F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone is fronting a powerful European consortium making a late surge to buy troubled Swedish car company, Saab. His partners in the consortium are Renault F1 owner Gerard Lopez, via his Geniii Capital vehicle and Swedish real estate entrepreneur Lars Carlstrom.
Saab is currently owned by General Motors and is loss making.
Ironically for a man who is suspicious of the internet, Ecclestone’s bid is based on the latest thing in automotive innovation – internet in cars.
On its website this afternoon, Genii Capital said that it had been brought into the bidding process at a late stage by advisors close to the deal. It says it will “aggressively work towards a successful closing of the transaction.”
The consortium’s strategy is to add value to Saab by working with areas of overlap with its own business, particularly in the emerging field of internet in cars, which has been a talking point of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week.
Genii is very interested in VOIP and GPS systems in cars as well as on demand systems. They believe that Saab has very strong brand values already and an innovative image. And by putting Saab at the cutting edge of these new technologies they can make the company’s cars very attractive to younger, well heeled, tech savvy buyers, particularly if they are first to market with these new technologies.
There is inevitably speculation that this might bring Saab into F1, but I’m not sure that is the strategy here, at least in the short term. Lopez sees an opportunity for his new technologies in the automotive sector.
His team will be called Renault for at least the next two years, as part of its commitment to the Concorde Agreement. After that, if the French manufacturer, which retains a 25% stake in the team and is still the engine builder, were to exit, Lopez may well wish to introduce the Saab brand to his team, as there are few better platforms for promotion than F1. But at that stage other rival competitors might question Ecclestone’s involvement, if it were to continue.
Incidentally, I hear that there are likely to be many personnel changes at Renault’s Enstone base over the coming year or so.
The third member of the Saab consortium, Lars Carlstrom, told Dow Jones today that talks with General Motors were going well and that a bidder should have some EUR800 million available. He did not comment on how much his consortium would be prepared to pay for the car maker. But there believed to be the possibility of a European Investment Bank loan of around €400 million.
“Saab will be able to supply over 100 000 cars in a few years, this is by no means impossible, ” said Carlstrom. This is the kind of number it used to sell. Projections for 2010 are around 50,000 cars.
Carlstrom was previously trying to buy Saab with two investors who are now against him in the bidding process. A third bidder is Spyker, which made a disappointing cameo in F1 recently when it acquired the former Jordan team from Midland. It sold on to Vijay Mallya, who renamed the team Force India.