On Saabs and Production

I’ve been meaning to write this for three or four days but never got around to it. Today’s news that NEVS have tied up the last of their suppliers makes it more poignant than ever, though, so here we go.

What I’d like to do is tie last week’s Saab news in with and earlier report as well as some whispers that have come through from Trollhattan.

Now, I should mention at the outset that this is not your normal Djup Strupery. In fact, it’s not Djup Strupery at all. The bits and pieces that I’ve heard are from people in the area and not directly involved with Saab/NEVS. It’s stuff they’ve heard around town, quite possibly from contacts who are involved with Saab/NEVS but that’s not known to me. Therefore, I don’t know the original sources but I do know the people who have mentioned it to me and they’re people that I trust.

I hope that all makes sense. Bottom line: the minor bits I’ll add to the narrative here are unconfirmed but fit the story quite well.

To our contextual sources for this story, then, the patches that will make up this Sino-Scandinavian quilt.

First, there’s my post from last week, suggesting that NEVS are about to run vehicles down the production line that will be test vehicles at first, before any vehicles are made for sale.

Second, there’s an article from Autocar, written by Hilton Holloway, that also talks about Saab’s manufacturing plans. The article was written way back in September, but rings true. Holloway, by the way, has a mind like a steel trap and is very good at what he does. You can take note of anything he writes because he is very well connected. My thanks to Terry9000K for linking to it in comments.

Third, there’s SU’s report from today saying that suppliers are in order as well as recent reports in the local paper about NEVS hiring more production workers.

Finally, there are the few very small whispers I’ve heard here and there since writing my last Saab article.

Let’s start with the first section of Holloway’s report in Autocar, which is the relevant part of his report for the purposes of this story.

The first new Saabs have been built since the Trollhättan production line ground to a halt in June 2011.

Two 9-3 saloons left the line around 15 months after the assets of Saab and the Swedish Trollhättan factory were acquired by the newly created – and Chinese-backed – National Electric Vehicle Sweden.

Although this 9-3 pre-production car is powered by the same 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engines used in the pre-collapse series production cars, this is just a stop-gap operation.

Let’s stop there, briefly.

Yes, the 9-3s have 2-litre turbo petrol engines in them. In fact, from what I hear, at least the first couple of thousand new 9-3s will have turbocharged 2.litre engines as used in the Saab 9-3 before bankruptcy.

From what I’ve heard, NEVS bought around 2,000 of these engines from the bankruptcy estate so they’re what’s going in the car to start with.

The ramp-up to production is going to be pretty slow so those engines should last a little while. There shouldn’t be any real hassles with GM, either, as it’s old technology bought from the Saab estate, not sourced from GM.

Of course, NEVS are going to have to insert an engine of their own sooner or later. Nobody knows where that’s going to come from but I’ve seen the same hopeful comments saying “BMW”. I have two words – not likely. The 1.6 engines that Saab were going to buy from BMW were super expensive. They would have been suitable for a new, premium release like the Phoenix Saab 9-3 that Saab were going to build, but they’re far too costly for a re-hashed Epsilon-based Saab 9-3 that’s going to be very close to being a teenager before it’s even built.

Back to Holloway….

According to senior sources at Trollhättan, NEVS will build a batch of petrol-powered 9-3s in order to de-bug the production and build process, before the company switches to building the promised all-electric version of the 9-3. The initial 9-3 production run has been pre-sold to three Chinese government agencies.

So those cars are the ones I was talking about last week – test vehicles to establish the production line and test the car.

The news that the old 2.0 litre engine is being used means a bit less testing is required, but any new parts will still need proving IMHO (well, let’s just say you wouldn’t want to buy them unproven, would you?)

The bit about selling these early cars to the Chinese gels with what I’ve heard, too. I don’t know how accurate it is, but one friend in Trolltown has actually mentioned that they’re intended for use as Taxis in China.

So what do I think this all means?

  • It’s good news that NEVS have their suppliers sorted. In fact, that’s probably the most prominent news here because nothing happens if you haven’t got reliable parts supply in place.
  • NEVS will start regular small scale production later this month. The first vehicles should be test vehicles both to validate the factory and the cars themselves.
  • The first vehicles to be built for sale will, in all likelihood, be shipped to China where they’ve been bought by the government to be used for purposes less noble than a keen Saab fan would like to see.
  • There’s still no word on what engine a more consumer-oriented Saab 9-3 from NEVS will be built with and that’s an important part of the puzzle. There’s no word on where it will be sold, or when. Holloway’s article seems to indicate that NEVS will get an electric 9-3 out (based on the old platform, I assume) by the end of 2014. My guess is that that might be the first car with the Saab name on it that someone might be able to buy outside of China.

