Muller set sail to save ailing Saab, but the boat wound up docking in China
Edward Lapham is executive editor of Automotive News.
Victor Muller had bold intentions of saving Saab and enhancing the brand's Scandinavian mojo. He figured he could succeed where General Motors had failed. Like Kirk Douglas in the 1958 movie The Vikings, Muller thought he was invincible.
But Saab ran out of money.
So Muller washed his hands. His company, Swedish Automobile, is selling Saab to a couple of novice Chinese transportation companies, Pang Da Automobile Trade Co. and Zhejiang Youngman Lotus Automobile Co., for the equivalent of about $142 million, pending government approval.
The Chinese will invest in the company and ultimately use the Swedish brand like a Viking long ship to conquer and plunder foreign markets.
Eventually, Muller will leave the car business. He joins the ranks of John DeLorean, Malcolm Bricklin and so many other would-be niche automakers. Having already sold the Spyker sports car operation, Swedish Automobile doesn't seem to have any oars in the water.
If the Saab deal doesn't get Chinese government approval by the Nov. 15 deadline, Saab likely will be liquidated -- perhaps even before Swedes sit down to celebrate the festival of Santa Lucia on Dec. 13.
It's good when a troubled auto company finds a buyer to keep it afloat. It saves jobs. And, at least for a while, it will preserve a quirky brand that mostly appeals to college professors and other nonconformists.
(Disclosure: My wife, who is neither a professor nor a typical nonconformist -- but is of Swedish blood -- leased a Saab 9-3 turbo convertible for a couple of years.)
When my wife's relatives in Sweden heard the news that the Chinese are coming, they probably said Tack sa mycket, which means "thank you." As far as I know, none works for Saab, but it is part of the national consciousness.
Still, Victor Muller's statement that the deal has "secured the future of Saab" reminds me of a statement by Neville Chamberlain, something about "peace in our time."
You can reach Edward Lapham at firstname.lastname@example.org.