A post-Spyker open letter to Saab fans

Hughw said it quite succinctly in comments to my open letter to Kai Johan Jiang:

Much as I appreciate Steve’s letter and all the comments from fellow Saabists, I fear it will have absolutely no impact with NEVS.

When I wrote that letter, I knew there was around a 0.5% chance of Mr Jiang ever seeing it. Maybe he googles himself. Maybe he has someone watching the web for content about NEVS/Saab. Maybe someone still at Saab from the old days showed it to him. However he might come across it is largely irrelevant because the chances he’d ever see it were very, very remote.

And the chances he’d act on any part of it? Even more remote.

As Hughw also points out:

If you’re going to spend millions of dollars, you probably do enough due diligence to know what you’re buying. I’m sure they know better than us what technology is sitting on Saab’s shelves, what technology is out there in the world, and what technology is coming on line.

I’d up those millions to billions-with-a-‘b’ because that’s most likely what it’s going to take to produce car #1.

What Hughw points out so eloquently is that this is a company with a plan. I’ve already given words to the thoughts of many people in saying that I don’t understand how they’re going to accomplish that plan, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that they have one and that none of us really know what it is.

And here’s the kicker – Any businessman in Jiang’s position who’s worth his salt won’t be altering that plan because a blogger in Tasmania, or a handful of pundits or commenters from other parts of the world asked him to consider them.

As much as I think it would be reassuring/wise for NEVS to be more forthcoming about their business plan, I also acknowledge that it’s their business and not mine.

I also know this – the future of the brand (that might be) called Saab may not be the future that Saab enthusiasts want it to be. Those people will have to make a decision of their own because no amount of pleading or self-expression is going to change the plans that NEVS will put in place for this company.

I’ve owned three Saab 99s, three Saab 900s, two Saab 9000s and two Saab 9-3s. Whilst I would never claim to speak for the Saab community, I’m a reasonably typical Saab fan circa 2012, with the added bonus of having done what I’ve done over the last 7 years.

I’ve grown up on turbocharged Saabs, I love the company’s capacity to punch above its weight and the tendency Saab had over many years to do things the way they thought was right. I would say that I’m passionate about Saab, especially the people who I worked with there and the city of Trollhattan.

Sadly, however, like many fans I’m also compelled to say that I’ve never bought a new one.

As a Saab fan, I grew accustomed to voicing my opinion about what was happening at the company. Saab had operated in such a distinct way, producing such a distinct car, that forming an opinion became an easy thing to do. Triggers for voicing that opinion in the GM era were commonplace and the advent of the blogging format provided a perfect vehicle for doing so.

In 2009, we went from voicing an opinion about Saab to fighting for Saab. The company’s pending extinction when alternatives seemed so close at hand inspired thousands of people around to world to act for this company. In 2010, when the outcome we sought was achieved thanks to Victor Muller’s tenacity and GM’s willingness to deal, we celebrated because the good side – our side – had won. Saab survived.

All of a sudden we were all very much invested in the future of this brand. Victor said they were going to return to building Saab-Saabs and we cheered. We had fought for Saab. We had argued with workmates, written to senators, shouted from rooftops and gathered together in the bitter cold of the northern 2010 winter. The company owed us, right?

Well, maybe you could argue that Saab in the Spyker era owed its fan base a good hearing.

This Saab? Not so much, I’m afraid.

NEVS are going to take Saab in a direction of their choosing, which is their right and their decision to make. As a Saab fan, I’m going to make my own decision as to how closely I’m going to follow what they do.

Personally speaking, I’m aware that the Saab that I know and love could be well and truly dead right now. Still, I’m going to follow what NEVS do simply because of the investment I have made in that factory with my own life. I love that place and I love what the people there can do.

I’ve never seen myself as a potential buyer of an electric vehicle and to be honest, I don’t see that in my future, either. I’m into cars because of the pleasure they give – aesthetic, mechanical, performance, visceral, aural – the whole shebang. I’ve never spent much time contemplating whether or not I could get the same pleasure from an electric vehicle. I just assumed not.

But I’ll follow, watch, wait and see. That’s my decision.

NEVS are going to do what they will do, with or without “us”. I’m quite sure that NEVS will be aiming to build their own clientele. They’d hope to bring a few of us along with them, but their product is going to be very different from the product the average Saab fan is used to. Their decision is already made and the consequences are unfolding even as you read this.

