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Saab runs out of road as lengthy rescue quest fails

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Sweden's struggling Saab ran out of room for manoeuvre on Monday, as the car maker's Dutch owner called time on a nine-month battle to find a rescue plan and filed for its bankruptcy.

The end of the road for Saab, which has been making cars for more than 60 years, came at the weekend when General Motors again vetoed a plan involving Chinese investor Zhejiang Youngman Lotus Automobile.

GM, Saab's former owner, still licences key technology to it and has a small shareholding.

Saab owner Swedish Automobile said that after GM had informed Youngman it would not approve the plan, the Chinese company told Saab "the funding to continue and complete the reorganization ... could not be concluded."

Swedish Automobile shares, which had been suspended, plunged when trade resumed on Monday.

"The board of Saab Automobile subsequently decided that the company, without further funding, will be insolvent and that filing bankruptcy is in the best interests of its creditors."

Swedish Automobile said in the statement that it expected the court would approve the filing and appoint receivers soon.

Saab presented its first prototype in 1947 after moving out of aeronautical engineering and built a small, loyal following.

A separate Saab defence and security company still exists.

General Motors bought 50 percent of the car company in 1990 and the rest in 2000.

It decided to sell the brand in 2009 after the financial crisis and came close to closing it before Swedish Automobile, then called Spyker Cars, bought Saab in January 2010.

But Saab began to face cash problems in March this year after 2010 sales fell short of target and it halted production.

It briefly restarted output at its plant in west Sweden, but mounting debts to suppliers caused another halt in April, since when it has not made any vehicles.

Swedish Automobile chief executive Victor Muller stitched together a series of deals to rescue Saab, but General Motors has said it could not accept an option involving Youngman.

GM, which operates in China in a partnership with state-run SAIC Motor Corp Ltd., said in November continuing to supply parts and technology to Saab's new owners would run counter to the interest of its own shareholders.

Despite its well-known name, Saab was a niche player and analysts had questioned its future even if Muller had kept the company afloat.

It has the capacity to produce more than 100,000 cars a year running on two shifts.

Swedish rival Volvo, successfully rescued by China's Geely Automobile Holdings Ltd. in 2010, made almost four times that last year and plans on selling 50,000 cars in China alone this year.

Muller's efforts to keep Saab afloat had focused initially on getting Russian businessman Vladimir Antonov to invest, but his role was vetoed by the European Investment Bank (EIB), which has lent money to Saab.

Antonov was subsequently indicted by Lithuania for fraud and is fighting extradition from Britain.

Muller later turned to Chinese investment and first lined up Hawtai Motor Group in May, but that fell through. He then agreed the failed deal with Chinese car distributor Pang Da and Youngman.

Muller, 52, is a former mergers and acquisitions lawyer who made his fortune from Dutch fashion brand McGregor before revamping loss-making luxury sports car maker Spyker, which he jointly owned with Antonov.

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