On the penultimate Sunday, our contribution to the Saab comeback at Vox went on the air. However, we had to swallow a bitter pill for all the joy. Saab will not return to Germany, according to Press Secretary Mikael Östlund, 2014. Reason for frustration?
Perhaps Östlund spoke of the model year, maybe he meant the calendar year. What sense does a comeback make under the current circumstances and how likely is it that we will see new cars in Germany in the foreseeable future? Some thoughts on this difficult topic, the pros and cons, by the blogger.
The current (exception) situation
For model year 2014 vehicles, there is a special permit in Sweden that allows for the sale of a maximum of 1.000 vehicles. Because the 2014 model year does not comply with the current EU guidelines, it lacks the mandatory pedestrian protection in the form of an active hood. After the announced update that should change, the current regulations should be respected. The 9-3 could then come without exception on the road.
The Saab EV is scheduled to go into production this fall, with NEVS shareholder Quingdao already ordering 200 vehicles. The EV is eagerly awaited. The Swedish press speaks of a range of 280 kilometers, which is not officially confirmed. The only certainty is that it should be more than 200 kilometers.
NEVS or NTVS?
How intelligent is it to get onto the market with a conventionally powered vehicle if the company name contains the term “electric” and the company is not called National Turbo Vehicle Sweden? In Sweden, there was discreet evidence of this fact between the lines. The national press likes NEVS, sees the background and the new jobs. This puppy protection does not exist in Germany and starting alone with the 9-3 Aero would be extremely risky.
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Among other things, it is about the brand image, it is about credibility. NEVS speaks of green mobility, sees Tesla as a benchmark. Saab stands and has always stood for advanced technology and unconventional ideas.
Let's ask ourselves how we came to the brand, and there are a lot of personal stories, then our view becomes clearer.
A Saab must always be state of the art.
My Saab passion started 1992. With a Saab 900 S new car for which a large bundle of D Mark wandered over the dealer's counter. In direct comparison with the competitor of the Saab was then petite, narrow. In many ways, the 900 was marked by years, based on the Saab 99. The description also applies to the 9-3 today, but there is a huge difference.
Because, even if the design and body were out of date, there was never any doubt about other things. The 900 had ABS, a driver airbag and side impact protection, which was not a matter of course at the time. The brake lights were home to two instead of just one light bulb. Quite a special Saab story that would be called a “redundant security system” today. If one bulb fails, the second continues to glow. Safety philosophy, adopted from aircraft construction. A Saab 900 was - no question - up to date even in old age.
The situation has changed. I'm not talking about things like a computer that can turn the light on and off the car. These are supposedly luxury features, and there is no need to discuss the meaning and nonsense of these systems.
It's about active safety systems that the 9-3 lacks and can save lives. Systems such as an active emergency braking system or a collision warning system, for example. Can Saab, one of the safest brands in the world, come back to the market without these systems? Not really. The 9-3 is a good car, but unfortunately clear, no longer “state of the art”.
Comeback risky or sensible?
We are now entering the fourth year without a new car, and the situation for the brand is becoming increasingly difficult. Many Saab drivers now also have an Audi or BMW in the garage. The Saab is in the driveway and has become a cheaper second car. Or - in the better case - a hobby object that is cared for and is only allowed on the street when the sun is shining. There are families who only drive Saab, but the perpetrators of conviction are becoming fewer. Some Saab partners are now running out of air; you close or unscrew the brand logo and change the manufacturer. Everything is now concentrated on a shrinking number of committed partners, where the Saab flag is blowing in the wind every day, and a shrinking vehicle population. A circumstance that - without the new car business - will accelerate more and more.
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The structures are still working, a lot is still intact. The emphasis is on "still". A comeback of the brand would not be a cold start. Not now, but in two or three years time. And that's the question that should be asked at NEVS and has probably already been asked. Will we come to the German market with the new products in a few years, or do we dare with the 9-3?
SAAB EV = image carrier.
Crucial for NEVS and for the credibility of the brand will be the Saab EV. A comeback with the Saab 9-3 EV will make sense in Germany. The image as an innovative brand, with a range of environmentally friendly mobility, would secure a convincing 9-3 Cabriolet, purely on the move. Tesla has started similarly. The Roadster came in principle of Lotus and was a purist story without power steering. But a respectable success with electric drive instead of engine under the hood. A four-seat, electric cabriolet from Sweden could be the prelude to a similar success story. For who else offers an open, electric four-seater? Saab would have found her again, the niche in the niche.
Vehicles with the well-known turbo engines could be imported into the Saab EV fairway. As a limited classic edition for fans. Honestly marketed, only a few 100 pieces, and not, as in Sweden, with the unfortunate designation “nya 9-3” on the price tag. In addition, there is a suitable financing and leasing offer that allows you to easily switch to future new models. A situation that would be beneficial for both the retailer and the brand. New cars that hit the road are the annual cars and leasing returns of tomorrow. Today's leasing customers are tomorrow's leasing customers. The vital economic cycle would finally get going.
Act or wait?
One commercial rule that remains unchanged is that it is more costly to win new customers than to keep existing ones. NEVS could “conserve” the German market with the 2015 model year and the electric car. That costs money, but is much cheaper than a complete restart in two or three years. How will one decide in Sweden?
There is the difficult to calculate risk of a comeback with a body that has been known in the basic structure for 12 years and new, innovative battery technology in the most difficult car market in Europe. That's one side. Ambitious, but not an impossible task with sensitive preparation.
On the other hand, one could wait until new models are brought to series. With the calculated risk that the brand will disappear more and more in Germany, the dealer structures will shrink. A rather expensive cold start and patience for a new introduction would be necessary. Saab would then have the problem that other brands also have. Cadillac tries a European start every year, the noble Toyota subsidiary Lexus has been striving for market share and image for decades. Neither of these works despite a lot of money. That alone should be thought provoking.
How will you decide in Trollhättan? There are no official statements. If one comes to speak on the subject, then the discussion has come quite fast at the end. NEVS does not look at the cards.
From Blogger's point of view, the decision would be easier. A comeback, yes, first and foremost with the image bearer Saab EV. And with a limited edition of the turbo models. For another two or three years, the brand will not survive without replenishment. The customers are not, the workshops are not, the blog is not.
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