As suspected, the Swedish Saab scandal over avoided taxes grows wider. Yesterday, it reached the failed takeover artist Victor Muller. “Muller prime suspect in Saab tangle,” headlines Swedens Svenska Dagbladet, The paper obtained court documents that say Muller is wanted for questioning. (Read More…)
Tag: Victor Muller
Key members of the board of bankrupt carmaker Saab were arrested yesterday on suspicions of tax evasion. Former Saab General Counsel Kristina Geers, former CFO Karl-Gustav Lindstrom, and former CEO Jan Åke Jonsson spent the night in jail. After a serious grilling, the three were released today. At the same time, the offices of Spyker in Zeewolde, Netherlands, were searched by police at the request of Swedish authorities, Z24.NL reports.
Swedish Automobile N.V. (Swan) announces it is in discussion with Zhejiang Youngman Lotus Automobile Co. Ltd. (Youngman) and a bank in China about an equity interest in Swan. The discussions include a short term solution to enable Saab Automobile to pay the November wages and continue reorganization. The outcome of the discussions is still uncertain. Any possible transaction would be subject to the approval of the relevant stakeholders. [emphasis added]
As always, you can read about the proposed new structure (which has PangDa out of the picture) and why it will solve all of Saab’s problems over at Saabsunited.com. But far more interesting is the English-language interview with Victor Muller, found here (skip ahead to the 38:40 mark), in which Muller explains that GM can block any deal in which an automaker takes a 20% or larger stake in Saab, and that he is essentially Vladimir Antonov’s front man. After all, trying to understand Muller is far more compelling than this latest deal, which can be approved by GM (because it keeps automakers below 20% ownership), but won’t actually solve Saab’s basic problems (for precisely the same reason).
A TTAC tipster sent us a Teknikens Värld interview with Saab’s long-suffering would-be rescuer, Victor Muller, in which the eternal Saabtimist seems ready to admit defeat. In essence, he admits that GM is unlikely to ever approve a plan involving Chinese firms, that the Chinese firms are throwing “money into a black hole” and that all the previous plans are off the table. Of course, Muller does seem to think that some kind of rescue may yet be possible, but he admits
If I doze off Saab would disappear in an instant
If Muller is losing faith, and doesn’t even have a hairbrained scenario to hype, it seems that the end may well be near. But then, the whole rescue of Saab is beginning to be eclipsed by questions about Muller’s erstwhile partner, Vladimir Antonov, who was recently bailed out of British jail, where he was being held on charges of embezzlement and document forgery. But first, to the Muller interview…
Whenever a CEO says “bankruptcy is not an option,” you know the game is up. After complaining in this Swedish Radio interview (in English) that his court-appointed administrator is trying to sell Saab off wholesale to the Chinese, Victor Muller trots out Churchillian and Nietszchian calls to arms… in fact, he does everything short of bursting into a spirited rendition of “I Will Survive.” Unfortunately, Muller’s credibility is long gone, and he doesn’t help himself by trying to portray Lofalk as some traitorous backstabber. With Saab months (years? decades?) into its death-flails, and the most recent “rescuer” turning out to be a non-player, is it any wonder Lofalk wants to hand over the mess to the only viable companies involved (especially when Muller calls North Street a “strong partner”)? Muller continues to labor under two basic delusions: first, that he can sell a majority share to the Chinese while keeping Saab an essentially Swedish (or at least European) company and second, that anyone cares whether Saab becomes a Chinese company. Sorry Victor, there’s just nothing left here to fight for…
Whenever we report about the machinations around Saab, the faithful remind us that there are real people affected. They are right. Some of the real people work for IAC for instance, one of Saab’s largest suppliers. Half of the production of its factory in Färgelanda went to Saab.IAC Sweden could be bankrupt in a few weeks because they don’t’ have the money to pay a 95 million kronor ($ 14.8 million) tax bill, Sweden’s Göteborg Posten reports. (Read More…)
SvD.se reports that would-be Saab rescuer Vladimir Antonov is considering legal action against the European Investment Bank and the Swedish Government, for keeping him out of an ownership stake at the failing Swedish automaker. Says Antonov
I have therefore decided to investigate the possibility of taking legal action, including but not limited to claims for damages, which may be of interest to various parties, including myself, the EIB, some officials at the EIB, the Swedish government and some government officials personally. By denying SWAN (Swedish Automobile) and Saab Automobile access to the funding that I offer, what these companies want and still desperately want, both the Bank and the Swedish government acted against all involved parties concerned, particularly against Saab and SWAN’s employees , suppliers, traders, lenders and shareholders
Antonov is reportedly investigating whether he can sue individual ministers of the Swedish government, while the ministers in question angrily deny that they are working against the interests of the Swedish auto industry. Meanwhile, far from calling for the overthrow of the government, the Swedish press is investigating Saab’s outlays for “management services” in recent years, and has found that CEO Victor Muller may be siphoning cash off to the tax haven of Curacao.
SvD.se reports that Paul Akerlund, Saab’s former IF Metall (one of Sweden’s largest trade unions) representative and now Trollhättan Municipal Council Chairman, has called for the resignation of Saab CEO Victor Muller, saying
I do not think Victor Muller is a good president. He is an owner and a contractor, but he has not sufficient knowledge about how to manage production and development
And Akerlund is no city government busybody, but a longtime company insider who has been influential in Saab’s post-GM life. Having shepherded Saab through the challenges of the past two years, this is another grim sign that Saab is about to succumb to the realities that have dominated TTAC’s Saab coverage for years now. A commentary in SvD, titled “Thank Muller for Painful Bankruptcy” sums up the somber mood in Sweden:
[Saab] has been on artificial respiration for nearly two years. It is down now, and from all indications we can only conclude that the whole process was a painfully protracted bankruptcy. And we have only one person to thank for it.
