GM in talks as Saab winds down

DETROIT — The final decision on whether the Saab brand will live or die is likely to come later this month or in February, General Motors' top European executive said Tuesday.

The statement from GM Europe president Nick Reilly came as the Swedish government took another step toward ending Saab, appointing two men who will replace its board and CEO while supervising Saab's closure.

The men, Stephen Taylor and Peter Torngren, will meet with management, unions and other Saab stakeholders and start working on a plan to close the troubled brand, GM said in a statement.

The Swedish government becomes involved when companies are liquidated, according to the Web site of the agency that governs them, the Swedish Companies Registration Office.

GM started closing Saab operations last week but still is in talks with two possible suitors. One of those, Dutch automaker Spyker, said it has improved its bid for Saab and is waiting for a response.

Spyker is hoping for quick action on its bid because if the Saab wind-down continues, "one would see effects on the Saab brand and that would be very unattractive," Spyker CEO Victor Muller said Tuesday at the Automotive News World Congress in Detroit.

GM hired a firm to oversee the sale of Saab's assets, and CEO Ed Whitacre Jr. said last week that he was not optimistic Saab could be saved.

Reilly said that while the negotiations continue, Saab continues to lose money.

"The longer it carries on as we start to wind it down, the more difficult it is for somebody to come along and buy it," Reilly said.

Reilly also told reporters at the Detroit auto show Tuesday that he expects to finish restructuring GM's Opel operations this month. He says changes that combine GM Europe and Opel management will be announced Friday or Monday.

GM is trying to gain concessions from unions and loans from European countries as it restructures Opel.

He also said Opel lost money last year and probably will this year. But the restructuring is designed to get the brand to a break-even point.

The restructuring includes concessions from workers, as well as job cuts and factory reductions. But Reilly also said it will include product investments. Workers could see profit sharing as compensation for the concessions, he said.

GM will need roughly 3.3 billion euros to fund the restructuring and may provide 600 million euros of that itself. But the rest would come from concessions and loans from European governments.

GM has been trying to sell Saab for more than a year. It has entertained other bids after a deal with Swedish specialty car maker Koenigsegg collapsed last month.

Spyker made a bid last week. Luxembourg private equity group Genii Capital also emerged as a new suitor, saying it had teamed up with British billionaire and Formula 1 tycoon Bernard Ecclestone.

But GM announced last week that it had hired a company to start winding down Saab's operations.