Every Saab fan’s going to have a decision to make at some time – to follow or to leave. It’ll be easy for some and harder for others, but one thing it won’t be is avoidable.

There’s no rush and no commitment necessary, but the final realisation that you’re a spectator in all of this might be liberating.

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32 Comments

  1. There is no reason why an EV would not stimulate in the same way as a petrol / diesel. The current crop are dreary but lets be clear when Toyota and GM build a petrol small/medium saloon would you expect excitement?

    I clearly remember people confidently telling me diesels were rubbish and would never sell in the mainstream. In the 80s that was right and the market moved on.

    Even in the list of what makes a car exciting with the single exception of noise (and the absence of sound can deliver a pleasure of its own) and EV can meet every one of those criteria.

    Car enthusiasts (and quite often the industry) are often resistant to new technology compared to the market. As a supermarket told a supplier on a TV show here in the UK recently – “never think you know better than the public, you don’t”.

    Where enthusiasts play a part is in ensuring manufacturers do not move too far away from their roots and that the vehicles still deliver the required level of pleasure – something Toyota is trying to recapture. In that respect Mr Jiang may be paying more attention than you think.

    1. Nice move, Swade, getting the Alfa. Lots of character, THAT noise and it is the real deal.
      The wife said just yesterday, maybe the weekend fun car will be petrol powered, fun and turbo, while the commuter city car will be electric.
      I said, I think once range issues are sorted out, the country car can be electric, have the 400km range, AND be fun.
      Maybe the tech is near enough already and we just need to see something ‘prove it’.
      Say on a race track.
      At Le Mans…

  2. I will stay as a fan of SAAB, old and new. I have changed my old stationary telefon for a mobile phone to a mobile computer phone.
    I have changed my dirty loud lawnmover to an battery one, and I like it.
    I am not afraid of changes.

    1. Sadly Zippy may have a point,if the brand name was an important part of the deal it surely would have been dealt with before they signed on the dotted line,so I can only conclude that NEVS can do without it if necessary.

  3. I like very much your summary of how you see the future with Nevs, Swade.
    I will just try to do the same and just enjoy the Saab cars we still can drive.
    They are just super and fine and we will enjoy these as long as possible.
    If no alternatives will be presented when we normally would exchange our car; we will just continue todrive these and become member of the recently created group in the UK for owners of Saab cars with al least 100.000 miles on them.

  4. Guys.. haven’t we all been forgetting one little maxim that is close to all Saab supporters’ hearts; “Move your mind”? True enough, Saab has always made internal combustion powered cars, but has Saab not always bucked the conventional? Saab DNA is not in the metal and fabric of our cars, but it is the twinkle in the eye of the many talented engineers that created them. Hell for all of you that have GM based Saabs, do any of you consider yourselves to be any less of a saab supporter…. if you want to apply the purist rules, then who are you guys?

    I don’t think any of us can or should criticise NEVS for what may or not happen next. Just remember that before they secured any of the assets of Saab, they employed the very engineers that give us our thrills and smugness for driving Saabs. They put their money where their corporate mouth was, who else did that? To have justified that on their company accounts, I suggest they had a damn good understanding of what Saab DNA is. They secured talented Saab engineers and put bread on some of the tables in Trollhatten. That’s the way to really make the DNA live on. Personally, I’d say that takes deep pockets and balls. I applaud them and look forward to the future of the new company..and I do hope they get the Saab branding.

    Note also the force of will to work towards production when all the press can do is to talk of portents of doom: no dealers,lost staff, confidence in the marque yada yada. Of course NEVS have a corporate plan, but they are in the formative stages and don’t want to blow their chances if competitors get wind of what is planned. Now who does this single mindedness remind you of??? Hmmmm a certain car company wholly owned by a rich and crap yankeedoodle car maker that kept blowing a gasket when its minions refused to accept flawed design and budgets cuts?? I bet some of you smiled at that remark – lol Trollhatten revisted??

    Ok sorry for the self indulgent rant. Back to the present, have any of you thought about the massive torque generated by electric engines? The power regained by not needing a mechanical gearbox? What did Saab do with the turbo, but gives us more power and reasonable economy compared to conventional engines with similar power outputs? Spot a link here?

