Victor Muller stands about six foot four, with dashing gray hair and glasses. He exudes the energy of a kid after five bags of Pop Rocks. Why shouldn’t he? Muller’s the co-founder of Spyker, one of the sexiest car companies to hit the scene since Lamborghini launched the Miura. Never mind that many collectors consider Spyker’s first gen cars beautifully crafted automobiles with all the chassis rigidity of a tin can. Spyker is the very definition of a boutique automaker, including the fact that they haven’t show a profit for nine years. If you want old school supercar exclusivity, Muller’s your man.
We met-up with Muller at the Spyker “booth” erected on Pebble Beach’s tent row. The stand was the first you’d encounter on an uphill walk from the Lodge—or the last one coming from the parking lot. Spyker parked four cars out front for test drives. The brand also showcased their race car and his latest model (on the stand). There was plenty of action in and around the cars, even though (because?) the booth area was roped off. While I waited for our interview in the lounge area, Victor finished meetings, caught up with old friends and posed for picture. And then it was our turn.
Muller: We have sold 250. Cars numbered 251, 252 and 253 are out front.
MCM: Give me the helicopter view . . . why this company?
Victor: I was collecting Aston Martins, Ferraris and other sports cars (and still do). I felt there was a need for an exclusive car with old world craftsmanship, like they used to build. This type of car is represented in our five brand pillars: heritage, design, craftsmanship, performance and exclusivity. These are the five core elements that constitute the Spyker brand. The exclusive and the hand-built elements are very important when you compare to the mass-produced sports cars.
MCM: I was just at an interview with Henrik Fisker as he spoke about the Karma. Your thoughts?
Muller: I have tremendous respect for Henrik and what he is doing. He is a fantastic designer and pioneer in building hybrid electric cars.
MCM: What’s your view on Fisker’s manufacturing techniques; farming everything out while only having the overhead of a design, engineering and marketing organization in the U.S.? In a sense, you are both building something exclusive from scratch. Although Henrik plans on 15,000 units.
Muller: Everything is cyclical in manufacturing. This is a trend that I think we are seeing (he motions widely with his arm up and down). Right now we are seeing companies look to the outside to get manufacturing accomplished. But when you are tied to companies outside of your control, you are subjected to their unions and other demand that can impact your production. We will see this change and manufacturing will be brought in-house again to help maintain control.
MCM: You currently get your engine and suspension from outside sources. Are you giving-up control?
Muller: It would be impossible for us to engineer our own engines. The costs are tremendous to build the tooling for such a low volume of cars. The suspension comes from Lotus. They are the experts in handling and the recognized leader. We could not do a better job. The hand-crafted body panels are supplied by both Coventry Prototype Panels from the U.K. and Karmann from Germany. The chassis of the C8 is built from extruded box sections and folded sheet. We would like to take more of the body construction in house. That is our goal for the future.
MCM: Henrik Fisker says “they are an American car company.”
Muller: But they build their cars in Finland.
MCM: My point exactly.
[Victor gives a slight roll-the-eyes as we both chuckle a bit.]
MCM: Are you profitable? How are you financed?
Muller: No, we are not profitable. We are a public company listed on Amsterdam Exchanges with four major shareholders. About 25% of the stock is in the hands of government owned Abu Dhabi investment company Mubadala (which also has 5% of Ferrari). One is Vladimir Antonov, a new shareholder who came in at the end of last year. He’s a Russian banker who is very committed to the company and a keen car collector and financial investor. He has 30% of the stock. Another investment company, Gemini, has 10% and I also have 10%. So collectively, the major shareholders account for 75% of the company’s ownership. The rest is in free float.
MCM: When do expect to be profitable?
Victor: Sometime within the next next year, in 2010 or 2011.
MCM: What can we expect from Spyker in the future? Are you interested in hybrid technology?
Muller: We don’t believe that there will be the infrastructure to support electric cars for some time. What is going to happen if you want to drive through the desert? You are limited by a need to charge the vehicle. We have no plans to move from our current fuel based engines. We do plan to expand the line and are going to be launching an SUV, the D8 Peking-to-Paris . . .
You know, one of the things we are most excited about is our 5th place finish at the 24 Hours de LeMans this year. We finish ahead of all Porsches in our GT2 class. This is great achievement for us and we are really excited about it.
MCM: Congratulations on the fiinish. Thank you for your time.
[read more of Paul’s work at motorcarmarket.com]