This week saw the surprise news of the planned construction of a new Saab plant in Qingdao, Shandong, China, through the Saab world. After waiting for months, finally came a good and concrete message. Saab owner NEVS was looking for strategic partners, we knew that, but had kept this liaison secret from the European public.
The Swedish NEVS employees in the Stallbacka also seemed surprised. Was it really you? We want to believe it, because National Electric Vehicle Sweden AB is a startup and the structures to China have yet to consolidate. The question that came up like a reflex in the Swedish media is whether it is good news not only for Saab but also for Trollhättan. Or not…
The fact that municipalities participate in an automaker is not unusual for China. Prominent example is Volvo. The city of Daqing in northern China owns 38% at the Gothenburg-based manufacturer and Jiading near Shanghai's 12%. That brings money, stability, but also gives much power to the municipal sizes. The entry of Qingdao, which was German from 1898 to 1914 and known by the name of Tsingtau, is just the beginning, and the 220 million euros for 22% of the shares in NEVS are real money. With an investment of well over 1.2 billion euros in the new plant, we finally talk about the right sums. Gone are the stories when Vladimir Antonov or an investor named Youngman waved 30 millions of euros. For the car industry only small change.
At the same time, owner NEVS makes himself dependent on politics. We still remember the super agency NDRC in Beijing. And those are not good memories. When a city like Qingdao invests money, something in return awaits it at some point. The construction of a new development center could then take place in China and not in Sweden. That is the ugly side of this otherwise positive story.
Because the Saab owners made meanwhile clear that the head office is in Sweden. The start of production will be in Sweden, and it will not be until the Saab headquarters in 2 shift operation that the new construction will take place in China. If the Chinese are consistent, then they will continue to play the Swedish card in the future. Development, testing and design in Sweden. Swedish engineers have a good reputation worldwide. The future Saab products, which must be consistent, should be recognizable as Saab at first glance. Then it does not matter where in the world works are.
In addition, there was also - not really surprising - the departure from the electric car doctrine. Of course there will be e-mobility from Saab, but not only. The Chinese administration has quietly corrected its own, too ambitious plans. NEVS has also arrived in reality. The focus is on all known types of drive, which is good. The 9-3 successor on the Phoenix platform should be able to show all possible variants, as Saab originally planned.
One is serious about planning to start production of the old Saab 9-3 again. Which is not easy and carries dangers. Some suppliers do not play along, for various reasons, which can be clarified but is time-consuming. According to NEVS, you are at 99% - a reason why you do not want to confirm the start of production at this time. The green light comes only at 100%, and this small difference shows us the difference to the Spyker era. At that time, contracts were celebrated whose ink was neither dry nor in sight. That time is over.
The other question is whether you are well advised to come back to market with a more than 10 year old car. With all the qualities of the 9-3 that are undisputed, you will have a hard time. Unless you refresh the 9-3 so thoroughly that it is perceived by the press and customers as a new car. Or one markets in all honesty a classic edition. Good workmanship, good quality, good price. Especially for a newcomer this is a challenge where you have no miss.
Yesterday - through an indiscretion - the numbers that are being planned in Sweden became public. In 2014, 60.000 new Saab should roll off the assembly line, the following year with the 9-3 successor 120.000. Realistic? Presumably a good 50% of the production will be exported to China. It won't be difficult to sell Saabs there if you present Saab as a brand from Sweden. 30.000 or 60.000 vehicles are feasible. It will be more difficult in Europe and the USA. The plan can only work if you use the established Saab sales network. Saab Parts AB would have the network and the potential. Details about the distribution channels are currently not known and the question remains open.
Since the beginning of the week, the Saab future looks more positive. The entry of a commune signals the benevolence of politics. The auto industry is considered the key industry by the government in Beijing. China is looking for investment opportunities and has discovered a possibility with Saab. It may be that now really ignites the turbo. Everything is possible with money, and the banks of the People's Republic abound in liquid funds. The ink has just dried on the contracts, but car factories are popping up in China at a breathtaking pace. The work of the new brand Qoros gives an idea of how this works.
If money flows, it has to flow to Sweden too. If the Chinese want to generate a return at some point and turn the Saab story into a success story, then they should take heed that Saab must continue to be perceived as a Swedish brand in the future. Saab is a Swedish gem. There is no alternative to “Made in Trollhättan”!