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Saab: A new lease on life, maybe a new CEO

Automotive News reports on the viability of Saab.

Saab Automobile's prospective new Chinese owners will search for a new CEO to replace Victor Muller, the sports car entrepreneur who dreamed of resurrecting the struggling Swedish carmaker.

Tim Colbeck, COO of Saab Cars North America, told reporters: "Victor will continue as CEO until a new CEO is found. He will stay on as more of an advisory role."

Two Chinese automakers--Pang Da Automobile Trade and Zhejiang Youngman Lotus Automobile--have agreed to buy 100 percent of Saab from Swedish Automobile for 100 million euros (about $142 million).

Production has been suspended at Saab's Trollhattan, Sweden, plant since early April. U.S. dealer inventories are down to about 3,000 units, Colbeck said. General Motors stopped making the 9-4X in Mexico in July when its Ramos Arizpe plant shut down for the changeover to 2012 models.

"Our sales have been a little lower than they usually would be because of the speculation. We've got some supply to get us through this year and beginning of next to the introduction of new product," Colbeck said.

He acknowledged that Saab faces some marketing challenges.

There "certainly has been a lot of negative press about the brand," he said. But "there is such an affinity for the brand with the owner groups. We have a very, very loyal group of dealers."

Through September, Saab has sold 4,647 vehicles in the United States, up 44 percent from the same period a year ago. But as the company struggled to find a backer, sales in September dropped 62 percent to just 429 units from 1,127 a year ago.

Saab has about 3,000 cars in its U.S. dealer inventory, Colbeck said.

Saab spokeswoman Michele Tinson said Saab now has about 185 dealers, down from 200 earlier in the year.

The memorandum of understanding is valid until November 15, provided Saab stays in reorganization.

Muller told Sweden's Sverige Radio that Saab would now be able to pay creditors, restart production, launch new models, and expand in China.

Muller said the Chinese companies are committed to investing the equivalent of about $700 million in Saab.

(Source: Automotive News)