Pang Da and affiliate companies operate a vast network of auto dealerships across China, selling western brands such as Audi, Mercedes, VW, Toyota, Subaru, Hyundai and Kia and domestics such as Jiefang, GM Wuling and MG. Pictured is a VW shop in Shanghai
Google. "Pang Da" [enter]. "BOAT STERCULIA SEEDS - Pang Da Hai, Quantity: 50g, GBP1.25 (zero-rated). A seed to help moisten the lung and to clear the throat. May help the discomfort of tonsilitis and voice hoarseness." Try again. "Pang Da Automobile Trade Company" [enter]. Eventually, we arrive at the auto distribution company's international home page.
Where we learn that 'Pangda' Automobile Trade Company, Ltd, "is a large automobile marketing enterprise focusing on the trade of automobiles". It was originally part of Tang Shan Jidong Material Group and predecessor company “Tang Shan Jidong Mechanical and Electrical Equipment can be traced back to the Luan Country Materials Bureau Electrical Equipment Company established in 1988."
Most industry observers outside China may not have heard of it, but Pang Da (or Pangda, both spellings are used) is a pretty big auto distributor by western standards with, at the end of 2010, 926 sales outlets in 23 provinces, cities and autonomous regions of China and Mongolia.
Add in subsidiaries and affiliates, and branches, and it counts 1197 outlets selling and servicing passenger cars and commercial vehicles, representing 83 brands.
It sold 470,000 vehicles of all types in 2010 (of the 18m total for China last year) and made a CNY1.243bn profit on revenue of CNY53.774bn.
What now remains to be seen is whether Pang Da can deliver what it plans, as detailed in Spyker's announcement today - a 50/50 distribution joint venture and a manufacturing joint venture (MJV) for Saab brand vehicles as well as an MJV-owned brand (a so-called 'child brand') in China.
Saab Automobile will have up to 50% in the MJV, with Pang Da and a yet-to-be-selected manufacturing partner owning the remaining shares.
That yet-to-be-selected manufacturing partner is critical. To sell cars at a competitive price, you need, as in Brazil, India and Russia, the other 'BRIC' emerging markets, to assemble locally (to avoid high taxes levied on full imports) and that, in Saab's case, is going to require a partner able to source parts and build cars to western quality standards as rivals like Audi (Shanghai Automotive), BMW (China Brilliance) and Buick (the Shanghai/GM assembly JV) already have achieved. Those ventures involved considerable technology transfer and now produce models unique to China such as the long wheelbase BMW 5 series and Audi A6 developed for the local chauffeur-drive market.
That technology transfer could be troublesome. As Spyker noted, GM's approval is also needed for the deal as its current technology is in the new 9-5, developed before Saab was sold to Spyker, and in the current 9-3; both share GM's Epsilon platforms and engines.
And then there's the new 9-4X, built in a GM plant in Mexico and essentially, as was the earlier 9-7X, a reworked GM Chevrolet/GMC crossover. It might suit the Chinese market, but would GM let it be sold there by a Saab JV, competing with the Buicks and Cadillacs sold by its own JV with SAIC?
Just to complicate things even more, old Saab technology, the previous generation 9-3 and 9-5 on GM platforms, was sold to Beijing Automotive (BAIC) in 2009. Saab said at the time it had sold "powertrain technology and tooling" and would "assist BAIC to integrate this technology into future BAIC vehicles".
Way up the priority list before all that, there's the issue of unpaid suppliers, who need to be brought back on line before any new Saabs can again roll off the Swedish line.
"With the receipt of Pang Da's EUR30m initial payment, Saab Automobile aims to come to an agreement on payment and delivery terms with its suppliers as it secured the liquidity that is required to restart production as soon as possible," Spyker said today.
"In order to improve lead times to customers and dealers on existing and future orders, Saab will work together with its suppliers to minimise any impact from the recent production stop."
But, just a few days ago, Europe's Association of Automotive Suppliers (CLEPA) said Saab's haste in trying to tie the financial knot with Chinese automaker Hawtai had almost inevitably led to that deal's demise and prompted Muller to travel to China yet again to try and find a new partner - Pang Da.
"You don't make deals of this size that quickly, nothing in China happens without government approval," CLEPA CEO Lars Holmqvist told just-auto.
He also stressed Saab still owed suppliers a "tremendous amount of money" and had endured cash shortages for a significant amount of time.
While Muller seems to think EUR30m will do for starters, Holmqvist thinks he needs far more.
"They won't get any parts until they pay the suppliers," Holmqvist added. "If somebody has a billion euros or so, and believes they can save Saab, then good luck but that is the money you would need."
The Scandinavian suppliers association FKG was also cautious.
"If this comes true, it could be a first step in a restart," FKG managing director Sven-Ake Berglie told just-auto today. "But from a suppliers side, most suppliers are reluctant to do anything yet.
"Naturally, [the] first step would be to start discussing repayment of the overdue bills and then start to plan for production restart. We don't think it will be that easy. This [is] a really empty supply chain right now - it is off if one or two suppliers have problems getting raw material or components"
Berglie conceded the Pang Da tie-up could offer the automaker interesting China distribution potential, but insisted more long-term financing was still an issue.