I wasn’t going to write about this but some comments I’ve seen from a few different people have prompted me to hit the keyboard. There are a few different things to tackle here but they’re all based around the same thing – NEVS’s PR efforts at the moment are stuffed and they should take action to improve them.
News came through on Saabs United today that NEVS are planning to build hybrid vehicles. This revelation came from a phone call between Tim from SU and NEVS’s Mattias Bergman (Business Development, Public Affairs and Communication).
Whilst I’m going to be critical of NEVS in parts of this article, let me say up front that I think the decision to include a hybrid as part of their vehicle range is a sensible one. It provides me with much more hope for the future of the company. Pure EV’s are OK for a certain set of buyers but they exclude so many and as one commenter mentioned today – advances in battery tech aren’t the same as advances in electronics. This is chemistry we’re talking about here and it’s going to take some time (if it ever happens) for EV’s to provide the versatility and utility of a combustion engine.
So, chalk up a good decision for NEVS.
The poor decision, in my opinion, was to make this knowledge available first on Saabs United.
I checked the saabcars.com website just before writing this – some 8 hours or so after first seeing the story on SU – and there is still no press release about this story on Saab’s own website. Tim has mentioned in comments to the SU story that he’d received a press release, which I presume is about this story, yet it doesn’t appear on Saab’s website and a check of Google News for ‘Saab Hybrid’ reveals no such press release, either.
Allan B, in comments on this site, takes a kind line in regard to why this might have happened:
On the PR front, however, it could very well be that you’re right Swade. It does seem … unusual, strange even … to sort of leak fairly monumental information out in this way.
On the other hand, you could look at it like this:
SU, the site that you created, and which initially gained international stature among industry people and fans because of your reputation, remains THE go-to place for Saab people around the world – fans, dealers, whatever – seeking the latest from the inside track.
It would appear NEVS know that. NEVS also know that they are not yet ready to launch their big mainstream PR drive. But perhaps they just think it is nice to make Saab fans feel a bit special by being given the inside track when they look at SU.
As I said, I think that’s a kind opinion.
Something I agree with here – this is news of monumental proportions when it comes to the NEVS narrative. A few days ago I covered an interview between NEVS’s Mikael Ostlund and a motoring website called New Motor Mag. In the written notes to this interview – conducted just last week – the following is stated in black and white:
There are no current plans to develop a hybrid
I got the same story from Mikael Ostlund in my phone call with him five months ago. Allan B, cited above, reminded me of my own comments at that time, which were prompted by Mikael’s direct answer to the hybrid question I asked him. I asked Mikael about hybrids because a lot of Saab fans were talking about the technology even though NEVS had said they were focused on electric cars. His answer prompted me to write the following:
“Those Saab fans who were hanging out to buy a Saab hybrid should head off to the Toyota/Honda/Whatever showroom now. Alternatively, you can try to look up your Saab hybrid at notgonnahappen.com”
So, in a nutshell – last week NEVS were as adamant as ever that they were NOT going to build a hybrid. This week they’re going to build a hybrid.
That’s the very definition of monumental news when you’re talking about what is essentially a start-up company and their core product.
Let me be blunt: I don’t think NEVS announcing this on SU is them being kind. I think it’s NEVS being unprofessional.
In case the last 200 words or so didn’t make an impact on you, this is probably the biggest single news item from NEVS since they bought Saab’s assets and announced that they were going to build electric cars. This is bigger than the news that they were looking into reviving the internal combustion 9-3, and I’ll tell you why.
A re-built Saab 9-3 by NEVS would not have been an improvement over the 9-3 Griffin Edition that was being sold as Saab declared bankruptcy in 2011. Re-building an internal combustion Saab 9-3 was a purely economic decision based on the desire to make better use of the factory. What’s more, I’m still quite skeptical as to whether they’ll build a purely combustion-engined 9-3 at all (the only viable engine they might be able to use in a timely manner is the diesel but there’s little-to-no market for that in China and they won’t get safety certification in Europe without body modification). I personally think their EV-1 vehicle will be ready before an internal combustion engined 9-3. But that’s another story….
A hybrid Saab 9-3 is the biggest news since they bought Saab’s assets because it DOES have the potential to be a genuinely improved model offering – one that people have been crying out for since NEVS indicated that Saab would be going electric.
