If Dutch businessman Victor Muller manages to acquire Saab Automobile, he will stick with Saab’s plans to rebuild the brand around the 9-3, the 9-5 and the 9-4X crossover.
You can forget about an entry-level 9-1 for now. But Muller says he’d love to build the Aero X concept if he can figure out how to finance it.
“I love that car, and it deserves to be built,” said Muller, in a Wednesday phone interview with AOL Autos. “It’s got true ‘Saabishness’ in it. It’s one of the best designs of the past five years.”
Muller, the CEO of Dutch sports car manufacturer Spyker NV, is trying to meet General Motors’ Jan. 7 deadline to sell or close Saab. GM extended the deadline after it became clear that the negotiations wouldn’t be wrapped up by Dec. 31.
At least one other bidder, the Wyoming-based investment group Merbanco Inc., is said to be in the running.
Muller declined to discuss the negotiations themselves. But he did share his vision for the Saab’s turnaround if his bid prevails. Muller says he has abandoned plans to trim Saab’s U.S. network of dealerships from the current 218 stores down to 137 outlets.
“The last thing you want to do is alienate the most important link to the consumer, and that is the dealer,” he said.
However, Muller does plan to carry out other key portions of the proposed turnaround, which is essentially Saab’s own plan. Previously, that plan had been adopted by Swedish supercar maker Koenigsegg AB when that company tried to buy Saab. After Koenigsegg dropped out of the bidding in November, Muller decided to use it.
Here’s the turnaround plan’s outline for future products:
- This coming spring, Saab would roll out the re-designed 9-5 sedan.
- The 9-4X crossover, a vehicle that shares mechanicals with the Cadillac SRX, would be introduced late next year or early in 2011.
- A redesigned 9-3 would enter dealer showrooms in 2012.
Saab would maintain its headquarters, engineering and production in Trollhattan, Sweden. Trollhattan would produce all Saab cars except the 9-4X, which would be produced in GM’s assembly plant in Ramos Arizpe, Mexico.
And Saab would maintain close ties with GM in other ways. General Motors would continue to produce engines for Saab. And Saab would use GM parts in vehicles like the 9-4X and 9-5 sedan. Saab’s relationship with General Motors “would last for years,” Muller said. “It’s a very good relationship, too.”
Spyker also could expect to benefit from the deal. Muller says his sports car company could use Saab’s all-wheel drive technology, plus other components from Saab’s parts bin. Likewise, selected Saab dealerships could sell Spyker cars.
“We have our own distribution through Bentley and Lamborghini dealers, but there is no reason why high-end Saab dealers couldn’t sell Spykers,” he said.
Some details of the plan appear to be up in the air. Muller declined to indicate whether Saab can break even on sales of 100,000 units by 2011 or 2012, as had been previously reported. Saab sold 93,295 units in 2008, and sales this year could dip as low as 60,000 units or so.
It also is not clear whether Muller has lined up additional investors. In the past he has counted on Spyker Chairman Vladimir Antonov, who holds a 30 percent share of Spyker stock. Since Antonov also runs the Konvers Group, a Russian bank, presumably he could bring more money to the table.
But General Motors is said to be nervous about Spyker’s Russian connections, perhaps because GM might lose control of technology that it makes available to Saab.
Recently, media reports have named Dutch billionaire Marcel Boekhoorn as another possible investor. But Boekhoorn has issued public denials, and Muller declined to comment.
And here’s yet another unknown: The European Investment Bank has yet to rule on the company’s request for a $574 million loan. Muller says he doesn’t know when the bank will issue a decision.
And he says he has no idea whether GM still considers Spyker to be the lead bidder. As of Tuesday, GM spokesmen weren’t talking. Says Muller: “GM is holding its cards close to its chest.”
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