    “Move your minds guys” not all electric cars have to be as big a turn off as a Prius. Think Tessler and Fisker. Imagine what Saab engineers can do. I’d say they have the talent to make the yankydoodle Ampera look like one of those old fart carts for seniors to ride on at the supermarket! What better for the empire to strike back?

    If nothing else guys, I hope I brought a smile to your faces.

    Ave et Vale.

    1. I agree.

      As NEVS is planning in putting miljons of man-hours in development before releasing their first car, using to a big extent old SAAB engineers, I do expect it to be something quite interesting. And also to break with tradition.

      I also expect Mr Jiang to know something we dont know (yet). Zlso remember that a lot of the rumors are not coming from NEVS, but from the press.

  5. Steve, spot-on. I’m also in the ‘one step back and lets see’ camp. Dearly love the brand to flourish and confound critics but too early to say if the brand will have any Saab DNA after change of owners. Interested, but less so….

  6. Don’t understand the skepticism around. It’s a new start, the alternative is death. Saab building electric and hybrid cars sounds to me like a revolution, just like wind-tunnel testing in 1947. And it is clearly needed! Dirty fuels must come to an end, and I’d rather see it happen sooner than later.

    1. Right. EV enthusiasts — prototypically Tesla people but also SAAB’s own Electro-Engine testers — are most enthusiastic about PERFORMANCE, which they report to be superior to conventional. Interesting to note that K-segg speaks admiringly of EV performance. Range and infrastructure are currently practical limitations, but they are not aspirational limitations. David’s point is right. SAAB most desperately needed to re-establish its innovative initiative, and that’s a possibility with NEVS. And only with NEVS. “Must we combust?” they ask, rhetorically. “No!” they answer. I can well imagine a compelling “Guaranteed 100% GM-free” Electro-Engine Extended-Range 2014 SAAB Phoenix. I would welcome an on-board E100 recharger (as distinguished from a hybrid), but by 2014 even that tie to combustion might not seem necessary.

  7. Swade, again, is spot on.
    I would come closer to buying a hybrid long before I would all electric. I bought an extended warranty for my ’07 convertible, so I am definitely waiting to see what comes next. However, I have one eye on the rest of the industry to see what else piques my intrest. I would love nothing more than to replace my SAAB convertible with a new one, but that is a decision NEVS will be making for me. Waining and Seeing….

    1. I am in exactly the same boat. I dearly love my 2008 9-3 convertible, and plan to drive it as long as it will let me. I dreamt of buying another one after that- in black- and hopefully an aero at that.

      It’s not an impossibility, but I am realizing that it is not guaranteed in any way. Far from it.

      But, if it all goes south, I have been eying the Volvo C-70 hardtop convertible. So all may not be lost :).

      ps- I am on my second SAAB, and my immediate family has purchased four of them, too. None of us has bought new, either.

  8. As the American Baseball player Yogi Berra so eloquently put it in his book…”When you come to a fork in the road…take it.” (Good pic Steven)

    http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/when-you-come-to-a-fork-in-the-road-take-it-yogi-berra/1007493546

    Maybe the folks from NEVS have already read it. 😀

    With the results Audi had at LeMans over the weekend…Hybrids CAN be made to perform. Let’s just hope NEVS can come close to producing a Hybrid car that has the performance of an XWD Aero…or better…at a REASONABLE price point that people can afford.

    Tesla & Fisker are not there yet with cars that have any semblance of decent range. And a USD$50k entry point for a Tesla is not reasonable.

    All that said…we’ll just have to wait an see what the future holds. Could be exciting.

    1. As a P.S.

      While many folks here have not purchased new SAABs, dealerships (and SAAB) make more money on Parts and Service in the long run from owners. And the parts purchases did add to the SAAB corporate bottom line.

      My wife and I have had the good fortune to purchase many new SAABs since 1978, but we have also purchased several used ones as well. All of them have had OEM SAAB replacement parts installed in them long after they were purchased.

      It would be wise for the folks from NEVS to purchase SAAB Parts AB, if they want to retain current SAAB owners/customers. Whether or not the CARE is another story.

    2. I wonder how many people here would be more inclined to opt for a $50k (USD) electric or hybrid 9-3 hatchback like the leaked photo vs the $50k (USD) petrol 9-5?

