Intelligent Energy

Has an Asian electric car company acquired Saab?

Has an Asian electric car company acquired Saab?

Posting in Energy

Chinese-Japanese venture National Electric Vehicle Sweden picks up bankrupt car maker for $250 million, according to reports. That's a pixel of Facebook's $57 billion valuation. I'll have 3 please!

When a Saab was Swedish and ran on petroleum. A model of the 1949 Saab 92, the first production year.

An old Swedish car maker might have finally found a way out of bankruptcy, thanks to a modern Asian one.

Various news outlets are reporting that National Electric Vehicle Sweden, a Chinese/Japanese outfit, has purchased Saab for between $210 million and $250 million. The Wall Street Journal India and The Swedish Wire website both attribute their information to a local Swedish public radio broadcast in Trollhattan, Saab's hometown.

NEVS is 51 percent owned by Modern Energy Holdings Ltd., Hong Kong, which the WSJ describes as "a company with a focus on alternative energy for China."  Japanese company Sun Investment LLC owns the balance. It specializes in investing in "high technology in environmental technology and sustainable solutions," the WSJ says.

Top model. View from above of 1949 Saab 92 miniature.

The Swedish Wire says that the two Asian companies recently registered NEVS in Sweden.

I sent NEVS an email on Saturday seeking confirmation of the deal to buy Saab, and have not heard back.

Confusing the news, Reuters is reporting a separate offer. According to the news agency, China's Zhejiang Youngman Lotus Automobile has increased an earlier bid for Saab, to $703 million. Reuters cites "Swedish media" as its source, and, unlike the NEVS reports, does not describe a done deal.

It all marks the latest tentative twist in a long and winding saga of Saab, founded in 1945. General Motors acquired Saab in 2000 and sold it in 2010 to Dutch luxury sports car maker Spyker - after several on-again, off-again deals with other parties including China's Beijing Automotive Industry Holdings.

Spyker struggled, and put Saab into bankruptcy late last year. CEO Victor Mueller had tried to fend off bankruptcy by securing financing from Chinese and Russian investors and car makers including Youngman, but regulators and GM blocked those deals, the AP reported at the time. GM still owns some Saab intellectual property, and was concerned that its technology could land in the hands of Chinese competitors.

The Ursaab ('original Saab') 1948 prototype.

Whether and how the NEVS deal, or the new Youngman offer, would address GM's concerns is unclear.

But this much is certain: Stop and think for a second about the $250 million price tag that NEVS is reportedly paying. For some perspective, the market currently values Facebook at $57 billion, or 232 times as high. Facebook makes nothing. It profits by duping users into freely handing over valuable personal information, which is its raw material. Saab, when it's operating, makes cars.

Somehow, the $56.75 billion disparity seems absurdly skewed. It makes $250 million for a troubled automobile maker seem like a terrific bargain. I'll have three please!

Photos: Provence Moulage Saab 92 models from Pralkafranek via Flickr. Ursaab prototype from JeLuF via Wikimedia.

More electrifying vehicular insights from China, on SmartPlanet:

And some musings on corporate valuations:

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Mark Halper

Contributing Editor

Mark Halper has written for TIME, Fortune, Financial Times, the UK's Independent on Sunday, Forbes, New York Times, Wired, Variety and The Guardian. He is based in Bristol, U.K. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure