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.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Former Saab Chairman and CEO Victor Muller talks

Local Trollhättan newspaper TTELA has done an interview with Saab's former large owner, Chairman and CEO Victor Muller. Here's a translation.

Muller on life after Saab

"I have come out of it in a good way"

Today, three months after Saab's bankruptcy, Victor Muller reappears for the first time in public at a conference in Stockholm

TTELA got an exclusive interview with him yesterday about life after Saab, the opportunity to spend time with family and plans for Spyker.

It's cold at Arlanda airport and Victor Muller tightens the scarf around his neck.

- It really is a temperature difference between Sweden and Mallorca. Has it been this cold all the time?

Picture: Tomas Fasth, TTELA

When we have gotten into the car for the journey to the hotel in Stockholm - his friend Lars Carlström driving his Saab 9-5 - we start talking about the time that has passed following the bankruptcy. Victor Muller wants to look ahead.

- I have kept a low profile. I have been available for the administrators, but they and the other stakeholders have not been in contact for a while now. I think it will change if and when an interested party emerge.

He notes that it is a very difficult situation for anyone who wants to start operations in Trollhättan connected to Saab.

Do you see any similarity to when you took over from GM?

- No, it is very different. It's a completely different situation. The brand Saab was damaged after GM started to liquidate the company. But it's still nothing like now.

- These three months have not been good for the brand. First, you have all the dealers who have disappeared, and you have the fact that hundreds of employees moved on to other companies.

And not least, says Muller, GM's definite "no" creates massive problems for anyone who wants to manufacture Saabs.

- Our friends in Detroit have made it terribly clear to everyone that they will not endorse any candidates. And they've done it in a public and aggressive manner.

- I can not say why GM has this attitude, if it's because they are bound by their Chinese partners, or if it could be due to its partnership with Peugeot or something else. But it will be revealed in due time.

The company he counseled, Turkish Brightwell, dropped out after making futile attempts to reason with GM.

- It was a shame, Brightwell had really been an option. But an investment firm like Brightwell must have access to the Saab models. Not at least the 9-4X has a great value, a strong potential. For a vehicle company like Mahindra, one can incorporate the technology and brand in its own operations.

Victor Muller estimates that it will take a long time if anyone wants to start production in the factory again based on the Phoenix technology.

- At best, it takes 18 months, but more likely two years.

But Victor Muller stresses that he is now involved in other projects. Recently he was at the Geneva Motor Show.

- It was sad, because neither Saab nor Spyker were there. But I was very efficient and had 20 meetings. And there were no journalists.

- Next year, Spyker will be at the show, he says with a firm voice.

So far he has arranged interim financing from the U.S. GEM Fund, and he believes that he will manage to raise the funding to restart the luxury brand he is the father of.

- With Saab, I had to raise five million euros a week to get it to go around. To arrange funds for Spyker, I need two weeks of Saab financing.

He describes the situation and life now as a very much easier than last year.

- Now I have productive discussions with parties, during the time at Saab I could go to China and come back with no results.

- Compared to that it feels like a vacation now.

Even in the private life the pressure has eased a lot, he explains.

- When I was physically at home during the Saab-time, I was not there mentally. I sat engaged in phone calls all the time. Now I can be present.

And he says he is back on his feet again, even though a lot of money were lost in the bankruptcy.

- I invested 13 million euros in Saab and were backed by another 100 million euros through my financiers.

A major financier was the well known Vladimir Antonov.

- He is innocent of what they accuse him of. He became a power man, and the Lithuanian government in particular, had reason to bring him down. He should not have become shareholder in newspapers, which are critical of the regime. But in time we will see how it all relates. It would be a nice opportunity for a investigative journalist to look into it. There were many who were looking into Antonov earlier, so this could be a task for them.

We are entering the Stockholm traffic and approaching the goal of the journey. TTELA asks how it feels for the first time since the bankruptcy the next day to speak in a public in Sweden. It will happen at the convention Innovation 2012, which is arranged by among others Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet.

- In public? Yes, I guess it is. I have gotten help on the topic from Anna Petre, but I never keep to the script. If you keep to the script, you lose the audience's interest, more people should try to speak directly to their audience, he says like it's a given thing.

We talk about the entrepreneur and innovator Steve Jobs, the deceased Apple CEO, who also could mesmerize an audience and make product launches look like religious happenings.

- I read his biography and laughed all the time. He was so cocky, but he was right all the time. Here you can really learn a lot about entrepreneurship and how innovations come about.

Here we are - outside of Grand hôtel. Victor Muller asks us explicitly to say hello to everyone in Trollhättan and all former employees.

- They are the ones I really cared about. When I went to the town of Trollhättan, people were always friendly and they always called me by first name, "Victor". I really felt that we had a relationship.

The tall former Saab boss takes his luggage and pass through the doors of the hotel. A shorter, older man passes the rotating doors in the other direction. Also this man has great experience from the Swedish automotive industry and also how unforgiving a situation can be when you do not succeed. It is P.G. Gyllenhammar.