New Saab owner: 'It's a miracle we are still selling cars'
Dutch sports car maker, Spyker, acquired the ailing Swedish auto maker, Saab, at the start of this year. CEO Muller is confident about a U-turn in Saab’s fortunes.
At the end of January Victor Muller, CEO of the small Dutch sports car firm, Spyker, bought the much bigger Swedish company, Saab. Another bidder, Swedish racing-car maker Koenigsegg, had suddenly dropped out of the race and Muller was able to assemble financiers from all over the globe to put together the billion dollars (796 euros) needed to buy the company from its American owner, General Motors (GM).
That wasn’t difficult to accomplish, Muller said, speaking from his Spyker
factory in Zeewolde, the Netherlands. He hardly needed to exercise
persuasion. It was obvious Saab had a glorious future ahead. But then Muller
is a born optimist.
When asked about Saab's lacking profits in recent years, Mulder said this was nonsense. According to Mulder, the problem was that the profitable portions of Saab were integrated into GM’s accounts.
Could he, then, produce figures showing that Saab had profitable periods in the last ten years? No, he could not. “It’s all in GM’s accounts.” But he was certain Saab is going to make profits by 2012. Once the company sells about 120,000 cars per year, its production costs will be covered. That will easily rescue Saab, said Muller, even though sales have only been falling in the past years. In 2006, Saab sold 125.000 cars; in 2008, 78,000.
Correct, Muller admitted, but those were actually excellent sales figures, since Saab hadn’t put a single new model on the market in 13 years.
“Every year, the same model sat in the showroom. If you think about this logically, why should you buy the same model of car after five years?”
General Motors flogged those models to death, according to Muller. “And still we were selling cars! That’s a miracle. It shows how loyal our customers are.”
With new Saab models expected on the market, he is certain sales will rise. The first new model, the 9-5, will appear in June. Muller intends to compete with brands like Audi and BMW.
At Spyker’s last shareholders’ meeting you said that this deal is also very good for Spyker. What does it contribute to Spyker?
“It isn’t good for Spyker. It’s brilliant for Spyker. Suddenly we have acquired a large network of dealers, Saab-dealers, who will now place Spykers in their showrooms, in Paris and Frankfurt, for example. It took Spyker ten years to acquire 35 dealers. Now, with one blow, we have many more.”
But people who buy a Saab don’t often have money for a Spyker, right?
“That’s correct, but that’s not the issue. What matters is that those dealers know the business. They are into cars, and they have a network. They are sure to have a file full of people they can contact who are able to buy a Spyker.”
Some shareholders were afraid that, with the acquisition of Saab, you would be through with Spyker. Is that so?
“Spyker must become profitable in the foreseeable future, by which I mean 2012. I think Saab will help tremendously. Distribution, component purchase, testing, purchase of technology, all of this has now become cheaper. If it stilldoesn’t succeed, then sorry, I think there is no place for Spyker in the market.
Which market will Saab focus on?
“The largest markets are Sweden, the UK and North America.”
Perhaps the Russian market?
“That can be interesting.”
With help from banker Vladimir Antonov, who was formerly a major Spyker shareholder?
“Yes, he may offer opportunities.”
A condition for General Motors in selling Saab to Spyker was that Antonov should sell his shares in Spyker. Is it true that he privately helped finance the acquisition?
“That’s correct. Antonov financed me 100 percent. He lent me the 74 million dollars cash we had to pay for the take-over. The Americans knew that. That’s why it made no sense. It was a pointless discussion, I found. He was unjustly associated with criminal money and laundering.
You are a businessman, a dealmaker. If Saab succeeds in becoming profitable in 2012, will your task be complete?
“We suddenly have a company with a turnover of two billion euros. If we achieve our goals in the next two to three years, there are no longer any limits. Then the sky is the limit. I think I’ll enjoy working with Saab for years.”