Production, Parts and Saabs

The automotive internet’s a funny place sometimes (this site included). One site says something and everyone seems to jump on board, regurgitating the information with their own small changes/additions with few people pausing to ask “Is this really possible?”

Here’s Autoblog (the latest amongst many):

Saab is gearing up to start production of the 9-3 again in September, two years after the last example rolled off the assembly line at the company’s Trollhättan factory, Aftonbladet reports

New Saabs? Next month!!! Sounds great!

Then there’s the next sentence, which seems to completely contradict the first one, (though it didn’t stop the ‘production’ headline).

Saab’s new owner, National Electric Vehicle Sweden AB (NEVS), a Chinese-Japanese consortium created solely to buy Saab, says that the model’s parts supply is the bottleneck in the production process, understandable since many of Saab’s suppliers closed after it stopped production two years ago.

Thankfully, Just-Auto took a look at the claims with a more experienced eye and actually contacted NEVS to ask relevant questions (what a novel approach!). The answer they got put some meat on the bones of the second Autoblog quote, a gargantuan hurdle that Autoblog (and others) didn’t even seem to recognise:

National Electric Vehicle Sweden (NEVS) is declining to confirm reports it will start production next month of the Saab 9-3 at its Trollhattan plant.

Speculation has mounted manufacture would begin imminently at the site around one hour north of Gothenburg, but NEVS is pouring cold water on the suggestion.

“We have not started production yet – we have not contracted all suppliers we need for parts,” a NEVS spokesman told just-auto from Sweden.

“Before we have 100% of all parts, we are not able to start. We have the vast majority, but not all yet. We have access to the plant of course and we produce spare parts for Saab Parts, but we have not started our own production yet.”

It’s no surprised that Saab enthusiasts are quite keen to see any news of a re-start of production. I’m sure the news floating around of an imminent re-start got some people excited.

I’d urge patience.

Here’s how things work in the car business, generally speaking. You have the following options:

  1. A quality car that’s been thoroughly tested for consumer use.
  2. A car featuring a new engine and a host of new parts.
  3. A car that’s released to market relatively quickly.

Your job is to pick which two you’d like, because you can only have two out of those three.

#2 is compulsory when it comes to NEVS’s plans to reproduce the old Saab 9-3 in non-electric form. It has to be one of your two choices because GM aren’t going to deal with NEVS to supply either engines or parts. That means NEVS has to find a new engine to go into the car (preferably turbocharged) and they have to find companies that’ll produce parts that GM used to supply.

Given that a new engine and a whole bunch of new parts have to go into the car, your choice is whether you test it thoroughly before release, or you release it quickly without proper testing (at least 12 months worth). Choose the latter if you’ve got a lot of money you don’t mind losing.

Now, if NEVS are saying (as per the Just Auto quote) that they still haven’t even got the full compliment of parts suppliers sorted yet, then Saab fans are in for a considerable wait.

If that statement’s a real reflection of where NEVS are at then I’d be surprised – cautiously but pleasantly surprised – if NEVS make a production car to be offered for sale to the public before this time next year.

NEVS have good resources at their disposal in terms of finance and facilities. They’re slowly going build up the workforce they need to make use of those facilities. But as I’ve said a million times before, there are no fingersnap solutions in the car business. Things take time. If NEVS have to put a new outsourced engine and a whole bunch of new parts into their re-birthed Saab 9-3, that’s going to take a bucketload of testing and development before it can be sold to the public. Technology has sped that process up, but it still takes time.

NEVS can do this, but Saab fans are going to have to be patient.

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42 Comments

  1. And, unfortunately, option #2 brings a lot of related, time-consuming burdens with it. Even if the car is perfect with little testing, there is a huge mount of support that has to go with the car. Even a proper service and parts manual is a must, and that’s time-consuming work. Then there are training classes for the mechanics, and that’s assuming a dealer network is in place with employees to train. Multiple languages — I hope English is one. Just looks formidable.

    1. 100% correct, Ted. It can all happen and many of these things can be worked on concurrently, but it still takes time.

      Introducing a whole bunch of new parts to the recipe made things a lot tougher and I don’t think the mainstream automotive press has taken that into account.

    2. Very good points and the kind of thing that people totally forget.

      I’d be very surprised to see this new 9-3 outside of China. It makes sense to take it there, and not much to take it anywhere else, where it will be viewed as very old tech masquerading as something new. I think it’d be a mistake for the brand to release it anywhere else.

