Investor's Saab dream hits the skids

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Norwegian designer and entrepreneur Bård Eker says he’s disappointed and bitter after spending half a year and millions in consulting fees in a failed effort to take over ailing Swedish carmaker Saab. Eker and his fellow investors collided with bureaucrats and big business, resulting in intolerable delays.

“This is sad and really bitter,” Eker told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv on Wednesday. “We’d already been saying for weeks that we had to pull the hand brake. We just couldn’t continue with this.”
Eker says the “process” of dealing with Saab owner General Motors, Swedish government officials and EU regulators simply took too much time. He and his fellow entrepreneurial investors, including the founder of mobile phone firm VimpelCom and luxury carmaker Koenigsegg, are accustomed to moving faster than the complicated rescue of Saab allowed.”When we had to use way too much time and couldn’t get a deal in place, our business plan was idled and we couldn’t get cars to market,” Eker said. “It wasn’t possible to put our plan into action.”

Saab was forced into limbo, and car sales have all but screeched to a halt. Saab sold more than 130,000 cars in 2006. Sales this year will probably amount to less than 30,000.

Heavy losses in earlier years, effects of the global finance crisis and uncertainty surrounding Saab’s future have taken a heavy, perhaps fatal, toll. Eker worries the venerable Swedish carmaker in Trollhättan won’t survive.

“That’s what’s worst, ” Eker told Aftenposten , worrying about the “thousands of (Saab) workers who relied on us and believed in us. We’ve had to turn off the lights.”

Saab’s fate may be decided at a General Motors board meeting next week. GM officials claimed they were also disappointed that the investor group around Koenigsegg pulled out of the deal after having secured a letter of intent last summer.

Eker, who built up a fortune running a car design firm in Fredrikstad, owns 49 percent of the Koenigsegg Group and now plans to go back to designing high-priced sportscars for the carmaker that’s also Swedish.

“We have more than enough to do,” he said. “We’ll continue with Koenigsegg as before.”