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Penske said to be considering bid for GM's Saturn

Tue, 05 May 2009

Roger Penske is considering a bid for General Motors' Saturn brand, a source familiar with the auto entrepreneur's plans said today.

Penske is studying the issue but has made no proposals, said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Penske, whose Penske Automotive Group dealership chain distributes Daimler AG's Smart microcars in the United States, is the second entity known to have an interest in Saturn.

In April, an investor group called Telesto Ventures said it wants to acquire Saturn's retail operations and provide dealers with vehicles from GM through 2011. After that, most vehicles would come from overseas manufacturers.

The Wall Street Journal reported Penske's interest late yesterday.

Penske, 72, is CEO of the suburban Detroit dealership group, which ranks No. 2 behind AutoNation Inc. on the Automotive News list of the top 125 U.S. auto retailers with 2008 new-vehicle sales of 171,872.

Multiple parties interested

The company, which has 149 dealerships representing 40 brands, today reported a profit of $16.2 million for the first quarter, down from $31.9 million a year earlier.

Penske's U.S. auto holdings include truck leasing, logistics and auto racing. In 1988 he acquired the money-losing Detroit Diesel Corp. from General Motors and turned around the heavy-duty engine maker within four years. He sold the company to DaimlerChrysler AG in 2000.

GM said on Monday that it has a number of potential buyers for Saturn and its retail network and will attempt to conclude a deal this year.

GM retained S.J. Girsky & Co., which is headed by former Wall Street analyst Steve Girsky, as an adviser to help it review potential buyers.

GM, which is operating on $15.4 billion of U.S. government loans, is scrambling to unload underperforming brands, including Saturn, Saab and Hummer, as part of a sweeping restructuring mandated by the U.S. government.

The automaker faces a June 1 deadline to convince the U.S. auto task force overseeing its restructuring that it has a viable business plan and merits additional U.S. aid.

Telesto, a unit of private equity firm Black Oak Partners LLC, said last month that it has approached GM about buying the assets of the Saturn brand and its distribution network.

GM has confirmed it had been in discussions with Black Oak.

Saturn went on sale in 1990 in an attempt to head off Japanese imports. The brand's sales fell 22 percent in 2008 compared with 2007, while the U.S. industry as a whole was off 18.0 percent.

Jamie LaReau and Reuters contributed to this report.

By Philip Nussel- Automotive News