  9. I wish NEVS would be more forthcoming with their plans also because I need to make a decision on my next car in the next year or so. I have purchased one new Saab (a 2000 9-3, my first Saab) and one used Saab (a ’71 Sonett III). The 9-3 is the daily driver and while it is still running well…as it approaches 200,000 miles I know that there may come a time soon where it will be more expensive to maintain and it will make sense to get something new.

    I had high hopes that when the new 9-3 replacement was available, that this could be the perfect new car for me. Even toward the end the Spyker era when I knew it might be delayed, I figured I could keep the 9-3 going until the 9-3 replacement was ready. If NEVS has plans to finish developing that vehicle (or something close to it, either with Mahindra or on their own), I hope they state that soon. If so, I am willing to wait and see. If not, then I need to begin making plans to get a recent 9-3 Sportcombi. I know an electric car with the range I need is likely to be out of my price range, so that is not really an option.

    1. You may want to start looking for that 9-3 SC now, while prices are down. Might just be able to get a good price sooner, rather than later.

      I would be very suprised to see anything from NEVS before MY2014, and that will most likely be just one model anyway…probably a sedan.

      We do not know if NEVS has any internal combustion powertrains for the 9-3 platform that they have supposedly purchased, and if they do not, that will take time to source. Maybe they can refresh the “deal” with BWM…maybe not.

      And…IF the folks at NEVS do produce something other than an all electric car, and the fortunes of SAAB improve, which we all hope they do, then the prices of pre-NEVS SAABs just might increase from what they are now…might is the key work here.

      Good luck.

      1. Oh, I know I could start looking and get a good price on one now, but if I am going to spend almost-new car money now, I won’t be buying anything two years from now. And if they *do* end up going ahead with the Castriotta designed 9-3 replacement in 18-24 months, I would likely not be able to sell the 9-3SC for anything enough to put toward a new Saab. If there is a Saab that can work for me, I would want to support them.

  10. I’m with both Swade and David “Griffin UP!” Blumberg.
    The Aural side of cars is very much a wonderful thing. A two stroke screeming ,with that high pitch noice, is something that thrills and can’t be achieved with an EV. The C900 turbo at idle with it’s throughty burble is magic and the Saab unothodox roar of the TurboX is simply begging to the driver to acccceelllleeerate.
    Is that all lost? No it’s not. Besides these cars still being out there to be heard and enjoyed, the future Saab will hold qualities of it’s own. The Hybrids will produce their type of experience and the full out electric EVs theirs. It Will take some getting used to, but many people will find whats even more important to be there (fingers crossed)… The Saab spirit. That feeling that is so hard to put a finger on but is there ever so present.
    I believe You, Swade, asked us all some years ago what the Saab spirit really is. To this day I can’t put a finger on it… It’s just there.
    If I feel that feeling is lost in the new cars to come I will have to rethink my choice in car, but for now I’m all in and I’m so happy Saab is still here.
    If the name Saab would be taken away I suggest the three port grille stays, the Saabyness aswell but under the name of Phoenix.. A renewable source of power.

    Cheers/Tom

  11. The company we know as Saab is no more. Just because a new company is going to use the factory, some existing technology and perhaps the Saab name is not going to make it a Saab or the same company again. Most of the talented people are gone and they won’t be coming back. Or for the spirit of Saab to live on in any new products. I think back of the Saab past with fond memories and enjoy the current cars. But it is time to move on at some point. There are much more interesting car brands that actually sell cars we can use like Volvo or Audi. S60 anyone? Volvo hired ex-employees from Saab so perhaps the spirit lives on after all. 🙂

  12. Well Audi did well with their EV drive on the front wheels @ Lemans this weekend , and at some time we will be out of fossel fuels when do you start to change after everyone else or begin to blend the idea sooner than later . Toyota didnt do so bad with their Lemans effort first year car . Tesla , Nissan , lots of folks are going to a EV solution . The 1900’s had a simular issue over AC / DC electric power and we still think Tesla was nuts but what are we using now .
    Change happens like it or not . I like the smell of unburnt HC in the A.M. but I see change coming .

  13. I wonder what will happen to the current 9-3…. Convertible, Sedan and Sportscombi.

    Will this be 3 models that will be electrified, and to what price will they sell at. These models will definitely have a saab feel to them, regardless if the powertrain is electric.
    If they redo the dash and front this car will be ‘as good as new’ . Question is thoug how will it relate to something else being developed on the Phoenix platform.