Saab has started paying suppliers again (although production hasn’t restarted yet), and CEO Victor Muller is once again all popped-collar confidence as he dismisses the “speed bump” that he blames on negative publicity. But behind Mueller’s yacht-club breeziness and talk of “true Saabs,” major changes are afoot in Saab’s business model. Saab’s deal with Hawtai, the product of a desperate search for support in the midst of a liquidity crisis, has changed how Muller sees the global car business, and as a result he’s shopping what may be Saab’s last meaningful asset: Western dealerships. Muller explains his thinking to Automotive News [sub]
We laughed when the Japanese came. We laughed when the Koreans came. But we will not be laughing when the Chinese come. The Chinese are like a steamroller. It took 67 years to build up our dealer network. It is the biggest asset not on our asset sheet, and these guys buy into it for free. If they make the proper cars, can you image how much simpler it will be to push product through the distribution network that is already there? It is like a railway network that is already there.
Bertel and I have a running bet about whether the first actual Chinese import to the US (not a converted glider) will be a Chinese brand or one of the western brands… but it’s not much of a bet because neither of us can ever commit to picking one brand that seems most likely to bust America’s Chinese car cherry, and our “bets” change on a weekly basis. In any case, though, think it’s safe to say that neither of us saw Saab as playing much of a role in any of the scenarios we’ve discussed.
Where to start with Saab-Spyker CEO Victor Muller’s plans for world domination? Why not with the craziest part? Despite declining sales, the boutique supercar arm of Saab-Spyker claims to be developing a “Super Sport Utility Vehicle” in the mold of the D12 Peking-To-Paris showcar. Autoinformatief.com caused quite a stir when it revealed images of both a clay model and a test mule for this allegedly production-bound (yes, again) piece of madness. Moreover, news that Spyker won’t be invited to use Audi engines in forthcoming models caused at least one popular car blog to run the headline “Spyker’s New Ferrari-Powered SUV.” Because apparently Spyker can’t decide if it wants to use an AMG engine or a “supercharged Ferrari V8.” Does this give you a taste of just how goofy things have become ’round Saab-Spyker way? Well, it gets worse.
With Russian financiers offering up to $100m to back the new Saab-Spyker project, it’s not surprising that the internet is awash with glad tidings of new cars from the new Dutch-Swedish venture. On the Saab side, CEO Victor Muller and company are teasing analysts with news that Saab is “already working on plans” for a new compact car, tentatively named 9-1. Having quoted Muller as saying the 9-1 had a “better than average chance”of being built (whatever that means), Automotive News Europe [sub] filled in the blanks:
[The 9-1] would be needed to help achieve Saab’s stated goal of closing the gap with BMW and Audi. Saab debuted a concept for an entry-premium car at the 2008 Geneva auto show. ANE sister publication AutoWeek named the 9-X BioHybrid the best concept at that year’s event.
We are delighted – Saab’s future is now secure. From today we will be concentrating all of our efforts into reviving Saab and transforming it into a sustainable and profitable company with the confidence to be bold. We will reinforce the emotional experience between Saab drivers and their cars and we will focus on Saab’s historical strengths in the fields of independent thinking, aircraft heritage, ecological performance and motorsport.
Through this acquisition we add approximately 15 euros per share in equity and 60 euros of assets. With a well funded business plan in place we are looking forward to working with Saab’s management on the realization of that plan and bringing exciting new products to our customers. Real Saabs, Saab Saabs.
Spyker has set the goal of turning a profit with its newly-purchased Saab division by 2012, reports Automotive News [sub]. That effort will be led by a total of three Saab products: the existing 9-3 (with a new version rumored for 2011), the forthcoming 9-5 sedan and, later next year, the GM-built Saab 9-4X Crossover. Other models, including a 9-1 compact are being hinted at, but Spyker acknowledges that such a product would require about a billion dollars more than Saab-Spyker currently has access to. Meanwhile, those three vehicles will have to generate 100k-125k annual sales in order to keep the business plan rolling along. Saab-Spyker honcho Victor Muller has an almost shockingly confident take on this possibility, telling Reuters:
It’s all about the restoration of the confidence in the company. Customers have been very reluctant to buy because of the uncertainty surrounding the brand… Saab has to do nothing but regain its existing and old customers because that in itself would be in enough to create a very strong business model..
Saab sold a total of 8,680 vehicles in the US over the course of 2009. Globally, the firm sold 39,903 units last year, down from 94,751 in 2008. Perhaps the challenge is a bit more difficult than Muller lets on.
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. (Read More…)
It’s true, we [the Netherlands and Sweden] are small northern countries. We don’t have big German conglomerates to help us out. I just felt like we have to stand together because we’re the same people, we have the same DNA.
Spyker CEO Victor Muller explains his firm’s racially-charged interest in Saab to the LA Times‘ Dan Neil, while somehow managing to avoid any reference to Chris Bangle. Does this mean Muller is OK leaving Saab production in Sweden as a term for the European Investment Bank Loan?
Absolutely. As a matter of principle. The only truly authentic thing about a brand is provenance. The [Porsche] Boxster is built in Finland, OK, no problem. But could they be built in Mumbai? Sure, they’d be 20% cheaper but nobody would buy it.
Sigh. Given Muller’s soft spot for ethnicity-based branding and the sale of 9-5 tooling to China’s BAIC, we’re going to guess that the Saab-Spyker deal isn’t going to work out so well. [Hat Tip: Thor Johnsen]