Why NEVS Would Do Well To Re-Start Inside Saab

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.

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37 Comments

  1. Good piece. A few loose observations: an Inside Saab-type channel would be very good indeed. It would also fit the image of a new, young company going beyond the traditional PR approach of sending out a press release once and a while. Show what is going on behind the scenes in an interactive way, through a combination of text, images, videos and interaction with users.

    Second of all: I don’t believe for a moment that SU is suitable as a ‘PR channel’ of some sorts for NEVS. Outside of the Saab community, nobody takes SU serious anymore since you left, and for good reason. It’s a fan blog, nothing more, nothing less.

  2. One additional thing: I can remember ONE press release from Saab which contained a product announcement that was optimistic at best. That is this one: http://www.inside-saab.com/2011/07/04/press-release-swedish-automobile-saab-automobile-pang-da-and-youngman-convert-non-binding-mou-into-binding-agreement-and-agree-on-additional-new-product-joint-venture/

    I remember this was actually a toned-down version of the release, since initially there was much more detail on the 9-1, 9-6X and 9-7 in the text that could not even internally be backed up internally.

    1. Fair call on that one. Heavily linked to financial releases, though. I guess the point I was making there was that all the talk about product in the initial stages of Spyker’s ownership was justified, as was the anticipation, because the products actually existed or were in development.

  3. Something I should have included in the article, perhaps…..

    When I had my ‘interview’ with JAJ and VM, late 2010, we discussed the idea of them simply paying me to quit my job and do SU full time. It was a very short discussion. SU was founded on independence. It was never intended to be a corporate mouthpiece, nor should it ever be.

    I think SU’s done a commendable job in most respects of keeping a sense of community together since the bankruptcy. The museum car is probably the #1 case in point. It shouldn’t be the first place for the publication of Saab news, however. NEVS’s own resource should be that place.

  4. If the man InsideSaab is not you, Swade, then who?

    Exactly.

    InsideSaab seemed to me to be an idea that was directly inspired by the Swade-era SU. So, whatever way you cut it, they recognised that your personality was a valuable commodity and they created a vehicle, as it were, for that. Your enthusiasm for the ‘inside Koenigsegg’ videos made it obvious (to me at least) that you missed being able to channel your passion – combined, crucially, with circumspection, independence of mind (how Saab is that?) and good judgement – for Saab in such a special way. The rest of us are fans with typewriters, either tending towards the too optimistic (probably guilty, your honour) or the relentlessly doom-laden.

    I don’t want to sound obsequious Swade because I do disagree with you on a lot of things – your recent enthusiasm for Audi, for example 🙂 – but seriously these guys at NEVS are missing a trick if they don’t at least set up a meeting with you.

    I second what Jeroen said, BTW, albeit a bit harsh on the current SU.

    1. There are thousands of people who could publish a new Inside Saab and in many respects, having a fresh set of eyes with a new brief is a much better idea that matches up with the company’s new brief. For example, it’d make a lot of sense if the publisher of Inside Saab (or one of, at least) were Chinese.

      1. Good point.

        OK – how about this. You have two teams, each with an editors. One for China, one for the rest of the world, both answerable to the Big Boss (sorry).

        Each team can borrow each other’s stuff, translated.

        Let’s say the rest-of-world operation is based in Trollhattan, which obviously is where it should be. It has a writing team, only needs to be a small handful of people, Swedes and other nationalities, ideally men and women, emphasising the Swedishness of Saab but with a nice open, cosmopolitan and international vibe.

        And in that firmament, I would like to see the name Swade as a columnist, writing cool stuff, and then that piece being either regularly or occasionally translated for the Chinese site.

        Just an idea.

  5. That is why I think that rather like make a carbon copy of Inside Saab, NEVS should adopt the spirit of it: an insider view, from behind the scenes, in a non-traditional way. Think that is what Steven hints at as well. And I guess that is something NEVS’ PR guy could do or oversee. I mean, I could imagine he has plenty of time on his hands since NEVS hardly do any traditional PR 😉

    Maybe I am a bit harsh on SU, and I will applaud their enthusiasm, but the quality of the content offered at SU has bombed ever since Steven left.

