Saab owner hits GM with $3bn lawsuit

Saab sign
Image caption The future Saab, under new ownership, will concentrate on production of electric cars

The current owner of bankrupt carmaker Saab has sued former partner General Motors for $3bn (£1.9bn).

Spyker Cars accuses GM of forcing the Swedish car firm out of business by interfering with a potential sale.

Saab had been in takeover talks with a Chinese firm and filed for bankruptcy in December when those talks failed.

GM, which owned part of Saab, did not want Chinese carmakers accessing Saab's technology licences. The US firm called the allegations "baseless".

It told the BBC: "We have reviewed the complaint, and it is completely without merit. We will vigorously defend the company."

Spyker chief executive Victor Muller told the BBC: "There was no situation that required GM's consent but nevertheless, they took a public stance.

"They abused their position to coerce us into bankruptcy," he added.

Spyker, the Dutch carmaker, filed its lawsuit in a US court in the state of Michigan on Monday. GM has 20 days to respond.

"GM's actions had the direct and intended objective of driving Saab Automobile into bankruptcy, a result of GM's tortuously interfering with a transaction between Saab Automobile, Spyker and Chinese investor Youngman that would have permitted Saab Automobile to restructure and remain a solvent going concern," Spyker said.

Long history

GM bought a 50% stake and management control of Saab in 1989, then gained full ownership in 2000.

The Swedish company's car sales peaked at 133,000 cars in 2006. After that, sales dwindled to 93,000 cars in 2008 and just 27,000 in 2009.

GM itself sought bankruptcy protection as the global financial crisis unfolded, forcing the US company to dispose of assets.

GM sold Saab in 2010 to Dutch luxury carmaker Spyker, but the US car giant remained a stakeholder and by far its largest supplier of engines and parts.

In June, the assets of bankrupt Saab were sold to a Chinese-Swedish investment group, National Electric Vehicle Sweden, which aims to turn the company into a maker of electric vehicles.

While the assets were sold, Mr Muller and Spyker still have the rights to the legal entity Saab, which is why they are filing this lawsuit.

The new owner has not yet secured the rights to the Saab brand name.

"Since Saab Automobile is in receivership and hence incapable to contribute to the costs of litigation, Spyker and Saab Automobile have entered into an agreement pursuant to which Spyker will bear the costs of such litigation in exchange for a very substantial share of Saab Automobile award when the proceedings are successful," Spyker said.

"Spyker has secured the financial backing required to see the lawsuit through to the end from a third-party investor."

Mr Muller told the BBC that he could not disclose who the investor was.

But he said it was not Vladimir Antonov, the Russian banker who owned Portsmouth Football Club until it entered administration and who is Mr Muller's former business partner.

Mr Antonov gave Saab a loan last year.

Saab employs about 3,000 people, with its main base at Trollhattan in west Sweden, where investment in new electric car manufacturing will be made.

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