STOCKHOLM, Sweden - Troubled automaker Saab, known for its quirky, rounded cars, moved closer to financial collapse Thursday after a Swedish court rejected its request for bankruptcy protection.
The ruling by the Vanersborg District Court means the Swedish brand, which has struggled financially since General Motors Co. sold it to Netherlands-based Spyker Cars in 2010, is now only days away from facing bankruptcy action from trade unions. Spyker has since changed names to Swedish Automobile.
The company has struggled to pay suppliers and staff, and production at its manufacturing plant in Trollhattan, Sweden, has been suspended for most of the year.
Swedish Automobile said it would appeal the court's decision before the deadline on Sept. 29.
However, it is unclear whether the appeals court will accept the request and the unions representing Saab's 3,700 employees said they would take bankruptcy action within days on behalf of members still waiting for their August salaries.
Bankruptcy protection in Sweden is similar to Chapter 11 in the United States, allowing a company to reorganize, buying it time to improve its finances and stave off liquidation. During that period the Swedish government pays employees' salaries. That government salary guarantee also kicks in if a company is declared bankrupt.
Swedish Automobile had submitted an application for bankruptcy protection on Wednesday, including plans for a reorganization it claimed would help revitalize the brand.
But the court said it remains unclear how Saab - which underwent a reorganization under GM in 2009 - will find the money it needs to stay afloat.
Swedish Automobile's Dutch CEO, Victor Muller, is hoping for a C245 million ($344 million) cash injection from Chinese investors Zhejiang Youngman Lotus Automobile Co. and Pang Da Automobile Trade Co. that is currently awaiting regulatory approval.
“It appears unclear if - and if so when - the relevant Chinese authorities will approve the agreements,” the court said, adding that other financial solutions presented by the company don't seem sustainable.
“In sum, the court finds that it appears unclear how the company will be able to solve the liquidity crisis and continue operations,” the ruling said.
Saab said in a statement it was “disappointed” and would appeal the decision and update the market “on further developments” Friday. It gave no details.
Hakan Skott, local club chairman of labour union IF Metall in Trollhattan, called the court's decision “sad” and said union members will consider filing bankruptcy proceedings against Saab within “the next couple of days.”
“We are nearing 14 days without salary payments and the financial situation is becoming very difficult for some of our members,” Skott said.
Unionen, a labour organization for white-collar workers, said it would wait no more than three days before filing a bankruptcy petition for Saab - if the company doesn't do it before then.
“It is our opinion that an employer that ends up in a situation like this should put itself into bankruptcy,” said Martin Wastfelt, the union's chief legal adviser.
Tom Muller, an analyst at Theodoor Gilissen in Amsterdam, said he believes the unions can wait a maximum of two to three days before making a bankruptcy filing.
“The company can do only one thing and that is to give them money,” said Muller, who is not related to the Swedish Automobile chief executive. “The members have to eat. ... People cannot live on promises.”
He said he doesn't believe Swedish Automobile will manage to find the funds in time.
“It's a good car, there is nothing wrong with the product, but it's the financial situation that's the problem,” he said.