    1. Jeroen, all things concidering I think SU is doing a good job for the enthusiast that are hanging on by a thread. Without it my interest in NEVS or what they do would be just above zero.
      Steven writes like true pro. There aren’t many who have the talent and it probably makes it that much easier to do it in ones native language so we shouldn’t compare
      the original and SU 2.0 IMHO.
      As to NEVS PR, it us non-existent. Leaking information to SaabsUnited makes them look like amateurs but the car business is new to them as was running a big corporation to Spyker.
      The fact that there isn’t an official press release makes me wonder is the news about hybrids official, or just a thought that slipped through in the interview?

      I can’t believe the current Saab PR folks are (that) incompetent, feels more like the top management or the owners have put a gag on the operational leadership team, which must make life very difficult for them and it cannot continue like this, if they want to go Global with SAAB.

  6. To be fair, I understand that NEVS is saying they are looking into hybrids as well as electric vehicles. The article didn’t say that they have made a decision to go for hybrids though. Not that I think they should ever have commented on that topic to begin with…

  7. I don’t think having the news first on SU was a mistake. What was a mistake was not having the press release and the follow up interviews ready to go as soon as the SU piece came out.

    I think NEVS is still running a delicate balancing act at the moment. The $64K question is whether they will still have enough money and interest to deliver on the products they hope to build. For example, by the time their first car is ready next year, that will be a 11-12 year-old chassis design so I hope they have found ways to make it class competitive.

  8. All I get from the SU interview is that NEVS is considering hybrids. At the end of the article, the author jumps to the conclusion that the Phoenix-based car “will also get a gasonline/electric hybrid drive!”

    It seems like there’s a big step between “we’re looking at all options, including hybrids” to “we will definitely produce hybrids.”

    As I recall, NEVS was “not ruling out” hybrids five months ago, so nothing has changed.

    I agree with you that NEVS needs to start telling their own story. They could do it with teasers and spy shots, or with clear prose and instructional stories, but either way would be better than the current situation.

    1. Hi Bernard,

      The contrast between the start of the SU story and the end of the SU story is just another reason why NEVS should be the ones telling the story in the first place.

      ‘Not ruling out’ something is PR code-speak for ‘we are not doing this’. GM never ruled out diesel for Saab in the USA, either. It’s a way of saying we’re not doing something without offending the people who are interested in you doing it.

  9. Another great article Swade. I agree that NEVS needs take ownership of their story. Maybe they believe by using a third party source they are in an sense “outsourcing” their social media content, allowing them to focus on other processes. However, I strongly agree that they should be doing much more to engage both their current and future client/fan base.

    I really miss the great content that was in SAAB Soundings and SAAB INK. You brought a lot of that back with Inside SAAB. NEVS is missing out on a golden opportunity, by continuing to outsource their news the are giving up some control of both their business and their customers.

  10. Good points again. I’m a fan of your writing, as always, Swade. But I can’t say I care much for the new site font. The prior one seemed much easier to read for longer articles.

    1. Still working on the font mix, Mark. The text font at the moment is probably better suited to being the quote font. Will get to it eventually.

  11. Sometimes I wonder if this unusual NEVS’ PR practice is really a part of some plan or just a consequence of lack thereoff. To be honest, these days I give this matter far less thought than I used to. There isn’t anything tangible about NEVS anywhere. In the rare occasions when they do have something to say it is either inconsistent or uninteresting to me. Electricity, focus on Chineese market and aparent possibility of producing whatever they intent to produce in China – all this puts me off. Hybrids don’t appeal much to me either and this recent “press release” just leaves me under impression that they are just (ab)using SU to test their little ideas in public.

