"I'm a horrible manager," admits Muller, "but I'm very good at raising money."
While in Washington D.C. for the 2012 Saab 9-4X launch, we had dinner next to Victor Muller, then spoke to the newly announced captain of Saab's North American ship, Tim Colbeck, who actually fills the dual roles of president and COO – at the end of his first day on the job. Muller started the evening by talking about the most recent troubles, saying of the production stoppage, "It was all my fault."

"Saab was really a General Motors subsidiary – GM financing, GM terms and conditions, GM suppliers, and things can start to come apart when you're independent. Sometimes you have to tell suppliers it's not going to be the way it was."

Muller says a single supplier told Saab that "if we didn't pay, he wasn't going to open his truck that day," and Muller "called his bluff." The supplier was a man of his word, wouldn't deliver the parts, and the lack of those particular components caused a production stoppage of two hours, which Muller says is "normal elsewhere, but not in Sweden."

To hear Muller tell it, it might not have been such a problem if the Swedish media, which he accuses of being Saab bashers, hadn't turned it into a sensational story. "Within two hours of the stoppage," he said, "we didn't have one supplier with problems, we had 92 suppliers with problems" as Saab experienced a "run on the bank." Continue reading...

We asked Muller what Colbeck's top three priorities were, and Muller gave us one: "His job is to restore confidence."
Although Saab needed €30 million to restart the lines ($42.6M USD), Muller said the company needed to get a lot more to shore up its liquidity. "I'm a horrible manager," admits Muller, "but I'm very good at raising money." Muller said the manufacturer's investigation into a Chinese partner had begun last September with an in-depth exploration of the market, which made it supremely convenient that he was in negotiations with the last three potential joint-venture partners when the production matter arose. As we know, Saab settled on Hawtai.

We asked Muller what Colbeck's top three priorities were, and Muller gave us one: "His job is to restore confidence."

Colbeck was at Subaru for 25 years, taking the post of VP of sales and service in April, 2006. "When I joined Subaru, it was the best kept secret in the industry," Colbeck told us. "Twenty years later, it was still the best kept secret in the industry. That was frustrating."

Colbeck says the Subaru success story over the past few years comes down to improved product, expanding the dealer structure and better marketing. In comparing the two brands, he said, "both appeal to similar mindsets, both are niche, both appeal to independent, creative thinkers with active lifestyles, with higher eduction and income," and also, "How much care they take of their drivers – both brands share that."

Saab deserves a better place than it has in the North American market," said Colbeck.
As for what he can bring from his Subaru experience to Saab, Colbeck said, "The number one thing we can do is to instill confidence in the public, in our dealer network and employee base," and he's confident in what he's got to work with. "This is like a startup with great fundamentals – product, story, strong branding angle, strong dealer network. The hardest, most difficult part is product, but I've got it when it comes to products. I'm looking at the product plan, it's there."

Saab 900 SPG

After that, talk of his task sounds much like the one Adrian Hallmark has been laying out for Jaguar: "Part of our job is to get the public to understand. It starts with the right message, being able to communicate what the brand stands for," citing the need to "reconnect with people who used to buy Saabs." Also as with Jaguar, the Swedish firm wants to keep its own company, albeit slightly larger. "We want to be with an exclusive group that is Saab, and that group is a lot bigger than we think it is." Said group includes Colbeck as a former owner: he bought a 1985 900 SPG in 1988. "That's the Saab – design, safety, performance, utility. I know that's what I envision in my mind. It was that."

When we mentioned that every Saab story Autoblog publishes invariably attracts comments questions about the brand's viability, he was unequivocal, "That question has to go away. I wouldn't be here if I didn't think the company had a really great shot. Saab deserves a better place than it has in the North American market."

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