    But that’s just a guess.

Again, I make no claims of accuracy in all this. I’m just tying up some loose ends in a bid to temper people’s expectations. I don’t think you’ll be able to buy a new Saab 9-3 Aero any time soon, people.

I’d still like to hear more of what they’re doing, though. If the story’s worth telling, then tell it.

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13 Comments

  1. This is a great example of the type of information that I have been waiting for, exactly what I look for, expect and appreciate from a blog. Great post! Thanks!!

  2. Taxi duty in China is an astute idea.

    Part of the secret to VW’s success in China is that they sell older models to be used as taxis. This gives them thousands of rolling billboards, and a reputation for durability. The trick is to make sure that the “civilian” models are easy to tell apart from taxis. NEVS has that covered if they hold-off on private sales until after the facelift.

  3. A sensible explanation. Distribution issues aside, there is no way NEVS can justify taking a relatively small stock of 2011 spec engines and certify them in 2014 model production cars for sale in Western countries. Saab enthusiasts who have been swooning at the prospect of newly built Saabs coming their way any time soon will not have their wishes fulfilled. As the saying goes, it’s just NotGonnaHappen folks.

  4. Good news , in the wait time I’ll still keep making sure the one’s that I care for on a professional level are well cared for and the vintage cars have the parts they need to be SAAB’s . I’m a person who is a fixer my 86 900 is as ready to go on a long trip and back as is my wonderful 04 Areo . It’s nice to drive a SAAB of any year that represents the brand and it’s development . I do honestly still love the trade of mechanic , it’s the business of things that get in the way of the Art . Thanks for your contribution Steven I feel your in this for the art of auto’s and SAAB cars have been a big part of that for yourself . Be well ,
    Dave .

  5. As usual I appreciate your level headedness and realism as it pertains to developments at NEVS. Sure beats the stories on other forums & blogs that solicit remarks like, “WhoooWhooo, time to get out my check book!”
    Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy for this news.

    1. I agree Coggs. I post regularly at another forum and many people here on punchless rumor and start with the “woo hoos” and talk about opening their wallets, etc. I’m perceived as a downer/naysayer when in fact, I’m just the opposite—-someone who is holding out hope and optimistic that Saab will return to North America. I just see the potential and can’t imagine that a serious group of businesspeople would not consider entering our market, particularly down the road, when cars might be made in a low labor environment like China. Guardedly optimistic? Yes. Stupid and a Pollyanna? No. The “not so new” owners of Saab still seem to be spinning their wheels (no pun intended and I’m not even seeing wheels spinning). What I’m reading here is sobering maybe, but probably more grounded in reality and not fantasy. Swade is getting some accolades on at least one other site—and for good reason.

    1. I would suggest that if you want a SAAB as you have now, and like we all knew, then holding on to your current vehicle will be the ONLY way to accomplish this.

      The likelihood of anything coming from NEVS…that even remotely resembles the pre-bankruptcy SAABs…is slim…at best.

      As Steven said above…” I don’t think you’ll be able to buy a new Saab 9-3 Aero any time soon, people.”

      I’d go one step further, and say never.

      SAAB, as we all knew it, is gone. Those days are over kids. The sooner people start to deal with this, the better off they will be.

  6. It really does not seem likely that the brand will ever return to the US. The dealers I have spoken to seem resigned to this as well. The parts company future plans are also concerning.

  7. Regarding the 2000 odd GM engines mentioned above.

    Tim on SU, recently in a post answer, said those engines [about 3500??] were sold off separately & were not part of the NEVs purchase…..!!

    1. Terry, see the bit in my post about it being from unconfirmed sources. Stated quite plainly. In fact, I can’t even find the source email where I heard about it now. BUT….. the fact that these first cars are apparently being made with the 2-litre GM engine begs the question(s) – where did they get them from and why would they go to the trouble of setting up the production line to build cars to that configuration if it’s not going to last a little while? It’s neither cheap nor simple to make wholesale changes to the assembly process, though obviously it’s quite possible given that Saab were building the 9-3 and 9-5 there concurrently.

      I’m not claiming anything is the truth here. It’s just what I heard. As far as I’m concerned it’s open-ended.

      1. Not to worry Steven, In truth, most of all this is a certain amount of guesswork on anyone part.

        Given most of the production [for the near future, after start] is going eastwards it does have some logic to use this engine, as it is already available [in other GM guises] in China.

  8. Really miss your honest comments from Inside Saab, Swade. Nice to read something that makes more sense than some of the recent “histerical” stuff. Always a pleasure to read your posts.

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