    Since I guess they have nothing product related to show yet, shouldn’t they be publishing videos of how much their preparations of R&D and production facilities have progressed since they took over, on their own site instead?

    1. Spinm, talking about cutting to the bone right there 🙂
      Couldn’t agree more.

      Lets hope in NEVS case this isn’t the truth it usually is.
      Swade: ‘Not ruling out’ something is PR code-speak for ‘we are not doing this’.

      BTW where is the official press release about the huge news regarding ‘the intention to look into use of hybrids’? Can’t find it on their site.

      It must be a pain for NEVS to try and please existing Saab owners…

      1. With my family being half Swedish, and having read a fair bit about Swedish business practices, my gut feeling is this:

        The Swedish way in this sort of situation, especially after the disasters and false starts of the previous three or four years, is to be very cautious and reserved. Add to the fact that the Chinese are often said to be pretty secretive, and I think we have our problem defined.

        Remember what Victor Muller was like? Saab under his wing was in very sharp contrast to how it is under NEVS, but VM was a flamboyant flying Dutchman with a penchant for self-promotion (I am not dissing him, loads of successful entrepreneurs are like that, leading by charisma, bravado and force of personality). He was certainly not a typical Swede or a Chinese! Remember how physically uncomfortable Jan Ake Johnsson looked when VM was thrusting them both into the limelight? JAJ was so Swedish about it, it was almost comical.

        There is probably lots that could be said right now – dear God, let’s hope there is actually lots to say – but NEVS just don’t want to reveal too much just yet. I think they are trying to keep the loyalists sated with a drip of insider news here and there, but of course that’s never going to be enough, and arguably they are perhaps not going about it the right way, which brings us back to the question of InsideSaab.

  12. So NEVS reads this site too, then? Absolutely they do. Probably first thing every morning, along with SU.

    There aren’t any other Saab newsy sites out there. Are there?

    Keep ‘Saying It’ Swade.

  13. I’ll tell you what NEVS’ real problem is. It is a LACK of REAL potential buyers.

    And a lack of a REAL vehicle to sell…which there aren’t any of right now, and nothing seemingly will be available in the next 12 months.

    Sure, this site & SU are populated with folks ready to buy whatever comes out next with a SAAB badge on it, but honestly, that is such a miniscule number, that it will never be enough people to make NEVS any money.

    The SAAB brand has faded from the conscientiousness of the vast majority of car buyers now, and those who have been SAAB owners, such as me and my wife, have long ago moved on to other brands, and are either locked in to finance contracts, or lease contracts, for many years to come.

    We owned nothing but SAABs starting in 1978, I was a SAAB General Sales Manager for many years as well, and still own two 1990 900 SPGs, but those are being kept until they cannot be repaired any longer, which is coming sooner than later. The likelihood of us owning a SAAB ever again is slim to none now. We have moved on, and have no plans to go back. I suspect we are far from alone.

    And mark my words, the first 2-3 years of a new manufacturers vehicles WILL have teething pains. Buying an all new car from an all new manufacturer is always a crap shoot. And NEVS are an entirely new manufacturer.

    I would give NEVS a 10% chance of making a go of it…at best. Their only hope is to sell EVs in China. If they can crack that market, which is already filled with manufacturers who HAVE CARS IN SHOWROOMS NOW…they may have a chance…but it is a steep uphill battle for them.

    And they had better get on the PR bandwagon with one unified message, because right now they look like rank amateurs who are in total disarray.

  14. The only ‘news’ is they are considering a hybrid. Reliable ‘news’ from SU seems spotty at best and I think their view of reality is distorted.

    NEVS main motivation was buying the factory and technology. If they were in it for saving the company, why didn’t they team up with Spyker before the company went bankrupt? I think many people are missing the point that Saab went from a Swedish brand and company with people to a name and brand owned by a Chinese company. I have nothing against the Chinese but Saab just doesn’t mean much anymore. I doubt ‘Saab’ means anything in China. It’s the same with SU when Swade started / owned it and sold to new owners. It’s always about the people, not the name.

