UPDATED: 8/6/12 2:20 pm ET - adds more GM comment
AMSTERDAM (Reuters) -- Dutch sportscar maker Spyker is suing General Motors Co. for more than $3 billion on behalf of its subsidiary Saab, accusing the U.S. automaker of deliberately bankrupting the Swedish group by blocking a deal with a Chinese investor.
Saab Automobile, one of Sweden's best-known brands, stopped production in May 2011 when it could no longer pay suppliers and employees. It went bust in December, less than two years after GM sold it to Spyker. GM's efforts to kill any sale were made to eliminate a potential rival in China, Spyker said.
Spyker CEO Victor Muller said GM "had it coming" with regard to the lawsuit.
"They never thought we would survive," he told Reuters. "Well, Spyker's still here. They assumed Spyker would end up in the graveyard with Saab and obviously that didn't happen."
GM never intended to allow Saab to compete with it in China, Spyker said in its complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Detroit.
"When Saab found a way to secure liquidity and continue as a going concern with the help of Chinese investors, GM was determined to scuttle the deal by any means necessary, including the publication of false information about its rights under the parties' contracts," Spyker said.
GM spokesman James Cain said the U.S. automaker had not seen the lawsuit yet, but added, "It is hard to believe."
Another GM spokesman, Dave Roman, called the lawsuit "without merit."
"We will vigorously defend the company against these baseless allegations," he said.
In asking for a jury trial, Spyker is seeking at least $3 billion in compensatory damages, as well as interest and punitive damages, and legal fees.
"GM's actions had the direct and intended objective of driving Saab Automobile into bankruptcy, a result of GM's... interfering with a transaction between Saab Automobile, Spyker and Chinese investor Youngman that would have permitted Saab Automobile to restructure and remain a solvent, going concern."
For months, Muller tried to pull off a rescue deal with various Russian, Middle Eastern and Chinese investors, including China's Pang Da Automobile Trade Co. and Zhejiang Youngman Lotus Automobile Co.
He told reporters the $3 billion claim was based on what Saab would have been worth if a deal with Chinese firm Zhejiang Youngman Lotus Automobile Co, or Youngman, had gone ahead.
Spyker spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in litigation fees preparing the case over the past six months, Muller said.
Spyker's lawsuit was being funded by an anonymous third party, who will share in any settlement, he said.
GM, which operates in China in a partnership with state-run automaker SAIC Motor Corp., late last year effectively blocked deals with two Chinese investors, Pang Da Automobile Trade Co. and Zhejiang Youngman Lotus Automobile.
GM said it would stop supplying vehicles and technology to Saab's new owners because it would run counter to the interests of its own shareholders. Saab filed for bankruptcy months later and stopped producing cars.
"GM created the appearance of initially encouraging Saab to enter into a deal with Chinese investors to save the company, only later to unlawfully pull the rug out from under Saab, driving it into bankruptcy liquidation," Spyker said in the lawsuit.
"Indeed, it was GM's intent by whatever means necessary to quash any financing or investment deal that could save Saab from liquidation, because GM simply sought to eliminate Saab from competition, particularly in the Chinese automobile market," the complaint said.
Spyker charged GM with interfering in a prospective deal with the Chinese companies by claiming it would no longer license its technology to or build cars for Saab even though the last agreement was structured to exclude the U.S. automaker's intellectual property, according to the lawsuit.
Saab had created its own vehicle platform that did not use any GM technology, so GM's statements that it would not support a deal were "intentionally false" because such support was not needed, Spyker said in the lawsuit. Spyker also said the agreement for GM to supply parts and build the Saab 9-4X SUV ran through 2014 and was not subject to termination "for convenience" by either company, the lawsuit said.
Saab, which had been making cars since 1947 and built a small, loyal following, was declared insolvent with debts of about 13 billion Swedish crowns ($1.93 billion), around 2.2 billion of which is owed to the Swedish Debt Office.
GM bought 50 percent of Saab in 1990 and the rest 10 years later. It decided to sell the brand in 2009 after the financial crisis and came close to closing it before Swedish Automobile, then called Spyker Cars, bought Saab in January 2010.
Despite its well known name, Saab was a niche players whose future had been questioned by analysts. Saab was profitable in only one of the 19 years GM owned it, executives with the Detroit automaker have said.
Following Saab's bankruptcy, Sweden's bankruptcy administrators in Sweden said they had chosen a consortium called National Electric Vehicle Sweden (NEVS) AB to buy Saab for an undisclosed sum. Muller said that deal was between the receivers and NEVS.
PRESS RELEASE: SPYKER FILES A THREE BILLION DOLLAR LAWSUIT AGAINST GENERAL MOTORS
Zeewolde, the Netherlands, 6 August 2012 -- Spyker N.V. ("Spyker") announced that it has filed a complaint against General Motors Company ("GM") in the United States District Court of the Eastern District of Michigan today at 08.00 AM EST. Spyker filed the complaint in its own right and on behalf of its 100 percent subsidiary Saab Automobile A.B., which was declared bankrupt on December 19, 2011.
This lawsuit seeks redress for the unlawful actions GM took to avoid competition with Saab Automobile in the Chinese market. GM's actions had the direct and intended objective of driving Saab Automobile into bankruptcy, a result of GM's tortiously interfering with a transaction between Saab Automobile, Spyker and Chinese investor Youngman that would have permitted Saab Automobile to restructure and remain a solvent, going concern. The monetary value of the claim amounts to US$ 3 billion (three billion US dollars).
Since Saab Automobile is in receivership and hence incapable to contribute to the costs of litigation, Spyker and Saab Automobile have entered into an agreement pursuant to which Spyker will bear the costs of such litigation in exchange for a very substantial share of Saab Automobile's award when the proceedings are successful. Spyker has secured the financial backing required to see the lawsuit through to the end from a third party investor.
Victor R. Muller, Spyker's Chief Executive Officer said: "Ever since we were forced to file for Saab Automobile's bankruptcy in December of last year, we have worked relentlessly on the preparation for this lawsuit which seeks to compensate Spyker and Saab for the massive damages we have incurred as a result of GM's unlawful actions.
We owe it to our stakeholders and ourselves that justice is done and we will pursue this lawsuit with the same tenacity and perseverance that we had when we tirelessly worked to save Saab Automobile, until GM destroyed those efforts and deliberately drove Saab Automobile into bankruptcy."
The Complaint, as filed this morning at 08.00 EST, is attached to this Press Release.