Dealers in the U.S. are buoyed by a deal that apparently has saved Saab from oblivion and they also express confidence in the brand’s new owner.
Victor Muller, CEO of Netherlands-basedCars NV, is “truly an amazing person,” says Robert Elder, co-president of Elder Automotive Group, which counts two Saab stores and a Spyker dealership among its holdings.
Co. agrees today to sell Sweden-based Saab Automobile AB to for $74 million in cash, preferred shares in the newly formed Saab Spyker Automobiles worth $326 million and “additional considerations” the auto maker does not disclose.
In return, GM says it will supply Saab Spyker with powertrains for “an extended period of time,” fully assembled 9-4x cross/utility vehicles for a limited time, plus engineering services.
Saab perilously was close to disappearing from the auto industry landscape when Spyker kick-started talks, even as GM had begun liquidation proceedings. Credit Muller’s persistence, Elder tells Ward’s, adding, “That’s what selling cars is all about.”
The agreement grew out of a Spyker offer rejected last month by GM. What changed?
“We have a structure in Saab Spyker that we think will contribute to a sustainable outcome,” says John Smith, GM vice president-corporate planning and alliances. “And we certainly think we have received fair value for GM shareholders.”
Spyker’s ties with Russian magnate Vladimir Antonov was said to be a major stumbling block. Auto makers regard Russia as a market with great potential, but there is wariness about trusting Russian partners with intellectual property.
Smith declines to discuss details of the challenges GM faced in its negotiations with Spyker.
However, the sale agreement calls for Tenaci Capital B.V., which is wholly owned by Muller, to loan Spyker E57 million ($80 million) for the purpose of resolving debts Spyker owes directly or indirectly to Antonov, via banks or other financial institutions.
In addition, the deal calls for Antonov to retire from Spyker’s supervisory board.
Smith is confident in Saab’s future. “I’ve been around Saab since 1989 and I don’t know that I’ve seen a better point in time for Saab’s new-product cadence than I see now with those two products,” he says during a conference call today.
The much-anticipated 9-4x is in production, while volume output of the next-generation 9-5 sedan is scheduled for April or sometime thereafter, GM says.
Muller says in a statement: “We are very much looking forward to being part of the next chapter in Saab's illustrious history. We are delighted to have secured the jobs and livelihoods of thousands of loyal Saab employees, suppliers and dealers and to have given reassurance to the 1.5 million Saab drivers and enthusiasts around the world.”
There was considerable angst among Saab owners when the brand appeared destined for the scrap heap. The Internet was abuzz with protest, and pickets pleaded for GM to reconsider liquidation during the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
“It was breathtaking to see so much support from the global Saab community over the last months, which not only shows the strength of the brand but also helped us in our relentless determination to get the deal done,” Muller says.
“Spyker Cars will provide Saab with the backing required to compete as a competitive global brand along with an entrepreneurial leadership team sensitive to the uniqueness, heritage and individuality of the Saab brand.”
Muller also thanks Antonov “for his formidable support during the past two years. His contribution has allowed Spyker to get to the point that this transaction was made possible.”
Muller, 50, is a lawyer who specialized in acquisitions and mergers. In 2000, he revived the Spyker brand, which like Saab, has decades-old roots in aeronautics.
A niche maker of high-performance vehicles, Spyker now has 35 dealers in 21 countries, including 16 in the U.S. Elder, whose organization runs a Spyker store in Tampa, FL, is acquainted with Muller and says he is true to the brand’s tagline: “Nulla tenaci invia est via.”
Translated, it means: “For the tenacious, no road is impassable.”
Says Elder: “Everyone kept on saying to Victor, ‘You can’t do it. You can’t do it.’ This proves that if you’re tenacious and you want something bad enough, you can do it.”
Elder, who was not involved in the Saab talks, is confident the new company has the wherewithal to revive the battered Saab network, which has not been profitable since 2001.
“I believe they do,” he says. “And if they don’t, (Muller will) find a way to do it.” Irma Elder, Robert’s mother and founder of Elder Automotive, echoes Smith’s optimism for the Saab brand. “If this goes through, then the ordering will start,” she tells Ward’s.
The Swedish government has approved a loan guarantee on which the deal was contingent, setting the stage for the transaction’s expected completion next month.