bidders, but also to ask for details about the winding-down process if no sale materializes.

One thing is to continue the dialogue with GM to facilitate the process for loan guarantees, Swedish government spokesman Frank Nilsson said. The other track is to get more information about Saab's future, if they stick with the decision to shut it down.

Lars Carlstrom, a Swedish investor who is coordinating the Genii-Ecclestone bid, said the Formula One boss and his partners were keen on buying Saab mainly for the value of its brand.

What Genii and Ecclestone have found is that Saab is an amazing brand, comparable to brands such as Porsche and BMW, he said in a telephone interview. They love brands and they really value Saab's brand ... They are really supportive and will definitely be able to bring Saab to new heights.

Carlstrom said the joint bid would seek to secure loans from the European Investment Bank, although the bidders had not yet heard a response on their bid from General Motors.

(Editing by David Holmes)

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