I’m in two minds about whether to write this post. On one hand, it can be regarded as bad form to analyse the contents of a website that you have had some sort of relationship with, however distant that relationship is now. On the other hand, experience tells me that I might have something to contribute on matters raised in a recent SU article and the ensuing comments section – and that it’s something worth talking about.
The article in questions is The last Saab is no longer the last Saab – and I think we could all really benefit from some further discussion.
Issue #1 – What’s this post really about?
The article starts off with some thoughts about the vehicle purchased by Saabs United fans (me included) and stored at the Saab Museum. That’s interesting but it’s not why this article was written.
The key to this post is in this quote:
We’ve been asked many times what will happen to DJA880 now that the last Saab is no longer the last Saab. In fact, 30 new cars have been built since NEVS start up the production line again, and within a couple of weeks a new significant car will be rolling off the production line in Trollhättan.
NEVS have built 30 cars on the production line at Stallbacka but for some reason a car built in the next few weeks is going to be significant.
I’ll give you two options:
- They’re going to start building NEVS’s face-lifted Saab 9-3 to sell.
- They’re going to start building NEVS’s face-lifted Saab 9-3 for the first time.
The difference is subtle, I’ll grant you, but it’s there.
I don’t think it’ll be the first option (cars to sell) for reasons I’ll get to in a moment.
I think that if you tie in the rare bits of Saab news from the last few months, the more-than-reasonable conclusion to be drawn is that NEVS have finally got a full compliment of parts suppliers on board and will finally run a Saab 9-3 down the production line that is “GM-free”.
If that’s the case, then this will be the first production session that tests the fitment and operation of the new parts. This exercise will go a long way in answering whether the production line will work in a reliable fashion with these new parts. Additionally, it will quite possibly mark the moment where vehicles are made for extensive field testing as a complete unit.
I should mention at this point that I have absolutely no first-hand insight as to what’s going on in Trollhattan. I don’t have any active sources there and what you see above is primarily me interpreting what’s been written on SU (by Tim, who very definitely does have active sources in Trollhattan) and seasoning my interpretation with my limited experience writing about and eventually working at Saab (brief as that assignment was).
Back to the post…..
So why do I think it’s important to interpret this development in this particular way? Why do I think it’s test vehicles rather than production vehicles for sale?
The one thing I’ve banged on about with regard to Saab this year is that making a vehicle with a whole bunch of new parts will not be a walk in the park. NEVS have talked as recently as a few months ago about the fact that they were still working on getting all parts suppliers on board. Those parts need to be tested and that’s a time consuming business.
If NEVS are as business-minded and prudent as everyone says they are then they’ll need to know beyond doubt that those parts are safe and that they will not cause a whole bunch of warranty problems six months after vehicles go on sale. There hasn’t been time to do that yet, not when you’re talking about a bunch of new parts suppliers.
From comments to the SU post, some people are interpreting the ‘significant car’ news to be the start of production-for-sale. Here’s one:
So the face lifted 9-3 will be out in two weeks, that is cool.
Well, no. I don’t think it will.
And if it is, then I don’t think it’s a face-lifted 9-3 that any sane person would want to buy.
Here’s a video I made for Inside Saab, which shows durability testing of the rear tailgate for the Saab 9-5 SportCombi.
Now, bear in mind that that’s the level of quality testing that people would expect for the whole car. That sort of testing takes a while.
But the 9-3 isn’t a new car, you say?
No, it’s not a new car. But it’s using a whole bunch of new parts and those parts have to be tested to make sure that they’re up to the job. Do you really want to put your family into a car that’s had only some of its parts tested properly in a previous incarnation of the vehicle?
I’ve written on this site before that I’d be very surprised if NEVS have a car that’s ready for sale, and sales channels that are ready for public exposure, by the final quarter of 2014. I’ll stick to that.
This need for testing is the primary reason for my conservatism and, to be honest, I’d be a little bit scared for Saab if the car came out any sooner without some sort of detailed explanatory story as to what they’ve done in terms of quality assurance, crash testing, etc.
If this is indeed the first test-run of a car built wholly with NEVS-sourced parts then that’s fantastic news and a significant moment in the development cycle. Let the testing begin!
Issue #2 – Are NEVS doing the PR job they should be?
This is the other major topic that was discussed in comments at SU and as my name was invoked in the conversation, I think it’s OK to mention it and give my perspective here.
A commenter named Angelo is prone to complaining ad nauseum about NEVS’s lack of public relations activities. I’m inclined to agree with him for the most part, even if he’d drive me batty as an editor with his repetitiveness if I was still looking after the site. As he was doing his thing on this post, Tim replied with…
I will never do anything to damage Saab, which has been a key rule of SU since Swade started the website. I will continue to abide by that rule!
Well….. actually…….no. Yes and no, to be fair.
I never went out of my way to ‘damage’ Saab, it’s true. But my first concern was always my readership and I didn’t mind if Saab had a few uncomfortable moments as a result. I think that if you’re running an independent website, that’s a pretty important thing to keep in mind.
For example, I can remember being the recipient of some rather stern words from a member of Saab’s PR department when I first visited Trollhattan in 2007. At issue were pictures of the face-lifted Saab 9-3 that was officially unveiled just a few days later at the Saab Festival. I’d received some advance pictures that were not authorised, which showed a test vehicle parked at an old industrial site in the area. I published them on Trollhattan Saab. It caused some people serious discomfort that the car had been seen so plainly, so far in advance of its unveiling.
I didn’t like to strain relations with the company but the website was only of value if it gave readers something extra on top of what the company could give them. The value I created by doing spyshots and other Djup Strupe material is what built the readership and – here’s the key – made the website valuable for the company.
Trollhattan Saab and Saabs United were valuable to Saab because the sites did things that Saab itself couldn’t do in the PR climate of the time. I may have trodden on a few toes at times (hence JAJ’s description of me as “that guy”) but TS and SU built up enthusiasm for the brand because the sites were a) honest, and b) gave an insight that the company either couldn’t, or wouldn’t give.
So what of NEVS’s PR efforts?
They say they’ll talk when the time is right. Personally speaking, I think the time has been well past ‘right’ for a while now.
They don’t have to be out there every day with every little thing that’s going on at the factory, but they could definitely have started the build-up to recreating the Saab story with their particular slant on it. This pre-supposes that NEVS are interested in trading on Saab’s past, of course, but if they’re not interested in tying the company’s future to its past in some fashion, then why negotiate the use of the Saab name?
We had an ‘Inside Saab’ concept in Saab’s marketing department with a whole bunch of films to share and other themes to spin off when the time was right. We only got to release a handful of those films before we had to hold off because production wasn’t re-starting.
I think the ‘Inside Saab’ theme would be perfect to tell to the story of Saab’s re-birth.
You don’t have to be flashy. You don’t have to over-promise. You don’t even have to interact much at this stage. Just tell the story and let people get a feel for the development cadence and what’s going on, what they can expect from Saab.
Right now, those that still care are operating in a vacuum; expecting the world and getting very little in return.
NEVS don’t have to do much, but they should be doing something.