A few weeks old news....


Saab's Norwegian savior seeks to revive 'soul'

OSLO (Reuters) -- Baard Eker, the Norwegian designer behind the unlikely bid for General Motors' Saab unit, wants to rejuvenate the "soul and spirit" of the money-losing Swedish carmaker and lead a creative revival in the auto industry.


Eker controls tiny Swedish supercar maker Koenigsegg Automotive AB and has helped get Norwegian and U.S. financial investors to buy Saab from GM, in what is one the strangest potential deals yet in the ongoing restructuring of the global auto industry.

"Saab has to refine their quality level, their soul and spirit and we believe that this is something we can help with," Eker said in a telephone interview.

"The most interesting thing is that GM thinks the same," added Eker, whose company owns 49 percent in Koenigsegg, designs the supercars as well as other luxury items such as speedboats and top-of-the-line video projectors.

Eker would not comment on the specifics of negotiations with bankrupt GM, which could last several more months, but he said that private investors had placed their faith and money in his Saab bid at a time when the credit crisis still crimps liquidity.

"There is not as much capital around these days, but there are also not as many interesting projects, and we have been told that this is a very interesting project to be a part of financially," said Eker, 47.

Koenigsegg's offer, which is backed by the Swedish government, has raised eyebrows because it entails the purchase of a company producing almost 100,000 cars per year by a firm which annually sells just dozens of its $1 million two-seat roadsters.

A greener Saab

Eker said the global auto industry has lacked creativity and failed to change in line with consumer attitudes on both style and other issues, such as growing awareness of the environment and the harm caused by gasoline emissions.

"So far we haven't seen much in terms of environmentally friendly cars from the big (players)," he said. "That is something the smaller companies can more easily attend to because it is much quicker to turn around a smaller company."

Asked if a "greener" Saab could be in the works, Eker said: "Obviously we have some ideas but it's too early to talk about them ... but environmental thinking is a very important thing in our view."

Eker said large amounts of expertise in the auto industry has been effectively outsourced to suppliers, who "sometimes steer the design and development phase too much" resulting in "more and more similarity" between car brands.

"GM is maybe one of the most significant manufacturers which (offers cars that) people feel are a little old and perhaps too late out on the market," said Eker, whose personal wealth was estimated by Norway's Kapital magazine at $70 million in 2008.

He said that production in Sweden and other Scandinavian countries, which have relatively high costs, means that the focus has to be on "high-margin products," but he declined to specify which audience he was targeting for Saab.

No plans to manage Saab

An architect and industrial designer by training, Eker seeks to craft the vision and direction of Saab and not micro-manage.

"They have a good management team, and obviously that is something we will not interfere with," he said.

Eker said the car industry faced "much more pain ahead" but that the opportunity to buy Saab was simply too good to pass up.

"The auto industry survivors will be much more dependent on bringing something new to the table in terms of technology and environmental thinking" after the crisis ends, he said. "Rising to such opportunities is one of our strengths."



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