Is Saab on the right track? National Electric Vehicle Sweden AB, owner of the traditional brand for two years in summer, relies on electromobility. The right idea at the right time or an incalculable risk?
It is clear that the brand has to reinvent itself. A "continue as before“It cannot exist, and the world outside of the community has not waited for another European manufacturer. As hard as it may sound to our ears - some romantic notions of rebirth as a pure “turbo brand” are thrown away into the realm of dreams.
Saab reinvents itself - again
But it is not dramatic. Saab has already had several successful rebirths. The small manufacturer from southern Sweden is in fact master of it, and maybe that's just part of the charm of the brand. Just two examples: the Saab 99 was a risky transition from the makers of cranky subcompacts to the mid-size modern class, with the introduction of the Turbos a risky, yet vital, new technology that catapulted the Swedes into the league of compact, high-performance cars.
So now electromobility as the Saab future. And why not? There are optimistic statements by several futurologists about the electrical future. These are always to be seen with reservations. Because they only take visible factors into account - they don't see hidden turbulence either.
Take another look at the past of our brand as an example of the uncertainties of futures research:
At the IAA 2009 the 9-5 NG sedan, the station wagon and the 9-4x were within reach. The replacement of the 2014-9 was planned for the 3 model year. So three new model series in quick succession. Wow! What would a futurologist have said about Saab in 2009? Three model series renewed, billions invested, fantastic! The brand would have had a great future predicted. Certainly ! If GM hadn't pulled the plug a few months later, despite all investments, in a panic attack and its own downfall ... it would have been possible! But at the IAA 2009 you couldn't see that in such a clear way.
Continue with the men who say they can look to the future. Future researcher Matthias Horx sees combustion engines in the 2020 disappear, Lars Thomsen sees the Tipping Point in favor of electromobility already 2016 / 17.
Okay! We are already writing the year 2014 and 2016 is almost within striking distance. Interesting is Thomsen's approach to the topic and its reasoning. And even though he over-subscribes to some, his talk of 36 minutes is worth every single minute.
Battery: 8 years or 400.000 kilometers
The key to the breakthrough in electromobility lies in ever lower battery costs and ever longer service life. Thomsen names US $ 200.00 that Tesla pays per kWh from supplier Panasonic. The trend is falling, and to make it clear how cheap that is, just the following figures: Not long ago people spoke of € 500,00 to € 600,00 per kWh.
Almost two years ago we have the Fisker karma tested.After a long odyssey, the company is now in Chinese hands and wants to restart production as soon as possible. The life cycle for the battery from supplier A123, now also owned by China, was given as 4 years. Two years later, Tesla has reached a guaranteed 18650 years with the 8 cells from partner Panasonic. 8 years are 1.600 charging cycles or 400.000 kilometers for Tesla. The trend is rising, and in another two years 2.400 charging cycles could be standard. 400.000 kilometers are considerable and beat any sophisticated, modern diesel. 400.000 kilometers correspond to the mileage of very robust engines, as we know them from Trollhättan.
The prices per kWh decrease, the reliability increases. The potential tipping point 2016 / 17 promises us customers cheaper mobility in an EV than in a vehicle with a combustion engine. The Saabs, as we know and love them, could then mutate into true hobby history. For sunny Sundays and for nostalgia and heart.
Automotive industry 2.0
In Trollhättan Tesla is considered a benchmark. Tesla founder Elon Musk does not come from the automotive industry, he is a career changer from the IT industry. With the PayPal payment system and the sale of the company, he laid the foundation for his prosperity. Exciting, because now he is revolutionizing the auto industry. What he can only do because he can afford it. Financial independence, the courage for unconventional ideas and - above all - the step into the automotive industry 2.0.
What we have seen so far is auto industry 1.0. Hardware-based systems with more and more PS, but based in principle on old techniques. A combustion engine, a transmission, in various variants, as a shell a vehicle. Assistance systems are adapted more or less courageously, but they do not change the core of the technology.
