It's about the Saab situation, and inevitably about the future of Trollhättan. A few days ago, appeared in the Svenska Dagbladet a long article by Jonas Fröberg in which he writes about the future of the Swedish auto industry and about Trollhättan.
With the headline "All Trollhättan holds your breath" he brings the snapshot of a city that has been looking for its way from an economic point of view for years ... but has to suffer setbacks again and again. Like now when the Saab saga gets stuck again.
The Mayor - Paul Akerlund
In doing so, and this is the peculiarity of Fröberg's article, he shows the fate of the municipality on the basis of people who live in Trollhättan, and whose life seems indispensably linked to the Swedish automotive industry. Like Paul Akerlund, the mayor who started 1978 as a fitter on the Saab band. Akerlund fights for years with the high unemployment, a fight in which, unfortunately, there are only small successes.
Unemployment in the city is 15%, but has been 16.6% before, not long ago. Youth unemployment is even higher, now at 26%, but has already been above 30%. What does Akerlund hope? That it continues with NEVS, somehow. And a change of government in the Reichstag elections in September. So that the Swedish Social Democrats come to the government and pump more money into his city.
The workers in the automotive industry
As vague as the Saab situation seems to be the job prospects of NEVS workers. As for Alex Antonsson, who was employed by Saab Automobile AB, after the bankruptcy in the Volvo plant to Uddevalla changed, which was also closed shortly thereafter. Now he's back at Saab, works in production, and is not sure what the future holds.
Petra Störch's CV is representative of a working life in the Swedish auto industry. After more than 10 years at Saab, losing her job in Trollhättan, she switched to production at Volvo. Which was not as easy as it sounds. She knows, she says, many people who think “either Saab - or Volvo”. Neither is possible.
Nevertheless, after a short time to think about it, she switched to the other Swedish brand. The 4 months of work at Volvo were like a trip back in time. "I understood how incredibly far we were at Saab with its lean production". Still, the time at Volvo was fine for them. The labor market in western Sweden is becoming more and more flexible, the journey to Gothenburg via the newly expanded E45 only takes 30 minutes.
Petra Störch misses the old colleagues, the team spirit at Saab. Many former Saab employees have found jobs in other professions or they have returned to school and continue their education. Perhaps Trollhättan has to become an educational city in the future. The number of students increased by 7.5% this year, which is above the national average of 2%.
However, the government, which always proclaimed a “Sweden of the heads”, is currently cutting the funds for the universities. 55 million crowns are to be saved. "We hope for a change of government, for the Social Democrats," said Mayor Akerlund.
The trade unionist
Anyone who has been reading the blog for some time knows the name Hakan Skött. He was the IF metal union man in the factory, had influence and insight. Fought for Saab, for Victor Muller, the colleagues. Until there was nothing left to fight.
After losing his job, he got lost in the union, trying to found a new IF Metall group at NEVS. Without success. Now he is unemployed himself, his contract with the union has expired.
Of course, he still hopes to establish a union group (*) at the Saab plant. Would he work for NEVS, Fröberg asks him? He would, because he has no choice, as he says. What happens to Trolhättan? The city must continue on its way - from the production site to the city of knowledge.
All who were interviewed by Fröberg, rely on a continuation of the Saab saga in the Stallbacka. Probably also because the transformation from an industrial city to a university city, or rather to the knowledge base, does not go within a few years. And because knowledge alone is not the solution. It also needs a production that can put the knowledge into practice.
With a distance of a good 1.200 kilometers, you see things from a different perspective than on site. Hence my view of things as a continuation of the Fröberg article.
Saab situation 2014 is not 2011
Three years have passed since the horror year 2011, the Saab situation has changed fundamentally. In Trollhättan strange vehicles have been spotted in recent weeks. At first glance, it seems to be Saab 9-3x station wagons that are on the way with the eye-catching Swedish test plates.
When you look closely, you realize that the proportions are not right. The track is wider, the wheelbase longer. What drives there is the new flexible platform from NEVS. I have pictures, but the photographer does not want to see them published in the current situation. What I understand and accept.
We can draw the following conclusions from this: the flexible new platform is already quite well developed that a new Saab generation could roll out to customers in 18, 24 or 30 months. NEVS owns the platform and can use it without having to apply for licenses in Detroit.
Production has been modernized, more flexible and leaner than ever before. The production facilities are running, there is no plant at a standstill, but a breathing factory. A core team of 600 employees, not 3.500, could start immediately. The facelift or update of the 9-3 is ready and could roll off the line after the summer break. And there is no strong union (*) more in the factory, no non-cancellable employees with a long service.
NEVS has increased the value of the investment, its value is not comparable to the fragments bought by NEVS 2012. The liabilities are comparatively low. The brand is ready for entry or complete sale to a new shareholder.
Almost everything that could give international investors a headache has been removed. However, that's the catch of the story, there is a time window. Everything has to happen now, promptly, there is no alternative. NEVS runs out of air, the end is not far, the negotiating position against Mahindra and Dongfeng is weak. Exceptionally, the Reichstag elections are just around the corner, politics is helpful. It could be that after a long preparation, everything will be settled in a short time.
Sweden is the most expensive production site in the EU and Sweden has the highest non-wage labor costs. Sweden also has the highest density of engineers in the EU. Knowledge can now compensate for the location disadvantage, so Trollhättan and Saab would be on a good path.
Text & pictures: firstname.lastname@example.org
(*) Addendum: Under the impact of the events, and the possible loss of jobs, IF Metal has now managed to establish a union group in the factory. The spokesman of the IF Metal Group is to be elected by the members in July.