      I’ve got a little more time for the electric version, because if they get that right we could see one of the first competitively priced and normal-looking electric cars come out of it.

  2. Yes, but on the other hand we are talking about a factory with all the knowledge in hand to develop and test new technology.
    Most of the 9-3 is tested in real life for almost a decade, and in the big picture implementing a new engine is nothing special. It’s done all the time by everyone.
    I would have thought they do the development and testing first, and then move over to parts sourcing. But of course I don’t know Saab from the inside, as Swade does.

    1. Ken, the factory is just a building. It has no knowledge at all. That knowledge resides with the people and while there are some good people there, a lot of them moved on to other things.

      That the 9-3 was an established car means something, but less than you think if you’ve got to test almost a whole car’s worth of new parts (including the most critical part – the engine).

      It all comes down to how important quality is in your vehicle proposal. Traditional Saab customers have expectations in that area. It’s up to NEVS how important the expectations of a traditional Saab customer are.

      They might well have all this in hand. It might be an absolute killer of a car. They’ve been working a while on it already. But when I hear from NEVS themselves that they don’t have all the parts suppliers sorted, it makes me think this car is further away than most people would be hoping for.

  3. Who says NEVS has not yet been able to test the new engine(s)?… Their silence means a lot more than the noise were used to. That said I prefer to wait and not overwrite toi much whatever mind we shall use for (optimistic or pessimistic)

    1. Remi, you (and everyone else) are welcome to like or not like what I write. I’m not the one who said there’d be Saabs off the line next month and I’m not trying to be pessimistic – just realistic. I’m sure they’re doing engine testing right now, but that doesn’t mean it’ll be over any time soon.

      I’m not saying that people should not expect a product at all. I’m saying that people shouldn’t expect a product too soon.

  4. Without any knowledge in automotive, but with developing software, I would guess that testing is done before signing deals with undertakers?
    I belive the deals include pricing of the parts, and the development and testing must surely been done. Or at least started to be able to deliver the part spec to the undertaker.

    What I’ve been thinking of is testing mules. And where is that testing done?

    NEVS bought a couple of griffin 9-3. Can those be used? Do they test elsewhere?

    Never the less, the whole story is intetesting. And I find the NEVS way of doing this very interesting. Now I wait to find out if that way of doing business is working.

    They are different.

  5. Another thing that people might like to consider, something that a friend has just pointed out to me via email…..

    NEVS’s statement to Just Auto about parts suppliers not all being on board yet could be BS. It could just be a statement to put off scrutiny. Maybe they’ve actually got parts sorted but things are held off for testing.

    As always with NEVS, they’re saying very little and we all just have to wait and see (as frustrating as that is).

    But if you believe their public statements, then it’s going to be some time.

  6. If production is resumed, it’s not clear if the NEVS 9-3 will be based on the Phoenix platform. Or has this platform been sold to other companies?

    1. The plan they’ve mentioned is building petrol or diesel powered 9-3 based on the old 9-3. Their electric vehicle would come later, built on the Phoenix platform.

  7. Another jolly good post, Swade.

    As has been pointed out, it is hard to tell exactly what’s going on at Nevs Saab, but I continue to have a good feeling that they are more at the quietly-getting-down-to-serious-business end of the scale rather than the seat-of-the-pants-flying-circus end of the scale that ultimately marked the near-fatal 2009-11 period.

    If the reborn 9-3 is going to hit the road with a new engine, a new interior, a restyled body, other revisions, and using a whole load of new parts, then even if it is not here until next summer it ought to be worth the wait. As far as Joe Public is concerned, assuming the rumoured changes and revisions are taking place, it will appear to be a substantially new car and, if it looks good, drives well, and smacks of quality, and the PR delivers the “We’re back – and we’re Made In Sweden” message effectively, then we might at last be in sight of the Promised Land.

    Even if there is a lot of talk about the age of the basic underpinnings I believe NEVS Saab can convince punters they are getting a new, quality car provided they get the message right and provided it delivers the goods on the road. Remember: by the late 80s the classic 900 was still selling well even though it was essentially a 1960s car underneath, with an engine that was originally borrowed from another manufacturer with a checkered history and image. By the early 1990s – I remember reading the brochures as a boy – they were making a virtue of the design’s ‘heritage’ and the 25 years’ worth of improvement and innovation. So Saab has solid experience of selling that message – it’s an oldie but also a new and improved goodie – too.

