Spkyer sues GM for blocked Saab deal

Spyker, the automaker that currently owns the Saab label, is suing General Motors for blocking a buyout deal that would have saved Saab from bankruptcy. Does Spyker have a good case?

David W Cerny/Reuters/FIle
The scratched logo of Swedish manufacturer Saab is seen on a car in Prague in this June 2012 file photo. Spyker, the current parent company, of Saab, is suing GM for blocking a deal that would have rescued the ailing automaker from bankruptcy.

The Saab story would be hilarious if it weren't so heartbreaking.

The latest news? Saab's current parent, Spyker, is suing the company's former parent, General Motors, for standing in the way of Saab's adoption by a third parent (China's Youngman) and thereby forcing Saab into bankruptcy.

If you've not been following the news recently, all that might sound a bit confusing. Here's a quick recap:

  • General Motors first invested in Saab in 1989 and bought a controlling share of the company in 2000. Saab never turned a profit for GM.
  • During the Great Recession, GM sought to unload four of its brands, including the underperforming Saab, which it sold to Spyker in 2010. (Of note: Saab was the only one of four to be sold. HUMMER, Pontiac, and Saturn were shut down.)
  • Spyker couldn't make Saab profitable either, and Saab essentially stopped producing cars in March 2011. 
  • Spyker began seeking new investors for Saab, to generate operating capital. It found two sugardaddies in China: Pang Da and Youngman. (Pang Da eventually bailed, leaving Youngman alone with Spyker at the altar.)
  • GM opposed the Spyker/Youngman marriage because it still owns patents on much of Saab's technology. Understanding that China doesn't value intellectual property rights the same way that American and Europe do, GM successfully blocked the tie-up.
  • That deal was scrapped, and earlier this summer, a new one was announced between Spyker and National Electric Vehicle Sweden, which is backed by investors in China and Japan. This time around, GM appears comfortable with the partnership -- largely because it involves Saab's rebirth as an electric car company, meaning that much of GM's proprietary technology would be off-limits or irrelevant. 
  • However, while GM seems okay with the new deal, Saab's siblings may not -- meaning that the new auto line may not be called "Saab". That would be a real bummer for NEVS and Spyker, who hope to leverage Saab's brand-recognition in China and other auto markets.

The latest news comes via a press release, issued this morning. Apparently, Spyker is now suing GM for $3 billion in retaliation for 86ing the aforementioned marriage between Spyker and Youngman. According to that release: 

This lawsuit seeks redress for the unlawful actions GM took to avoid competition with Saab Automobile in the Chinese market. GM's [sic] actions had the direct and intended objective of driving Saab Automobile into bankruptcy, a result of GM's tortiously 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. The monetary value of the claim amounts to US$ 3 billion (three billion US dollars).

What does it all mean?

TCC's highly unofficial, unscientific, inter-office poll suggests that this is nothing but a face-saving measure put forward by Spyker's grudge-holding CEO, Victor Muller. Our guess is that Muller is pretty steamed that his grand vision for Saab didn't work out like he'd planned, and now, like some comic book villain on the brink of collapse, he's lashing out at everyone he can. 

In fact, this lawsuit seems like a way for Muller to regain some of the cash he invested in Saab. Again, from the press release:

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.

Awfully convenient, no?

We're not lawyers, and we haven't been privy to any of the legal documents filed in this case, or to those surrounding the initial sale of Saab to Spyker. However, we'd be very surprised if Muller succeeds -- in large part because the lawsuit was filed in the U.S., the home of the well-established patent laws that GM used to protect its intellectual property. 

Moreover, the suit was filed in Michigan, where judges and jurors could be more sympathetic to GM than to a foreign outfit like Spyker. 

Then again, who knows? The Saab saga has had more twists and turns than a Lifetime special starring Jennifer Love Hewitt. We'll keep you posted as this latest subplot progresses.

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