All of this could very soon become a thing of the past as snow of the past winter. The automotive industry 2.0 will be completely transformed and a software-based industry. Batteries, electric motor, software adaptation and the freedom to customize without limits. The revolution is similar to what the computer industry once went through. Desktop computers, hardware components were sexy before 20 or 30 years ago. Today they are boring, and formerly powerful corporations like Tandon, Olivetti, Compaq or Wang are gone or just a reflection of their former size. Something similar could flourish for the car companies of the present. The path to the dinosaur, which is known to be extinct, is shorter than you think.
For the dinosaurs don't seem to find the way into the future that easy. BMW has given its engineers all the freedom and a limitless budget to develop the i3. The expectations were high, meanwhile there is a headwind. The results in the Euro NCAP crash test are sobering, and a comparison of the i3 with the new electric golf in the shows that a lot of innovation doesn't always help a lot Autobild, The rather conventionally built Wolfsburg beats the revolution from Munich. Not in football, but on the subject of EV.
Back to the Tesla. He speaks Linux. About supposedly innovative stories like the integration of Apple Car Play at Volvo you will only smile at the Americans. Linux is an open, free system, independent of suppliers such as Microsoft or Apple, to which the auto industry pays tribute to 1.0 so far. Open for any application, fast and stable. The success proves Tesla right. In the first half of 2013, 10.100 Tesla S was sold in the US. 5 times more than Porsche sold the Panamera, and nearly twice as many vehicles, as each set Mercedes in the United States from the S-Class and BMW from the 7er. After the S will follow the Tesla X, a mix of station wagon and SUV. 2017 will then come to the Tesla E on the market. A sedan that will fit in the middle class.
300.000 kilometers vs. 400.000 kilometers
This will be exciting because until then, the first new products will be launched in Trollhättan. NEVS would have succeeded punctually to the impending revolution a precision landing. Whether Swedish engineering, Japanese-Chinese batteries and capital from China will match the US benchmark?
The approaches in Sweden are just as exciting as the Americans. Even if less transparent. Founder Kai Johan Jiang, 6 years older than Elon Musk, is also a career changer. He comes from the field of renewable energies and has his own battery production, which is partly based on Japanese technology. Like Tesla with the Roadster, which is based on a Lotus, NEVS is also starting with the 9-3 on a basis that was not originally designed for electric cars.
Beijing National Battery Technology, the battery manufacturer in the realm of Kai Johan Jiang, also offers 8 years warranty on the batteries, speaks of 300.000 kilometers of life expectancy. Where life expectancy is the point at which the cells can save only 80% of their original capacity. The data is from the May 2013, getting to more up-to-date parameters is difficult. With that, NEVS would be close to the Americans already.
New battery factory
The chances for Saab are not bad. The Göteborg-Trollhättan area is one of the regions with the highest engineering density in Europe. There are only comparable things in the Stockholm area and in Munich. Swedish policy has done preliminary work in the area of electromobility, which is now paying off. The Innovatum in Trollhättan is the birthplace of many start-ups that are at home in this area.
In the meantime, battery factory numbers 2 and 3 are growing out of the ground in China. Trial operation was planned for December 2013; more recent data are not available. Batteries from Beijiing National Battery, the manufacturer in the Kai Johan Jiang group, can be found in electric buses and taxis.
While TESLA is working on the plans for a megafactory with its own battery production facility, Saab already has everything in its own group. That could be exciting. Because the real magic word on the subject of electric cars is “cheaper”.
The magic word “cheaper” decides the future.
Last week, a news item on the EV went through the press. AVIS Denmark placed an order with Nissan for 400 Leaf. The number is important, because in the year 2013 Nissan was in the German fleet business only 139 EV sold. The Leaf is offered for € 486,00 € per month in Denmark and, by subsidizing the state energy agency, is cheaper than a conventional vehicle. On request, even the own charging station, installed by Avis, there.
If the electric car is cheaper than the internal combustion engine and if that has gotten into people's minds, then nothing stands in the way of a breakthrough. In the future, Saab will build innovative electric cars that are at the forefront. An electric car can be sporty, fun, and look good. Fisker and Tesla have shown that it works! With a dose of Saab Spirit and Swedish ingenuity, the vehicles can be what we expect. And we have been assured that they will continue to build turbo vehicles. In good old tradition! As long as we want it and until we switch to an electric Saab.
Photos: saabblog.net (1), Beijing National Battery (1), China Daily (1)