General Motors Corp. said a group including Black Oak Partners LLC and some dealers is one of “multiple bidders” for the automaker’s Saturn division, as GM cuts back under its survival plan.
The Black Oak group initially would sell GM vehicles through Saturn’s 440 U.S. and Canadian dealers and later might add models from other automakers, focusing on fuel efficiency, according to a statement Wednesday. Steve Janisse, a GM spokesman, wouldn’t identify any of the other potential buyers but said Detroit-based GM plans to update Saturn dealers late this week or early next week.
“There are multiple bidders and they are a diverse group,” Janisse said.
The Saturn brand was born and raised in Spring Hill, where workers made Saturn compacts and crossover SUVs from 1990 until the spring of 2007. The plant has since been retooled for the Chevrolet Traverse SUV.
GM faces a June 1 deadline for a possible government-ordered bankruptcy and is trying to shed Saturn as well as its Hummer and Saab brands. The Obama administration said last month the largest U.S. automaker’s plan to return to profit wasn’t aggressive enough and told it to cut $47 billion in unsecured claims by more than the 59 percent GM proposed in February.
Black Oak, a private equity firm that doesn’t provide financial data or have a Web site, also has investments in banking, oil and real estate, said Jeff Beaver, a spokesman. The group, which didn’t disclose any financial terms, isn’t giving any information on its funding, he said.
The investors want to buy assets including Saturn’s intellectual property and trademarks without assuming any GM debt tied to the unit, said John S. Pappanastos, another spokesman for Oklahoma City-based Black Oak. Dealers would continue to own their outlets, he said.
The Black Oak group would form a new Saturn Distribution Corp. to sell vehicles through the brand’s network and doesn’t plan to build cars, according to its statement.
The group expects to be able to run Saturn profitably with about 250,000 annual sales, said Pappanastos. The division sold 188,004 vehicles in the U.S. last year, a 22 percent decline from 240,091 in 2007. Its sales tumbled 59 percent in this year’s first quarter.
Pappanastos is chief executive officer of Black Oak unit EFG Cos., and is on loan to the investor group. He said that its other members aren’t being disclosed and that more information may be released next week.
GM established the Saturn brand in 1985, five years before selling the first vehicle. Most of the brand’s U.S. dealers are stand-alone outlets, according to GM. Sales reached a peak in 1994 at 286,003 vehicles, according to Autodata Corp.
On March 5, GM said it retained Stephen Girsky to advise the Saturn division and dealers on the process of either selling the unit or spinning it off. If neither option works, Saturn would be closed by 2011.
A letter sent to dealers last month said a plan for Saturn would be completed 60 days from Feb. 18. A task force of dealers is working with Saturn officials on the plan, and GM had been asked to provide the initial funding for the review.