NEVS/Saab have done it – the first vehicles are rolling off the production line and NEVS even announced today that they’re embarking on a web-based sales model in order to sell some cars in Sweden!
All of that’s good news, but I’ve still got some questions, few of which seem to have been answered today. Some thoughts, too.
Let’s take a look at the car, first.
NEVS’s first Saab 9-3
My mate Tom was at the event today and he managed to send a few photos through. Thanks Tom. I’ve also used a few photos from NEVS’s own archive.
The car is basically a Saab 9-3 Aero built to a similar specification to the Griffin model that Saab produced in 2011. Some bits have been redesigned (seats) but it looks like they’ve adequate supply of other bits (stereos) to see it out this small production run.
Let’s take a look, first. Here are a few official images.
From the front……
And the rear…..
And here are some alternative shots, courtesy of Tom. Click to enlarge.
If it feels like you’re not seeing much here, it’s because you aren’t. The occasion really is the feature today, rather than the car.
The car is basically 12 years old and whilst I love the 9-3, if you’re going to talk about this car then you have to talk about it relative to the competition. The competition moved on around 5 years ago so whilst the 9-3 will always have its fans, you’re looking at a car that only rusted-on Saab fans will really appreciate.
The biggest visible change that I can see is in the front seats. Tom tells me they’re very soft, quite comfortable, but that the seat base is a little short and may lack lower-leg support for taller drivers. You’ll notice the different headrests, too, mounted on thick-ish posts with a Saab logo stamped into them. Are they as safe as previous Saab headrests?
They’re selling this in Sweden?
Most of the production is slated for export to China (it’d be interesting to see the specs for that model) but NEVS’s press release mentions an online sales model for Sweden, too. This would be in place of selling through dealerships.
Going to an online sales model is a bold move and I’m pleased to see them trying it. A few of us had discussions about this back in 2011. I’d love to hear feedback from people who try it. Some people value the dealership experience, especially if its a good one. It’ll be interesting to see whether NEVS will be able to replicate a dealer’s product knowledge in a way that adapts to the expectations, experience and needs of a customer.
That’s a bit of a side issue, however (well, for me at least).
The bigger issue was the question of HOW they’d manage to sell the car in Sweden given that it no longer complies with EU safety regulations. That’s always been one of the big questions around NEVS’s business plan.
I believe the answer comes in the form of allowances made in the EU regulations for small volume manufacturers. That is, some companies can sell non-conforming cars subject to local rules (i.e. Swedish, in this instance) as long as the number of sales is restricted. I’ve seen 1,000 mentioned in comments at SU (well traced, Dagen Runt) as the number of cars Saab could sell under this exemption.
For high-volume manufacture, type-approval standards are already harmonised across the European Union for passenger cars and are becoming harmonised for other types of vehicle. This offers advantages of economies of scale and free access to all EU markets. However, in the case of low volume manufacture, the Framework Directive allows special provisions which can be used to exempt vehicles produced in low volumes from certain requirements….
This is a good outcome for NEVS. They get to start their sales model in Sweden without having to commit to selling many cars. You’re present and the machine is rolling, but the commitment is small.
For customers (i.e. the people reading this), I’d maintain that you need to consider a few things:
1) You’ll be driving a car that doesn’t meet current EU safety standards due to poor performance in pedestrian safety tests. If the safety of pedestrians is a major concern for you, then you might want to think on this. Personally, it doesn’t bother me.
2) My biggest concern with NEVS selling this car so soon is whether or not the new parts they have had to develop have been thoroughly tested. I predicted that NEVS probably wouldn’t offer a car for sale before Q4 of 2014. They’ve proved me wrong. If I’m a buyer, however, I’d be asking lots of questions about the replacement parts that have been developed – their durability and reliability.
Caveat Emptor, people.
The Saab 9-3 will go on sale in Sweden for 279 000 SEK (add 10k SEK for the auto), which is good value for what was the top-shelf model Aero.
The PR angle
This is a Saab 9-3. There are very few surprises with it.
What’s disappointing, however, is that there are no details as to specifications, the work they’ve had to do to re-build it, what’s changed, etc. I hate to sound like a broken record but all that stuff is part of the car’s story and if you want to engage customers then you need a story to tell. Running the production line IS a decent story but it would have been aided by a bit of magic dust around the car itself to really engage the car fans.
NEVS has a new PR chief and this was his first big opportunity to get something out there. NEVS has seemingly provided the bare minimum information, which is disappointing for me as a fan and as someone interested in the promotion of the cars.
If you’re going to make this an occasion, make it an occasion.
There were a lot of people on the line this morning, watching this happen. I just wonder how many of them were from press outlets outside Sweden. All the reports I’ve seen from English language services this morning show the silver 9-3 that was featured back in September rather than the black one that was rolled off today. That tells me that representation was minimal.
This is the re-birth of a car company – it should have been huge.
Yes, there are questions about the configuration and specification of this 9-3. Yes, there are still a LOT of questions about NEVS’s business model. Yes, I still wish they were making more of a promotional effort in their English-language and European markets.
None of that, however, should take away from the significance of the day.
A car is a complex machine. If you want/have to change part of it then that’s a difficult proposition with a lot of competing priorities and a lot of participants. The 9-3 is not a new car, but the process of rebuilding Saab and getting some cars coming off the line shouldn’t be underestimated.
It’s both symbolic and a real-life practical achievement.
I don’t get the business plan of building in Sweden for export to China, but for the sake of friends and former colleagues in Trollhattan, I’m pleased they’ve taken this step and I hope they can take many more.
They should be congratulated. And after a small satisfying moment to reflect on their achievements, they should get back on the job. There’s a lot of work left to be done.