Catching up with Victor Muller

I haven’t seen my old boss – Saab’s former Chairman and CEO, Victor Muller – since around October 2011. We’ve shared a few quick emails and phone calls since then, but that’s about all.

Prompted by a phone call with another former Saab colleague earlier this week, I decided to give Victor a call and see what’s going on. In doing so I found a Victor Muller who was as driven as ever, as busy as ever, but much more at peace with himself and the world.

There was a lot to recover from, too; much more than the very public battle to try and save Saab Automobile.

Victor lost his father and his sister during the fight to save Saab in 2011. These were the intensely personal parts of his “year from hell”, the parts that few people knew about until after the drama had unfolded. There were health issues, too, such as an emergency operation on his gall bladder in 2010, a procedure that he was still recovering from when I had my informal job interview with him, along with Jan-Ake Jonsson, at the LA Auto Show in November that year.

“For the first 8 months of my daughter’s life, I never saw her” he mentions. She was born in February 2011, just weeks before the factory shutdown that eventually led to Saab’s bankruptcy. He’s now spending his time mostly between the family home on Mallorca and Spyker’s HQ in Holland. That same daughter, now 18 months, is finally getting to know her Dad.

Saab’s dramas still cut deep with Victor but as sad as he is to have seen the company fall, the personal relief at getting his life back is palpable when you speak to him. When I raised the topic of Saab’s new ownership under NEVS, Victor is pleased for Trollhattan and for former employees who might have the opportunity to work at Stallbacka again. Like me, however, he seems lost when it comes to understanding how it is that NEVS are going to do what they plan to do.

“I haven’t come across anyone who is able to explain to me what NEVS does and how they’ll do it, but I’m sure someone, one day, will be able to explain it to me”, he says.

Victor is still dealing with fallout from his time with Saab. There is the ongoing taxation case brought by the Swedish government….

I will fight that to the highest court

….. and the case against General Motors:

We will lodge our defence against their motion to dismiss on November 9 and it will carry on from there.

Most of his time now, however, is spent rebuilding Spyker, the sports car business that nearly went down with Saab.

It’s been a tough, long road to save the tiny boutique company, but Spyker is building cars once again. The bodies are built in England and then shipped to Holland for full assembly.

Spyker will finally re-emerge on the show circuit at the Geneva Motor Show in March 2013. At that show, they also plan to talk about the other thing that’s taking much of Victor’s time – the business deal with Chinese Saab aspirant, Youngman.

Spyker and Youngman signed several agreements back in August, one of which was to build the Spyker Peking to Paris SSUV (P2P) and possibly other vehicles on the SSUV platform. They also agreed on a joint venture to develop vehicles using the licences that Youngman hold for parts of the Phoenix platform that Saab were developing when the company entered bankruptcy.

This deal surprised me. In the heat of 2011’s battle, the relationship between Youngman and Saab was tense, to say the least. I asked Victor about that earlier this year.

“That was then. We’ve had a lot of time to talk more, without the desperation that was involved with saving Saab. We’ve made a lot of progress and there is still a lot of mutual interest in working together.”

The good part for Spyker, and for Victor, when it comes to this agreement is that the pressure valve has been released. They don’t have any vehicles yet (beyond the P2P) and there is plenty of work to be done before they will. But on the other hand, they also have minimal costs (Saab’s factory cost around 5 million Euros per month when it wasn’t operating), there is no public timetable to meet and there are no creditors breathing down their necks. Things will get done in their own time.

There is still a lot of water to flow under the bridge for Victor Muller and his automotive aspirations. He has his critics, but I’m not one of them. I saw how hard he worked for Saab during those long, dark months. In the few moments he was actually in Trollhattan rather than seeking funds somewhere around the world, I saw the exhaustion and the pain first hand. I’m pleased that he’s been able to salvage Spyker and I look forward to seeing what he might be able to do with Youngman.

Victor Muller remains an individual, a man who possesses a lot of that independent spirit that Saab was built on. It’s a black mark against his name that he wasn’t able to save the company but in talking to him, you sense that the fight for redemption – a personal redemption rather than a public one – is only just beginning.

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  1. Nice to hear that Mr. Muller’s life is getting back to some sense of normalcy.

    Swade, I am patiently awaiting your take on NEVS possibly re-starting the current 9-3 production line.

    1. Not much to say at this point, Allan. NEVS don’t respond to my emails and it would be a tad unfair to say all that I’m thinking without at least talking to them first.

      On the face of it, though, it sounds inconsistent and unrealistic.

  2. Thank you for the update about Mr. Muller. I don’t think anyone in this world could work harder than he could to save SAAB. It’s just incredibly unfortunate that he had GM to deal with, and a whole variety of unforeseen circumstances.

