IMPORTANT NEWS: National Electric Vehicle Sweden has agreed to buy the assets of Saab Automobile and the sale is expected to be finalized during the summer.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Rachel Pang of Youngman talks with Svenska Dagbladet

Reporter Jonas Fröberg of Svenska Dagbladet has done an excellent interview with Rachel Pang, CEO of Youngman Automobile. Below is a translation:

"Like ending a romantic relationship"

Rachel Pang, Saab speculator in a world dominated by suits. Now the previously inaccessible 29-year-old talks open-heartedly about the journey with Saab and Victor Muller - in an interview partially done from the passenger seat as she drives around, showing off her hometown in China.

After the interview, I have written a discreet note in the margin of the writing pad. "Shoulders slightly raised. Fingers entwined. Has dignity. "

Photo: Magnus Hjalmarson Neideman, Svenska Dagbladet

-Get in, says Rachel Pang and gets behind the wheel of a big black Mercedes, parked diagonally in front of the headquarter's entrance. She apologizes, says it's her mother's car. She herself is driving a small Youngman-Lotus.

We travel the few kilometers into the city of Jinhua in the Zhejiang Province, her hometown, a three-hour train ride south of Shanghai.

Why Saab?

-Technology, safety, and because it is part of Youngman's strategy to get a premium brand, she says thoughtfully.

She speaks English easily after three and a half years in England, where she took a degree in business administration. The first contact with Saab was made in October 2010. Then Rachel Pang was about to become president of the passenger car division and worked closely with English Lotus to produce cheap everyday cars.

What was your first impression of Victor Muller?

-It was in Shanghai in February last year. He was charismatic, passionate... an incredible entrepreneur. It was hard not to be impressed.

Just over two months later, in May last year, the tone was quite opposite. Despite the agreement with Youngman, Victor Muller negotiated with several other Chinese manufacturers. Behind Rachel Pang’s back. He finally chose Hawtai.

How did you find out?

She sighs.

-Victor told me face to face just before it was announced. I was very sad. We had put in so much work.

She is silent for a moment.

-It was like ending a romantic relationship. But they apparently did not have faith in us.

Why not?

-I do not know. It was the Board of Directors of Saab's parent company, Swan, which made the decision. But I know that they did not get all the relevant information.

A few weeks later Saab's business development manager Martin Larsson called. Saab wanted to collaborate again, this time also with the car dealership chain Pang Da.

Did you hesitate?

-We did not think that much on the risk for us then, we wanted to save the company, she says.

Thereafter an autumn with constantly lack of funds followed, reorganization and ultimately bankruptcy. Youngman was accused of not keeping their promises.


-You have to remember that Saab was in a very bad shape. Victor and the people at Saab did not understand all the Chinese rules. All the big money transfers must be approved by the NDRC.

Could you have avoided reconstruction?

-We had transferred EUR 20 million. We had reached a limit and it took time to get permission to transfer more money.

Give us a quick analysis: Why did you fail last autumn?

-Partly because the money transfers were difficult. But also because of GM's no, and that others wanted to acquire Saab also caused problems. All in all it became too complex.

Are you in contact with Victor Muller today?

-Yes, he sends text messages sometimes and asks what the situation is.

We are approaching the city centre. Skyscrapers spread out. The assistant and the photographer Magnus are in the back seat. The seat upholstery is mustard colored and longhaired. Suddenly Rachel Pang lifts her arm and points.

-That’s where I live.

Imagine a mixture of Strandvägen [a certain road] in Stockholm and Manhattan on the "fine" north side of the river that divides the city. It's a penthouse apartment in a newly built skyscraper with panoramic views of the homeland.

-When I was a child I went with my father at various factories and got an early taste for working in the family business. After my education, I worked two months in the bus assembly - and no one knew who I was.

How was it like?

-Educational. But later on it became known who I was. Since then I've been working with import and export and I’ve been at several other departments.

It beeps every now and then when the mobile phone which is located between the seats receives text messages, she glances at it, but continue to talk.

Now she is CEO of Youngman's car manufacturing, which is operated in collaboration with Lotus Cars, which is owned by Malaysian Proton. Last year only 35,000 cars of two models were sold in China. But they are about to launch several new models. It requires a lot of collaboration with Lotus and many teleconferences with England - in the middle of the Saab circus.

-When it has been at the most intense with Saab, I’ve talked to my father on the phone every day at midnight. Afterwards I sit very often in conference calls with Europe at 3 – 4 o'clock at night. Then I sleep a little and start working again.

Rachel Pang and her father Pang Qingnian.
Photo: Magnus Hjalmarson Neideman, Svenska Dagbladet

Does it work out well to have your own father as your boss?

-Yes, I understand that me being a 29-year-old means that I do not always have the most experience. I discuss all the important issues with him.


-I have very little free time, but I love to cook. Creating meals in peace and quiet. It's relaxing, she says, smiling.

We have now come into the city centre and sat down at a Starbucks Coffee Shop. Her untouched latte is smoking hot. She continues to talk.

-The acquisition team totals around ten people from several departments. But for several weeks last autumn I was completely alone in Sweden. Then we worked almost around the clock.

She is quiet and prepares.

-It was written that I did not show up at the District Court in December. But the fact was that I got sick. I'd been working too much.

Honestly, did you consider giving up after the bankruptcy?

-No, not really. We had spent close to EUR 50 million on Saab.

Now she is back in Sweden. Travelling around with a delegation together with her father, and have nearly met with everyone in the Swedish political elite.

Do you believe in reviving Saab?

-Yes I do. But I am aware that it will take a lot of work the first years.