Saab chief Victor Muller reflects on sale of car maker

By Jorn Madslien
Business reporter, BBC News

image captionThe troubled car maker Saab seems set to survive another day, this time under Chinese ownership

Less than two years after acquiring the carmaker Saab, Victor Muller, its chief executive and the majority shareholder of the parent company Swedish Automobile, has hammered out a deal to sell it.

"This is very good news," the Dutch businessman says.

"Pang Da and Youngman will invest way more than the 240m euros we had planned to invest, so Saab has now got the funding, the stability and the product portfolio it deserves."

The agreed sale, which is subject to regulatory approval, comes after a very difficult seven months that nearly ended in the carmaker's bankruptcy.

In April, Saab was forced to halt production after a pay dispute with one supplier spread fast to others, prompting several to halt component deliveries.

"It was like when the flutter of a wing of a butterfly in the Amazon causes a storm in Alaska," recalls Mr Muller.

image captionVictor Muller says he has lost a lot of money and that his time at Saab has taken a huge toll

The supply disruptions came just ahead of a new model onslaught that had been supposed to result in some 80,000 cars being produced at Saab's Trollhaettan factory - so in the end only 11,000 cars were produced before production was halted.

Under its new owners, Saab's suppliers will be paid "not just now but also in the future" and dealers will have a less uncertain future as new models are produced, Mr Muller insists.

"Workers will have their salaries paid and their jobs guaranteed for the future," he adds, pointing out that the factory has the capacity to "produce some 190,000 cars without much ado".

And with additional production in China, Saab's production volume should rise even higher than that in time, Mr Muller believes.

"This will give us access to the Chinese market," he says. "The largest car market in the world will become the second home market for Saab."

Good deal?

So it seems to be a day to celebrate for Saab and its workers, its dealers and its suppliers.

But is it a good day for Mr Muller himself?

On the face of it, Swedish Automobile has doubled its money, having agreed to sell Saab for 100m euros after having bought it from General Motors for 52m euros.

But not so quick.

During the last couple of years, the company has invested some 120m euros in Saab Automobile, Mr Muller says.

"So we would take a loss of about 70m euros," he says.

Personal losses

The Abu Dhabi investment fund Mubadala, the hedge fund Gemini Investment and other investors will take their share of the hit, but Mr Muller's personal losses will nevertheless be substantial.

image captionSaab dealers face a less uncertain future

"I've lost a lot of money," Mr Muller says, pointing out that it has been a tough battle.

"I've had no life for the past two years," he says.

"The past six months have been particularly lacking in quality of life.

"It has taken a huge toll on me, and it has taken a huge toll on those around me."

Sense of pride

Going forward, Mr Muller would like to remain part of Saab in some way if the new owners still want him.

But he does not expect to stay on as chief executive.

That position proved impossible to fill during the recent crisis, he says.

Though with Saab's future looking brighter than it has for years, it should be much easier to find someone to step in, he reasons.

It is obviously with a heavy heart that Mr Muller hands over control of one of the quirkiest car makers in the world.

But he does so with a sense of pride.

"I'm proud that I managed to bring Saab into a safe port," he says. "I am proud that I have helped save an iconic carmaker."

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