Sell or close? GM sends mixed signals on Saab

STOCKHOLM — The board of General Motors' Swedish unit Saab on Friday took the first formal step to wind down the ailing carmaker by appointing a representative to lead the process, even as GM evaluates last-minute offers, union officials said.

Two suitors emerged late Thursday, with one including British billionaire and Formula 1 tycoon Bernard Ecclestone.

"This is clearly confusing for all parties involved when GM decides to act in two different directions," IF Metall union head Stefan Lofven said shortly after the Saab board ended its meeting.

"According to the information that IF Metall has received during the day, GM is continuing the process by examining the offers that have been submitted. None of the current contenders have been rejected," Lofven said, but noted GM's dual signals were unfair both to a potential sale of Saab as well as to the wind-down process.

"It's irresponsible by GM," he said. "GM now has to clearly show where it stands and toward which direction it wants to go."

Saab's board, which is controlled by GM, met in Sweden earlier Friday.

In a statement from GM's Web site, the Detroit-based group confirmed that it had hired advisory firm AlixPartners to supervise the process.

"The wind-down process is expected to take several months and will ensure that employees, dealers and suppliers are adequately protected," it said, while also confirming it has received "several proposals for Saab," which it will continue to evaluate. It did not name the contenders.

On Wednesday, GM interim CEO Ed Whitacre announced that he was not optimistic about Saab's survival and that the Detroit automaker would begin closing factories later in the week — despite a recent offer from Dutch exotic automaker Spyker Cars.

Late Thursday however, Spyker made yet another bid for Saab while Luxembourg private equity group Genii Capital also emerged as a new suitor, saying it had teamed up with Ecclestone.

In a statement, Genii said it had been brought into the bidding process at a late stage and that it is interested in acquiring a majority stake in the brand.

"The group believes that Saab has a tremendous brand value in a number of key markets," it said, adding that considering the short timeframe, it "will aggressively work towards a successful closing of the transaction."