At least now we know how Saab will die. But Spyker CEO Victor Muller’s unfortunate choice of metaphors isn’t the only indication in his interview with the WSJ Deal Journal that Saab will die on the operating table. Take, for example, his answer to the question “Why does Spyker want to buy Saab?”
Saab has 1,100 dealers world-wide. If we sold Spykers in just 5% of those dealers, we would be tripling our distribution base. Saab also has access to technologies that would be ideal for Spyker, such as an all-wheel drive system. Also, a company that should sell 100,000 cars a year has very high purchasing power and get parts cheaper than a company that wants to make 100 cars a year.
Emphasis on wants to make 100 cars per year (they sold fewer than 50 last year). And yet, somehow Muller “hopes to model a Saab acquisition after Audi’s successful take over of Lamborghini in 1997.” Except that Saab ain’t Lambo and Spyker ain’t exactly Audi. Meanwhile, Muller also seems to think that Saab can survive on “quirk” alone, and he does some confused back-pedaling on his racially-charged statements about Saab and Spyker. The saga continues.
When Deal Journal asks how Spyker could improve Saab, Muller’s answer shows the yawning divide between the ultra-limited-production boutique automaker mindset, and the realities of the (even niche) mass-market business.
Saab is being carved out of GM and will have to stand on its own legs. In order to do that, it will require a completely different state of mind in terms of entrepreneurship. We are very entrepreneurial company. We manage to create Spyker out of nothing. The company hadn’t been active for 75 years when we started in 2000. We bring experience and branding and sales. I design all of my cars. Saabs would benefit from design input to make Saabs more “Saabish.” You buy a Saab for a reason. It is quirky. It is different. If you wanted a car that looked like everyone else you would buy a Volkswagen.
Yes, but Volkswagen also has Seat and Skoda. Meanwhile, what economies of scale would Spyker-Saab enjoy? If Muller were buying Saab from a bunch of well-moneyed fanboys, he’d be set. Unfortunately, “difference” and “quirk” don’t sell cars on their own, let alone build up the volume needed to compete in the market. But no matter. “I’ve read that you want to save Saab out of a feeling of kinship to Sweden,” suggests Deal Journal.
The Swedes and Dutch are very small nations. I have always admired the Swedes for their entrepreneurial ways. They have been able to thrive in a hostile environment. Go to Stockholm now and your toes freeze off. They have made very strong brands in Volvo and Saab. We have something similar in Holland. We are used to dealing with the climate. When I heard that Saab, an iconic brand was in trouble, I felt very strongly that we should help them out.
Climate? Charity? Can we just pronounce Saab dead before Muller starts waving a shiny balloon in its face and swearing that it sees signs of life?