    I have a tremendous amount of respect for Mr. Muller, and wondered what happened to him in the aftermath. I am sorry to hear of his personal losses during that time, but am relieved that he is seeing daylight and getting to know his young daughter.

  3. Thanks for the “interview”. Nice to have your honest and to-the-point narrative of things, instead of the speculations of the “old” media.

    I’m a little confused by todays 9-3 news. On one hand, I love the car. Six months ago I bought a very low-milage 9-3SS MY10 (a company car out of the Saab bankruptcy estate). I just love the car. But on the other hand, I think the uphill battle for NEVS to get this going is gonna be huge. Which suppliers are gonna bet once again on this? What tools are left and ready to go? What drivetrain are they gonna use? Maybe they can sign up some dealerships in Sweden that still has loads of Saab business, but elsewhere? But great if they can pull it off. If it is kept updated “electronic wise”, only sell in a fully loaded option, and priced for what it is (an “old” model) – then it would sell in Sweden at least.

    1. I can’t help but think that the last incarnation of the 9-3 is a very old model, indeed. Granted, they “refreshed” the interior in 2007, and “refreshed” the body in 2008, but it really hadn’t changed over the course of a decade or more. With such a competitive car market, what is there to attract new buyers to the brand?

      But I agree. I LOVE that car. I am on my second one.

      I very much want NEVS to succeed, but I keep scratching my head.

  4. Thank you for the update on Victor Muller. Having met and seen him in action at Saab of North Olmsted, I have full respect for the man.
    On the NEVS side, maybe they are rethinking their plan a little. Today’s latest speculation on saabsunited is that they are evaluating the possibility of restarting 9-3 production in order to be able to hire production staff — with a new engine of course.

  5. Victor did his best from what I could read about I thank him . For myself it was and still is a punch in the gut I still haven’t gotten past .Even in a day where we belive business should be for the sake of all parties it seems to have been a stacked deck ,one that didn’t need be . Be well Victor , I too never thought we be here when I started working on the brand 35 years ago . But I still go to work each day and provide the best for all the SAAB owners I can . Thanks to all who tried and still think SAAB is one of the best .

  6. Great article, life seems to move on for many after all, even though it isn’t always easy after the struggle and fall of Saab.

    If Victor wasn’t able to save Saab with the effort, plans and dedication for the brand, the current plans of NEVS make even less sense. There is absolutely no way they can start up production for a 10 year old car of a dead brand without any employees, dealers and customer trust. It’s sad to see Saab fans cheering about this latest Breaking News! I still would like to know what NEVS actually paid for Saab.

    1. JAJ din’t really seem to fit in with the Muller and Castriota team. I still wonder what would have happened if he would have stayed and managed the company like it should have been. The SS Saab seemed a bit lost for direction without a CEO like JAJ.

      1. I don’t know enough detail to write about it authoritatively, but I’ll say this much: Mike’s right in terms of JAJ’s timing to leave. If he was ever going to go, he picked the right time to come out with his reputation intact. Having said that, the SS Saab got into trouble with him at the helm and I have a feeling there could be plenty more written about that if someone had the knowledge to do so and the willingness to burn a bridge. His work leading Saab through the first reconstruction was exemplary, however.

      2. Interesting, because I thought that he was complementary to VM especially. JAJ was the nuts-and-bolts behind VM’s brightwork. That’s my take.

  7. I’m not sure that NEVS really want to be understood at the present time, and I not sure their plans would benefit from publicity for the moment.

    Having spoken briefly with Mattias Bergman, two things are obvious, this will not be run the same way as with Muller or GM, this is a new era, and Mattias Bergman is no slouch. With what I seen so far I’m would say it’s highly likely something good will come out of this, seeing what is going into the process, but it is a bit early to say exactly what yet.

    Some of the inconsistencies are probably the result of missing key parts of the puzzle. I don’t want to give away to much info to NEVS competitors, though, but being quite familiar with some technologies NEVS intends to use, I can definitively see that they may have a couple of competitive advantages in China.

  8. I hope it works out for Victor. It must have been a very fraught period both professionally and personally. He certainly gave SAAB his best shot ! You must have some fascinating insight into the real story of that period

    Cheers Peter

  9. Kudos to Victor for having the ability to be at peace. I probably would be crafting the ultimate plan for revenge and seeing a therapist! LOL!

  10. .
    I just watched the SVT? program on SU and one thing I noticed, was just how much Older VM looked after the Saab demise.

    Look at the point when he first got Saab & is getting off the plane, he looks so much younger, than later on….2 years, that is all it takes.