    NEVS focus is China, clear and simple. Inside NEVS is probably a better name for any future PR endeavors. What’s their PR like in China? They have zero interest in other markets than Asia.

  15. I don’t really think NEVS needs to set up a site like “Inside Saab”. It was probably a great experience for swade to be a part of Inside Saab, but when it came to writing it was far from the fluent and snappy material as he produced in TS/SU…

    I think that swade found back his mojo in this blog, so for us readers there was a blessing in disguise somewhere in the tragedy.

    NEVS needs to set up their shop before they can place a lounge sofa…

  16. Let’s keep in mind that NEVS will probably have a number of government contracts in China and will be able to sell a lot of cars this way. This should give them a solid start and maybe the other markets aren’t that important initially. In the various comments people seem to have forgotten this. It’s not all about Europe and the US anymore. I hope that China really works as it will allow them to go back to the other markets.

    Given this I don’t think that they need a lot of PR until the products are getting closer to release. They haven’t got anything to sell yet.

    Also I do think that some of the feedback comments about SU are unfair. SU is doing a superb job in my view and we should be grateful for the hard work that is put into this website is all voluntary. I’m sure that NEVS pay a lot of attention to SU!

  17. I agree 100% with Phillip Paton on all three points.

    Ken H: “NEVS needs to set up their shop before they can place a lounge sofa…”

    Nice metaphor. Perhaps you are right, Swade is better off doing what he’s doing. I would agree he was perhaps not operating at maximum mojocity when writing InsideSaab. It could well be that’s because doing PR automatically blunts the writer’s individuality and shuts down the constructive dissent. Or it might have had more to do with the fact that the whole enterprise was going to hell in a handcart and his hands were tied. Were Swade to be involved with something similar at NEVS as a kind of left-field columnist who’s given a bit of latitude, and let’s say for the sake of argument they are the real deal and some really nice product is on the way, then I think everyone could be a winner.

  18. It’s a pleasure to read this, you letting out the air. It’s sad the first sane statement made by NEWS (about hybrids) makes their whole operation seem even less sane.

  19. NEWS as a company are a mystery. Are they backed with loads of money to be a part of building a Chinese super-modern electric vehicle infrastructure or are they just opportunists without a clue about either the value of the Saab brand or the reality that is hybrids gonna rule as long as a countries infrastructure is not built up to deal with someone buying a 40.000+ euro car that only caries you at the most 100.km if you are not to pedal happy. The soul purpose of a Saab is to stretch it out and enjoy its properties while driving it, especially at long distance. Plain electric cars cant do that. No one will buy a premium price car that takes you just to and from the work and cost more then needed. Or someone might but that would be stupid.

  20. I have said repeatedly on the SU site that NEVS is tone-deaf when it comes to PR. At this stage, they are clearly underwater when it comes to public outreach—-and if they are serious about selling cars, they need to rectify this failure as soon as possible. Swade—-your piece is spot-on. Regarding the products they might or might not have in development for near-future introduction—no matter how good these cars are/will be hardly matters if NEVS is incapable of building a demand for them. And I’ve been in some form of advertising/marketing/PR for over 25 years now—-and I can say with certainty that they need to be on this NOW, building anticipation, salvaging customers, reassuring potential new customers. Their website is a joke. The “NEWS” section skips from January to April between stories. They’ve only had two newsworthy stories in 4 months? What? Someone at NEVS needs to figure this out sooner rather than later: You can’t wait for the product introduction to build your market. If they truly don’t understand this, they are in so far over their heads, this will fizzle and fail in a couple years, if that. My hope is that they are just a bit lazy—-or in catch-up mode.

  21. Government contracts for higher priced cars made in Sweden? Yes, I’ve heard about the government contracts too. I have to wonder how solid those stories are. China is growing—-but not at the rate they were a couple years ago. They are going to start watching their money too—-and I wouldn’t count on government contracts sustaining Saab.

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