Just before the Saab-Hawtai joint venture deal unraveled last week, Saab Automobile Chairman Victor Muller laid out the latest scenario of how Chinese-made cars might come to the United States:
An established, but struggling, brand with a nationwide dealer network -- Saab, for example -- might sign on as a distributor.
Spyker Cars, which owns Saab, had signed a deal just days before with Hawtai Motor Group of China for a joint venture that included technology, manufacturing and distribution in China.
Although it clearly was intended to put Saab in China, Muller told reporters (before he abruptly and mysteriously left a press event in Washington to deal with what soon would be revealed as the collapse of the Hawtai deal) that the China train could run both ways.
He didn't specifically say Saab would distribute Hawtai vehicles. But he said Saab's global distribution network would be tempting for Hawtai -- or some other Chinese manufacturer.
"It took 67 years to build up our dealer network. It is the biggest asset not on our asset sheet, and these guys buy into it for free," Muller said of Hawtai. "If they make the proper cars, can you image how much simpler it will be to push product through the distribution network that is already there?"
Though Hawtai may be out of the picture for now, Muller made it clear even before the deal fell through that Hawtai wasn't the only Chinese company that might find Saab appealing as a distributor.
"There are 120 companies" in China, he said. Saab would be interested in "the one with a strategy."