Saab, Hawtai Rebuff Embassy Criticism

Saab’s new partner Hawtai on Friday 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 ($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,” Gao Hongjun, Hawtai’s head of public relations and communications, told AFP.

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 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.

But 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 sceptical,” Gao said. “We will release to them the information that we should publicise when it is necessary via press conferences or other means.”

Officials at Sweden’s embassy in Beijing said Friday they could not immediately comment on the report, directing queries to the foreign ministry in Stockholm.

Saab spokesman Eric Geers told AFP 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 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.

Tuesday’s deal, which plans for Hawtai to take a 29.9 percent stake in Saab’s Dutch owner Spyker, came as a last-minute lifeline for the cash-strapped Swedish brand.

Saab suspended production almost a month ago as suppliers halted deliveries over unpaid bills.


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