How Victor Muller sold the Chinese on Saab

Rick Kranz is product editor for Automotive News.

How did Victor Muller pitch Saab to the Chinese?

Simply, this is their last opportunity to buy a stake in a European automaker.

Muller is chairman of Spyker Cars NV, the company that owns Saab.

Last week Hawtai Motor Group signed paperwork to purchase nearly a 30 percent stake in the Swedish automaker.

This past Monday night during a dinner with journalists in Washington, Muller offered a glimpse of the behind-the-scenes strategy that eventually led to the agreement with Hawtai.

Homework: “In September we put together a working group to inventory the Chinese market. That related to importation, potential partners for distribution, potential partners for manufacturing. We have been at it for half a year.”

Brand: “They are extremely keen on brand. They are more susceptible to brand image than any nation I know. Brand sets you apart. It says something about you.

“The Chinese are running around with their new Armani suits with the label on the outside. Nobody would do that in Europe or America. We would say, hey, you forgot to take off your label. No so in China.”

Volvo: “China is proud of acquiring Volvo because finally the Chinese have managed to acquire what they perceive to be a Western European superbrand.

“Hawtai’s taking a stake in Saab is like a supernatural performance, and the Chinese will embrace Saab.”

Strategy: “I had a pretty good negotiating position. I positioned what I could sell as a stake in the last premium, independent, European car company. If you do not get this one, you are not going to get a position in Audi. You are not going to get a position in BMW. You are not going to own Mercedes, or maybe they will.

“We had people clamoring at the door. If you don’t get this one, you are done because there won’t be another one.”

Players: “That was pretty much in the last phase when we were down to three, all of which made offers you could not refuse.”

Deal: “I was actually negotiating with three at the same time in the same hotel. I could write a movie.

“I was working 24 hours a day, working three rooms with three different parties. Honestly, making the best deal here, walking to the next room, saying, ‘This is what I can do.’

“And I was in a hurry, too, because I had to get it done. I slept 5 hours in 70 hours.

Skills: “I was a mergers and acquisitions lawyer in my previous life. That is my job, making deals, making sure things happen. It is not very interesting to negotiate. It is the results that count. The rest is irrelevant.”

Future: “The Chinese are very, very smart. I have worked with them for 25 years. We can learn a lot from them. I am always inspired when I leave China. I know this is China’s century, and we are just here to watch.”

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