  14. I’m a used SAAB buyer also (have 3). One of the things I’ve noticed, even before Spyker, and even across all brands: the demand from customers like us (used) is very different than the demand from the new buyers. Eg, our local dealer sold 10 og9-5 sedans for every wagon but wagons are almost impossible to find used now even though there are many used sedans. Massive stereotyping here, but: wealthy executives buying new vs slightly more cost conscious families buying used… or at least so it might seem… The industry as a whole caters to new buyers + the desires of new buyers today are much further from those of used buyers now than they were in the 80’s imho. Much of this is due to leasing. Cars are more disposable than ever before. Anyway, demand for hybrid/EV new might fit in there?

    Swade, did you get a chance to drive one of those EV prototypes while you were at SAAB?

    http://www.saabsunited.com/2012/03/octoberfest-engineers-epower-presentation.html

    I wonder how much NEVS is planning to use those cars in their first release of the existing 9-3 targeting China? It sounded to me like the biggest issue was cabin heat (draining batteries), which might be less of an issue there. I see that as about the only sensible way to hit the timeline.

    Anyway, I’m pretty hopeful about all of this. I’ve been saying for almost a decade that SAAB should have a hybrid/EV option available. If they come out with a good one, it might be the first new car I buy…

  15. I like the idea of a hybrid, but know that I am nowhere close to ready for electric. Maybe in a few years. My concern is the lack of support for previous SAAB owners. I’m trying to be objective, but I now have two cars that I might have issues getting parts for in a few years and they took a big hit in value. How is that supposed to make previous SAAB owners feel? I feel sort’a stuck out now. Don’t get me wrong, sure I can go get an Audi, Volvo or (fill in the blank) but I would rather know what, if anything is coming from SAAB and that they value me as a customer, and will guarantee parts for my car. I don’t think that is asking too much if you’re keeping the brand name.

  16. “NEVS are going to do what they will do, with or without “us”. I’m quite sure that NEVS will be aiming to build their own clientele.”; but they haven’t done it yet. So, if I were NEVS I wouldn’t count the profit, yet.

    Saab, the auto brand, lives as long as Saab Parts uses the brand-name and/or a single running Saab car is maintained and still carries the logo.

    Just a thought, Swade.

  17. This new owner from Asia is smart. They knew for Saab to merely rely on its traditional strength in turbocharging, and continue with turbo cars will be a dead end because unlike the 1990s when virtually only Saab and Volvo were building family cars with turbocharging, today numerous manufacturers in Europe are doing the same. The competition is intense in this area and Saab no longer has an edge.

    Therefore, these Asiatic people decide to branch out to the field of electric vehicles which is still pretty much in its infancy with much less entrants, let alone competition, especially in the area of mid-size sedan, a segment above the existing small electric cars category being filled by GM Volt and Nissan Leaf. A far-sighted, salutary move.

  18. I’m not as pessimistic as most about electric cars. I think that the technology is fairly close to the tipping point.
    Give me a 300 mile/500 km highway range and I’m good to go.

    Infrastructure isn’t as big a deal as some people think. It’s not like we need to install a whole electric grid. We just need chargers. Home chargers can’t be that expensive, and they let you take advantage of “smart grid” off-peak rates. It’s a one-time investment, like indoor plumbing a hundred years ago.

    Quick chargers can be installed in petrol stations. I’m sure they will find something to sell you while you wait. Most businesses that offer parking will want a cut of that action.

    Remember when WiFi was a strange new thing? Now it’s ubiquitous.

  19. Quick chargers are what is needed to make any EV viable. But the “quick charge” has to be just that…quick..and FULL.

    I take many drives of 400+ miles/650km frequently, and can refill my tank in less than 5 minutes. My cars all have a 450mile/725km range on a tank of fuel.

    Unless an EV can be fully recharged in 15 minutes, or less, and give a 400+ miles/650km range, there is zero chance I will ever own one.

    Without a substantial increase in range, who would want to wait hours…even one…to recharge a car’s batteries when on a road trip of 6-8 hours for a petrol powered car.

    Yes…Tesla do make a 300mile/480km battery for their cars…but it is a USD$42,860.00 OPTION. OUCH! 🙁

    http://www.greencarreports.com/news/1056497_how-much-does-a-tesla-model-s-battery-pack-cost-you-we-do-the-math

    I have no doubt that many of these obstacles will be overcome…”when” is another story.

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