Saab’s Chinese savior dismisses doubts

UP TO SCRATCH?:It has been reported that Sweden’s ambassador to China had warned the foreign ministry that Hawtai may have inflated its output information


Sat, May 07, 2011 - Page 10

Saab’s new partner Hawtai (華泰) yesterday defended itself against claims reportedly made by a top Swedish diplomat that raised doubts about the Chinese automaker’s ability to salvage the Swedish car brand.

In a deal unveiled on Tuesday, Hawtai is set to inject 150 million euros (US$223 million) into cash-strapped Saab through a partnership including joint ventures in manufacturing, technology and distribution.

The Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet on Thursday said Stockholm’s ambassador to China had warned the foreign ministry that Hawtai may have inflated its output data and had changed chief executives several times in recent years.

“We haven’t received any [complaints] through official -channels,” said Gao Hongjun, Hawtai’s head of public relations and communications.

He said it was “impossible” to exaggerate corporate figures as they were made public by official auto industry groups.

As for stability in the company’s upper echelons, Gao said top executives had not left the firm, but had simply been sent to lead newly established subsidiaries, such as an engine-making company as Hawtai expanded.

“They are still with the company. You can walk in at any time and see them,” the spokesman said.

The report submitted by Swedish ambassador Lars Freden also allegedly said that although Hawtai has existed for 10 years, it had produced cars under its own brand name for only about a year — suggesting it was unprepared to help Saab.

However, Gao said Hawtai, which used to make cars for South Korea’s Hyundai, had started offering sports utility vehicles under its own brand in 2004.

“The media has the right and obligation to be skeptical,” Gao said. “We will release to them the information that we should publicize when it is necessary via press conferences or other means.”

Saab spokesman Eric Geers said on Thursday that it was “a bit unfortunate that the interpretation in certain media [of the embassy’s report] was not exactly right.”

He added that Freden was present at the announcement of the partnership in Beijing, “and he congratulated Victor Muller,” the head of Saab’s Dutch owner Spyker, “several times during the press conference.”

“It is important for us to say that we believe, and Hawtai believes, that this is an absolutely fantastic partnership,” Geers said.