I wasn’t going to write about this until something came out officially, but as it’s officially now Sweden’s worst kept secret, I think we can talk about the impending sale of Saab and it’s future as a manufacturer of hybrid and electric vehicles.
Swedish newspaper SvD has come out with a report that aligns pretty well with whispers I’ve been hearing via more than one Djup Strupe in the last week or so – Saab will be sold to a company called National Electric Vehicle Sweden (NEVS).
SvD say that a deal was ready to be signed as early as last weekend, but last minute concerns and foot-dragging by the Swedish National Debt Office has delayed the signing and the announcement.
One would hope that all parties involved on the Saab/Government side would have learned that timeliness really is critical to missions like this. People can and will walk away if their investment time frames aren’t fulfilled (hello, Koenigsegg Group).
NEVS are a relative newcomer to the Saab sale scenario, with first reports (minus the company name) emerging just a few months ago. The fledgling company was only registered in Sweden this month and has some big Swedish names at the top to go with, presumably, some big Japanese and Chinese money in the bank accounts.
Saabs United report that NEVS plan to build what was essentially the Saab 9-3 ePower, along with a small electric vehicle for the Japanese market. They also plan to finish the 9-3 replacement based on the Phoenix platform, which I assume forms the initial hybrid part of their production planning and will involve cooperation with eAAM for the hybrid/electric rear axle.
I’m sure their plans must include more than this, however. They will need a car that they can bring to market in the very short term and these plans all involve what I would expect to be at least a 2-year lead time.
The 9-3 ePower was a great prototype, but that’s all it was. Saab had plans to introduce a test fleet of 70 ePower vehicles in 2011. I saw some of them being assembled at Saab’s frickeboa test assembly line, but that test fleet never eventuated and even if it did, it was for testing, not for production. Here’s one that I took a ride in at Saab’s Technical Development area last year.
Some further consideration to Saab’s future as a hybrid and electric vehicle manufacturer…..
I’ve had a say on this already. Twice, in fact.
In my first piece, I opined that hybrid/electric shouldn’t be the centrepiece of a car manufacturer’s strategy, that car manufacturers who are succeeding with hybrid/electric are only doing so because they’ve got a solid lineup of traditionally powered vehicles to finance the innovation:
The problem is that people don’t, won’t and in many cases, can’t buy these vehicles based on good feelings alone. The vast majority of people will select from a pool of vehicles that is based on price first. Factors like styling, safety, convenience, utility and reliability will also govern…..
….Simply put – Whilst we all like the nice, shiny image that hybrids/electrics project, the fact is that the market doesn’t have products available that are both utilitarian enough AND cheap enough to convince people to switch from more traditionally powered vehicles. Companies building solely electric vehicles are struggling and their customers are few and far between….
….I don’t know exactly what this new consortium has in mind, but the high cost of electric vehicles dictates that their future success will depend on development and manufacturing in lower cost countries. I’m 100% confident that the Swedes have the know-how to build great electric cars, but I’m not confident that the cost could be kept to a level that would make those vehicles a success in the marketplace.
I’m willing to stand by all of that. The market proves it, too. Hybrid sales are growing slowly but even Toyota has had to cheapen its Prius model down to the Prius C to finally leverage the kind of sales volumes people thought they might reach years ago.
Electrification of the automobile is pretty much inevitable, as far as I can tell, but electrification of the broader market is a long way off and I do fear for a new Saab putting all their eggs in the electric basket.
Having said that, I can’t wait to hear from this new company with regard to what it plans to do with Saab.
What sort of car company do they want to build?
Will it have links to Saab’s past beyond just the badge?
Will they even keep the badge? (something that’s not entirely up to them, but up to defence company Saab AB, who are interested in seeing Saab’s name continue to be associated with manufacturing operations in Sweden)
My most recent writings on this topic considered the obstacles this company’s going to have to overcome:
Any new owner is going to have to contend with incredible difficulties in terms of staff, dealer network, administration, marketing, engineering – and all of that’s before they make a single car. Even if there’s a small core of Saab personnel remaining within the wider organisation right now (and there is), this will essentially be a new organisation and they’re going to have a huge mountain to climb.
Doing all of that PLUS the electrification of a car for production is going to take some committed minds and very deep pockets. I’m very interested to see how they plan to do this and will be hoping like heck that they can.
Saab and the city of Trollhattan have been a very important part of my life and whilst this challenge seems almost insurmountable, I’m willing to bet that the right people can pull it off.