AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Victor Muller, the man who came to Saab’s rescue the last time it was on the brink of collapse, is famous for his unbounded optimism, but even fans of the marque wonder if the 51-year-old car enthusiast may have to admit defeat.
Muller is chief executive and part-owner of Swedish Automobile SWAN.AS, the Dutch listed company which owns Saab and luxury sports car firm Spyker.
Spyker’s emblem carries the motto “nulla tenaci invia est via,” or “for the tenacious, no road is impassable.” Whether that applies to Saab, which filed for court protection from its creditors on Wednesday as it awaits funds promised by Chinese investors, remains to be seen.
“I hope the Chinese come and help, otherwise I‘m not so sure any more about Saab’s future,” said Karl Ask, a longtime fan of Saab cars who heads the Swedish Saab fan club and who owns 11 Saab models.
“Victor Muller is interested in Saab, he loves Saab and that’s good. But they need money.”
Muller, 51, is a former mergers and acquisitions lawyer who made his fortune from Dutch fashion brand McGregor -- he typically looks smartly dressed in press shots in a country where casual attire is the norm.
He then turned his attention to Spyker, and revamped it together with car designer Maarten de Bruijn, restoring the glory of a family firm that once built a coach for the Dutch royal family, but which was liquidated in 1926.
Spyker’s sports cars have appeared in Hollywood films including Basic Instinct 2. Only a few dozen are produced each year, with a list price of about 200,000 euros for the C8 Aileron.
Spyker rescued Saab from closure by General Motors Co (GM.N) in early 2010, but as Saab’s production fell short of target, the company has struggled financially.
Muller has flown from continent to continent, tapping a network of friends and potential investors -- including businessmen, companies, and fund managers, from Russia, China, the United States, and the Middle East -- and announcing asset sales in the hope of saving Saab.
A fanatical collector of classic cars, Muller told Dutch magazine Quote a couple of years ago he had sold his purple C8 Spyker Spyder, chassis number 007, and was building a dark grey C8 Spyder.
By February (2011), as Muller scrambled for funding, he was forced to announce the sale of the entire Spyker sportscar business -- a business he had often referred to as “my baby” - to Vladimir Antonov, a Russian businessman, for about 32 million euros.
Following the planned sale, Muller renamed the business Swedish Automobile SWAN.AS -- even though it transpired last month that the Spyker deal had been suspended, and that talks continued in a sign that yet another bid to raise desperately needed cash was in trouble.
Just days before Saab applied for court protection, Muller shocked other businessmen after taking part in a Red Cross classic car rally in the Dutch town of Diepenheim on September 3.
Dutch business newspaper Financieele Dagblad commented: “Concerned about the impending demise of Saab? Apparently not for the top boss... Victor Muller cruised along the small lanes in the Red Cross Rally in a giant yellow antique Rolls Royce once used by an Indian maharaja for tiger hunting.”
“We hear Victor Muller is still optimistic he can turn this ship around,” said Jan Maarten Slagter, director of the Dutch shareholders’ association, VEB, adding, “We’ve always warned investors it was extremely risky.”
Reporting by Sara Webb and Harro ten Wolde; Editing by Mike Nesbit