I’ve written it several times and industry people who know a lot more than me have written it as well – the future for a company centered on purely electric vehicles is a very, very tough one. The market is not ready for it and the vehicles aren’t yet technically capable of fulfilling the market’s needs. Hybrids are the genuine medium-term solution and I think it’s a wise and commendable decision from NEVS to include a hybrid in their future plans.
This decision, however, should have been communicated to the market directly by NEVS. They should take ownership of their own story and start to build it in people’s minds. Seconding the duties to SU is fantastic for SU but I don’t think it does anything to enhance the credibility or professionalism of the company.
Allan B mentioned in his comment that SU became THE site for Saab news during the sale of Saab in 2009/10 and this is true. Those were vastly different times, however. Saab were owned by General Motors and thus could not speak out themselves about what was happening in the sale process. I was fortunate enough to have very good sources in multiple places and the result was timely and accurate news and a site that became the reference point for what was going on. The site was in the right place at the right time and prepared to play the right role.
To borrow a phrase from S.E. Hinton – that was then, this is now.
NEVS’s story is theirs to build. This is not a job to be outsourced. Their customers and the motoring press should be able to come to them to find out what’s happening directly. This business of saying one thing one week, with no reservations, and then saying a completely different thing the next week is simply not good enough in terms of building trust in your story.
As an aside, I’ve seen quite a few people taking broadsides at the Muller-era Saab in terms of their public statements. The common line is something like this: ‘I would rather NEVS keep quiet until they have something to say instead of being how Saab used to be, building up expectations that they couldn’t deliver’.
I reckon that’s absolute bollocks.
Yes, Saab did make statements related to financial matters that turned out to be unfulfilled. Some of those statements ended up being untrue because of events that were beyond Saab’s control. Some of those statements were indeed ill-advised and too optimistic.
Let me say this, though. Saab didn’t make a single product related public statement during 2010-11 that I’m aware of, that they couldn’t back up. When it came to the products and technologies being produced by the company, Saab either had those products in place or were 100% committed to bringing those products to market.
They backed those statements with actions, too. The work being done on the 9-3 replacement was done at breakneck speed and would have delivered all the benefits that were promised by Saab becoming a small, fast-moving company. The partnerships with BMW, e-AAM and others were all achieved and would have produced superb results. Technology such as the low emissions TTiD range and IQon were real-life superb achievements.
The financial side was screwed, no doubt. The product side was going to be fantastic and Saab’s statements and intentions in that regard were spoken about loudly because they WERE exciting and they WERE for real.
It wasn’t wrong for Saab to talk about their future products because their future products actually existed and were worthy of the community’s anticipation.
I believe that NEVS should also be talking up their progress and their products – if they do, in fact, exist. That’s where the headline of this story comes in. Allan B should take credit for bringing up the resurrection of Inside Saab in his comment, referred to earlier. [For those who might be reading this article but don’t know the history – I was employed by Saab in 2011 to publish a site called Inside Saab, which was intended to tell many and varied stories from inside the company and the wider Saab community.]
Let me get something straight – I have no interest in suggesting this other than I think it’d be a good vehicle for NEVS/Saab to communicate directly with the community. In addition, let me also make clear that I didn’t invent the Inside Saab theme or idea. The idea was dreamt up by Saab’s marketing people and they presented it to me when I met them in Gothenburg after the Geneva Motor Show in 2011, around a month or so before I started at Saab.
Inside Saab was a great idea and it’s a concept I see more and more car companies getting into. Just yesterday I saw a video from Nissan on their clay model design studio – exactly the type of behind-the-scenes story that we intended for Inside Saab but never got to deliver.
NEVS need to take their own PR seriously and a vehicle like Inside Saab would be a great way to do it. Yes, you make sure you do your own press releases and forge your professional relationships with the automotive press. Yes, you maintain your links with the established enthusiast community and give them all the inside access that you reasonably can. But as a company, you have to own the story. You should be the point of first reference for news about your product or service, not someone else.
Inside Saab would be a great vehicle for doing that; for delivering the reasoning that underpins the news in the press release. Some people are happy to just receive the surface-level news. There’s a good number of people, however, who are interested in going deeper and NEVS should own the responsibility for taking them there.
As has been mentioned before, NEVS/Saab will have to rebuild links and trust with any potential owners in the future. The longer they remain effectively silent, the harder the job is going to be.