Victor Muller, the 51-year-old Dutch-born company doctor and founder of the Spyker sports car company, is about to conclude a deal with General Motors to acquire the troubled car maker, Saab.
Here he tells Steve Cropley how he aims to bring back the golden days of the Swedish company that built its first car in 1947.
What made you want to rescue Saab?
It’s what I do for a living, though I’m a genuine car lover as well. Until I founded Spyker I was a pretty successful acquisitions lawyer and a financier. Some of the money I made, I managed to lose again on Spyker, though we now have an new direction for that company. But with Saab, I’m doing what I’m best at.
How will you know you’ve succeeded?
When Saab is profitable, and making the cars people want to buy. I estimate we’ll need a volume of around 100,000 cars, nearly all made in Trollhattan to pay for the infrastructure. The proceeds of every car we make over that will go straight to the bottom line.
What will the model range consist of?
We’ve got a new 9-5 ready to go, the 9-4X SUV is coming towards the end of the year. The 9-3 is our staple model, and still has life in it. And at the moment I’m driving a design for a new small car.
Are you playing a role in the design process?
Sure, I’m doing things with it every day. It’s going to be the coolest thing since the Mini. I carry renderings of the latest designs with me, and I talk to the Saab guys all the time. I want it to be influenced by the first Saab, in fact my codename for it is 92, like the first one. It uses the original teardrop shape; the aircraft with no wings. That’s where Saab cars came from.
When will it hit the market? Will your partner be GM?
Too early to say. I’ve been working full-time on the deal and that’s not done yet. We will need a partner, but it would be extraordinary to go announcing partnerships before you own the company. But I can tell you this is going to be a hyper-modern, super-cool car, every bit as iconic as the Fiat 500 or Mini or Beetle. Everyone’s going to want one, and it’s long overdue.
How have the Swedes taken the news?
People talk about cold, unemotional Swedes: I didn’t see any of that. They were overjoyed; you can see it on YouTube. We made our announcement on 26 January, and ever since the dealers have been referring to it as Independence Day.
How will you bring the customers back?
That’s the simplest job we have. I believe they’ll flock back in hordes. There are 1.5 million Saabs on the road, and 4.5 million people with recent Saab experience. I don’t actually need any new customers to do this; I just need my old customers back!
Who will own the company?
Saab will be a publicly listed company. I’ll control around 30 per cent, and there are other major shareholders that account for about another 30. The rest will be held by lots of other small shareholders who believe in what we’re doing.
Who will manage the Saab?
The future management is the one you already know. Jan Ake Jonsson is CEO of Saab Automobile NV. He’ll be back on the board within a week. He has lots of experience, and heads a great team.
Can Saab and Spyker live together?
Let’s get this straight: Spyker is not acquiring Saab. This is an acquisition by shareholders. Saab’s management won’t be Spyker’s management. However, it’s true that one big beneficiary of this deal will be Spyker, which will have a powerful new ally with crash facilities, a wind tunnel, 1100 dealers - stuff it could never have dreamt of. But above all, Saab will continue to be Saab, and we will be good shepherds.