  8. NEVS play their cards very close to their chest. Very. So what we are ‘fed’ from SU and other sites and sources has to be taken with a grain of salt to be sure. Bergman himself said that they are not in the business of making announcements before that happen. Promises are not made.
    We cannot have another premature launch of a car that is not finished. We all know where that ended up. What’s another year? The retail market has already forgotten the brand, from all observations. In Melbourne, where you see two to three saabs on the road every few minutes, and in great condition too, the brand will live on yet. But when these cars are pulled from the road bit by bit, time will have run out for SAAB to be reconsidered as a viable purchase. This happened to Renault back in the mid eighties. But they launched a car that looked great years later and took off again with a new product range. Maybe SAAB will do the same.

  9. Over at saablog.net, they got a pic of 4 brand new sc (they claim).
    Those cars are located at a parking lot that looks a lot like the parking lot I’ve seen with opel prototypes, saab mules in forums before.
    Swade, do you recognice that place?

    1. I don’t know what those cars are but if they are prototypes, then there’s a specific area where prototypes can be parked and not be seen out behind Technical Development. That photo looks familiar but I can’t pinpoint whether it’s near that area. It’d be unusual to have something that’s supposed to be secret out in the open and they’re just 4 cars that are not unusual in that setting. Bottom line: No-one knows exactly what those cars are except the people involved, but the sight of four SportCombis on factory grounds without any other information isn’t necessarily grounds for marching bands and dancing girls.

  10. i think the choice of engine supplier will be key to NEVS successful relaunch of saab [ford ecoboost for me but the general public may fancy a bit of bmw engine bling, have no idea about the electric thing but the 25km’s i spent in a prius taxi to the airport a few weeks ago was not life changing…]

    1. For the sake of apperens, it might be important who delivers the engines.
      But more important for me is the tweaking of the engine. That is what saab have done before and done it well.

      Even so well that the saab tweaked engines still comes with opel and other gm cars.

      so for me, the oringins of tje engines ian’t that important. For me it is the engine it self that hat to be good.

    1. I may be wrong, but I don’t think Saab can take credit for any BMW engine in production right now. They had rights to use the 1.6 in the new 9-3 but whatever they might have been doing to that engine died when the company died (as far as I know).

    1. I agree Anthony. After having gone through the roughest, toughest and worst month of my life (our 19 year old boy died July 17th) it’s nice to be able to read and relax with some Saab writing from Swade.

      Sorry for the off topic but had to get it out there for anyone wondering where I suddenly disappeared.

        1. Thank you Maanders. In today’s sociaty we tend to forget how fradgile life can really be, espcially when you’re a young man feeling bulletproof and invincible. It is so sad that someone who has been looking out for others many years becames the victime of an innocent summer party going wrong.

          The most difficult thing going forward will be to keep on living with a positive spirit, but I know someone so full of life wouldn’t want us to change as persons.

      1. RS, sorry I got to this so late, but allow me to add my condolences. It sounds sudden and truly tragic. I’ve been scanning some photos of my father today. He passed away in 1985 and it’s still difficult to understand why. I can’t imagine how much more that would be magnified with the loss of a child. Time does heal, but you never, ever forget.

        Keep putting one foot in front of the other, my friend. I’m very sorry for your loss.

  11. The only problem with using the old chassis, is every motoring journalist out there will start their review by saying part of the car is based on a decade old chassis. And then proceed to criticize it there, over looking that the Toyota Corolla is using a chassis from 2000 and sells and drives just fine.

  12. Well here’s my 2 cents on the whole situation.

    I flew for a now defunct U.S. airline for 20 years. Within a year of its demise, a whole lot of us got together, and decided to form our own airline…from scratch.

    You have no idea of how large and complicated an undertaking it was.

    We had people from two other nationally known airlines that had gone bust join us, and EVERYONE in this newly formed company had AT LEAST 20 years experience in the industry.

    And I mean everyone. From the office staff, ticket agents, reservation agents, ground personnel…right up to and including the flight crews.

    The average experience was actually closer to 25 years.

    Even though those of us who had been certified by the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) in our various roles with our previous airlines were “current” in our respective fields…EVERYONE had to go through the entire re-certification process again, as if we had not spent one nano-second near an airline.

    The FAA looked upon us ALL as rookies, and took NONE of our experience into consideration…as they should have done.

    So what does this have to do with the “new” SAAB allegedly coming from NEVS? Everything.

    Any vehicle NEVS plans to sell will need to be certified in those countries where they are headed.

