Spyker Founder Victor Muller Sits Down with MCM, Part 1 of 2

Victor Muller is about six foot four, has dashing gray hair, glasses and exhumes the energy of a kid after five bags of Pop Rocks. Why shouldn’t he? He is co-founder of Spyker, one of the sexiest car companies and cars to hit the scene since Lamborghini launched the super car with the Miura. Never mind that after nine years the company is not profitable, his car ranks seventh in a collector’s garage and his first gen cars are widely criticized as being beautifully crafted automobiles with the chassis rigidity of a tin can.

We met Victor for the second time at the Spyker “booth” they erected on Pebble Beach’s tent row, the first being the 2002 British Motor Show. The booth was the first one a passerby would come across walking uphill from the Lodge or the last one coming from the parking lot, your choice. There were four cars parked out front for test drives while he showcased his race car on the grass and his latest model on the stand. People were busy bees in and around the cars while the booth area was roped off, invitees only. While I waited for our interview up in the lounge area, Victor finished meetings, caught up with old friends and had his picture taken. Others were in line for an interview down on the grass as we sat together on the couches.

MCM: How many cars have your manufactured?

Victor: We have sold 250. Cars numbered 251, 252 and 253 are out front.

At a price of “if you need to ask”, he obviously hasn’t rolled out a Ford style assembly line to put cars into the mainstream. But that isn’t his intention either.

MCM: Give me the helicopter view that you have clearly told one too many times… why this company?

Victor: I was collecting Aston Martins, Ferraris and other sports cars and still do, but I felt there was a need for an exclusive car with old world craftsmanship, like they used to build. This type of car is represented in our five brand pillars: heritage, design, craftsmanship, performance and exclusivity. These are the five core elements that constitute the Spyker brand. The exclusive and the hand-built elements are very important when you compare to the mass-produced sports cars.

MCM: I was just at an interview with Henry Fisker as he spoke about the Karma.

Victor: First of all, I have tremendous respect for Henry and what he is doing. He is a fantastic designer and pioneer in building hybrid electric cars.

MCM: Of course. What I’d like to know is your view on his manufacturing techniques, farming everything out while only having the overhead of a design, engineering and marketing organization in the U.S. In a sense, you are both building something exclusive from scratch. Although Henry plans on 15,000 units.

Victor: Everything is cyclical in manufacturing, this is a trend that I think we are seeing (he motions widely with his arm up and down). Right now we are seeing companies look to the outside to get manufacturing accomplished. But when you are tied to companies outside of your control, you are subjected to their unions and other demand that can impact your production. We will see this change and manufacturing will be brought in house again to help maintain control.

MCM: You currently get your engine and suspension from outside sources. Are you giving up control?

Victor: We get our suspension from Lotus and the engines from Audi but do own our chassis and electrical systems. It would be impossible for us to engineer our own engines. The costs are tremendous to build the tooling for such a low volume of cars. The suspension comes from Lotus. They are the experts in handling and the recognized leader. We could not do a better job.

The hand-crafted body panels are supplied by both Coventry Prototype Panels from the U.K. and Karmann from Germany. The chassis of the C8 is built from extruded box sections and folded sheet.

Victor: We would like to take more of the body construction in house. That is our goal for the future.

MCM: Are you profitable? How are you financed?

Part 2 of our interview with Victor next week….

Spyker Interview Part 2 of 2
Part 2 of 2…

MCM: Are you profitable? How are you financed?

Victor: No, we are not profitable. We are a public company listed on Amsterdam Exchanges with four major shareholders. About 25% of the stock is in the hands of government owned Abu Dhabi investment company Mubadala (which also has 5% of Ferrari). One is Vladimir Antonov, a new shareholder who came in at the end of last year. He’s a Russian banker who is very committed to the company and a keen car collector and financial investor. He has 30% of the stock. Another investment company, Gemini, has 10% and I also have 10%. So collectively, the major shareholders account for 75% of the company’s ownership. The rest is in free float.

MCM: When do expect to be profitable?

Victor: Sometime next year in 2010 or 2011.

MCM: Back to the manufacturing process for a moment. I was at an interview with Henry Fisker yesterday and he offered up without being questioned that “they are an American car company.”

Victor: But they build their cars in Finland.

MCM: My point exactly.

Victor gives a slight roll-the-eyes as we both chuckle a bit.

MCM: What can we expect from Spyker in the future? Are you interested in hybrid technology?

Victor: We don’t believe that there will be the infrastructure to support electric cars for some time. What is going to happen if you want to drive through the desert? You are limited by a need to charge the vehicle. We have no plans to move from our current fuel based engines. We do plan to expand the line and are going to be launching an SUV, the D8 Peking-to-Paris.

MCM: What about fuel cell vehicles?

Victor: BMW has said it will be 2025 before they can have a successful consumer based fuel cell vehicle.

Victor: You know, one of the things we are most excited about is our 5th place finish at the 24 Hours de LeMans this year. We finish ahead of all Porsches in our GT2 class. This is great achievement for us and we are really excited about it.

From Spyker’s Press Release: Mr. Muller: “As from the day we launched the company in October 2000, we have consistently used endurance racing as one of our marketing pillars. Since 2002, we have raced at Le Mans every year, except for 2004, and used the event as a powerful marketing tool. We strongly feel that racing breeds our brand and that our commercial effort to sale our product is greatly helped by the exposure generated by our GT2 cars at Le Mans. Until now, these efforts did not bear the desired fruit: a successful finish in the most challenging 24-hour race in the world. Today, that all changed. Our team Spyker Squadron came in fifth in the GT2 class, preceded only by four Ferrari’s F430 and left six Ferrari’s, five Porsches and one Aston Martin behind.”

MCM: Congratulations on the fiinish. Thank you for your time.