EDWARD LAPHAM

Saab's struggle reminds me of DeLorean

Edward Lapham is executive editor of Automotive News.
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Victor Muller's struggles to save Saab increasingly remind me of John DeLorean's futile efforts to save his fledgling DeLorean Motor Co. three decades ago.

Of course, they're not exactly alike. More like variations on a theme.

Muller is trying to save a brand and a car company that were discarded by General Motors. He founded Spyker Cars NV -- now known as Swedish Automobile -- which acquired Saab.

DeLorean failed to save the sports car venture that he created by enticing dealers and other investors to pony up the necessary capital after he and GM had discarded each other.

Like DeLorean, Muller has tried to find an infusion of money to turn the factory lights back on.

When DeLorean's company was nearing collapse in 1982, it seemed as if every other week he would tell me he had lined up some unnamed, potential white knight investor who would save the day.

It never happened, so he became desperate. And desperation can impair the judgment of even a seasoned businessman.

DeLorean's game-ending move was trying to arrange a cocaine deal that would keep his company afloat -- even though he must have known it was wrong.

Alas, DeLorean Motor Co. filed for Chapter 11 a week after he was arrested in October 1982. DeLorean eventually was acquitted of drug charges in Los Angeles and later he beat federal fraud charges in Detroit. But his company was gone.

Similarly, reports of mysterious potential investors for Saab also seem to never materialize.

Now Muller's last, best hope seems to be that the Chinese will come to the rescue -- even though he must know that the Chinese are only interested in acquiring a brand they can use to sell their cars in Europe and North America, not in saving the factory or the company.

Muller and Saab deserve a better fate than DeLorean and his company's. But it's a long shot.

You can reach Edward Lapham at elapham@crain.com.

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