    We’re talking emissions…safety…fuel economy…etc…etc.

    NEVS is a new company, and NOTHING that SAAB did in the past matters one bit to the certifying agencies in those countries where NEVS hopes to market their vehicles. PERIOD.

    Then we’re talking about putting together a dealer network, advertising, transportation network, and on and on.

    Don’t hold your collective breath kids…because regardless of some of the hype emanating from other web sites…it will be a long time before you see one of their vehicles rolling into a dealership in your neighborhood.

  13. My guess: they will start producing prototypes next month. They won’t start producing cars to sell for quite a while.

    They can probably make small runs for development and testing. Depending on what parts are missing, they can either use old GM-era stock (if available), skip the parts altogether (for non-essentials like trim), or custom-manufacture small batches at higher prices.

    It makes sense to start building prototypes on the assembly line, even if they don’t have all of the suppliers contracted.

  14. If there was a new car coming soon, there would be spy shots of it in the press by now, surely?

    On the other hand, our local Saab Approved Repairer (formerly a dealer) has put up a Saab sign on their premises. There have only been signs for the franchise that replaced Saab for the last 18 months.

  15. While I hope Saab is making cars again soon and I wish NEVS good luck, I can’t see a re-hashed 9-3SS as anything more than an interim model until a new car can be produced on the Phoenix platform. Tarting up the old 9-3SS and giving it a different engine does nothing to the underlining fact that the basic design first arrived in 2002. I’m sure motoring journalists aren’t going to let anyone forget that no matter how good the results are. Spyker recognized the urgency in replacing the 9-3. I hardly think that urgency has somehow gone away.

  16. Hmm… their first electric vehicle will also be based on old 9-3 and next gen EVs based on phoenix.

    From their web site:
    Product range
    Development work for the first electric vehicle is in progress, and launch is planned for early 2014. The initial EV model is based on Saab 9‑3 technologies, enhanced and modified for electric drive.

    1. You’re referring to my reply to Ngu, above? And you’re absolutely correct. An oversight on my part.

      I don’t think it changes anything about what’s written in the post, however. It’s a nice catch, but I don’t think it means anything material to the discussion.

      1. yep, I somehow mess the reply to wrong place.

        No material to this discussion but I think that fact is good to keep right.

        NEVS still aiming to restart production during this year, so something is not matching here… Maybe they are not able to do that, maybe they are. Let see, time will tell.

        1. Time will tell, indeed, but here’s the interesting thing.

          If they do stick to their plans and produce cars for sale this year, they’re telling fibs to the press in saying that they don’t have suppliers on board yet. Either that, or they produce a car that’s not thoroughly tested.

          If they don’t build any cars this year (and I suspect they won’t) then that’s a sign this road is tougher than what they anticipated. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not, but it’ll be a good thing if they take the right amount of time and get the product right (if they can afford it, which is another aspect to this whole thing).

          1. Just to add a little more.
            NEVS got a test fleat manager since 11 month.
            I can’t say they do tests, but at least they hired a guy to manage the testfleat.

            I havn’t checked what cars NEVS regesterd, only that they got only 18 cars registerd in there own name.

  17. I think that only possibility if all “official” information is correct to start production this year is that new engine integration work is done with existing GM cars and facelift done just only modifying bumbers. And all other parts which cannot be get from old suppliers are just same parts from other supplier with same spec/manufactured with same tools depending are they mechanical or electrical parts.

    I agree that if there are big changes or plenty of critical parts from new suppliers and no possibily yet to build cars production start with fully validated car is not possible within 4 months…

  18. This could all be part of an elaborate scheme to appropriate Saab technology (and its brand) for cars to be manufactured in China. I suspect the Chinese can’t do this outright because of legal limitation on the use of Saab technology and the brand, compelling them to maintain some bare minimum activity in Sweden.

  19. In the end, one important question is: is it worth the hazzle? The already revised plan, in my understanding, was to restart production with an ICE version for the mere purpose to get the plant rolling again; i.e. as a measure to speed up the following roll out of the electric version. The entrepreunial goal still is the manufacturing of electrical cars. If thsi turns out to be overly complicated, this is not a good sign, because either of these two conditions may follow:
    -NEVS might decide to cancel the ICE plans and focus on the electrical version, or
    -they anticipate more problems with marketing the EVs (which would not surprise me, given recent market situation), and therefore _need_ the ICE version for surviving.

    Both is not good.

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