Earlier last month I had the privilege to interview three key people at Saabvägen 5 in Trollhättan: Tijs Nijland (Certification Engineer), Hans-Martin Duringhof (Director Powertrain Integration & Chassis) and Frank Smit (Director Vehicle Programs CV / EV & member of the NEVS management board). Besides the fact that we all share the same country of origin (The Netherlands) we obviously also share the passion for SAAB. I asked them about what got them to Sweden and to NEVS and how they see the future.
Frank Smit: from Södertälje to Trollhättan
Frank relocated to 2001, but had been on Swedish soil a few times earlier. My SAAB connection came really early. My dad worked at Scania Netherlands and loved it with cars back home. " But what made you move to Sweden? SAAB fans- we had our regular stop in Trollhättan. I really liked it and when I got it at SAAB Powertrain in Sodertalje in 2001, I took it. So all communications were in English I suppose? "Initially yes, but I made the mistake" to say "I could not speak". I'm using Swedish every day now, we're just talking about it three times at work- much easier! "
From defense to cars for Tijs Nijland
Tijs only arrived in Sweden about a year and a half ago, but had quite a history in the country prior. “I spent a lot of time in Sweden with one of my previous employers, the Dutch ministry of Defense. They were buying military vehicles in Örnsköldsvik and when I started there they were looking for someone who would be able to location visits 'every once in a while'. That actually turned into a situation where I spent more time in Sweden that in The Netherlands so I got to know the country a little bit. Then my girlfriend got a job in Skövde, 100 km from Trollhättan and that's why we moved. " So how did you end up at NEVS? “The last couple of years I had been doing certification work at the Dutch National Aerospace Laboratory and when I saw on Saabcars.com that they were looking for a Certification Engineer, I applied and from there onwards it all went really fast. And to add, the passion for SAAB is something from my childhood. Our neighbor worked at the local SAAB dealer and was always driving the latest models. "
Chapter 3 for Hans-Martin
"SAAB is really a family affair for me. My grandparents started one of the first SAAB dealerships at The Netherlands in the fifties. My parents took over the business until 2008. My own involvement started from about 1993 when I actually got what it takes to combine my studies with my father's work in IT. I started at NEVS just after Tijs, in December 2013. I had worked at SAAB Automobile before and after that at AAM, both in Trollhättan. My main focus was on all-wheel powertrains, a really exciting area of innovation with just a few patents in my name! I had always had a lot of work in 2013 that I was missing something. I was passing through the SAAB factory every day and I saw the number of cars in the car park. So i started at NEVS the day after the first 9-3N had the title "1 is now closed, I want to be part of chapter 2 '. At that time I did not know what chapter 2 would look like, but now I'm here for chapter 3! "
The future: the three musketeers
Looking at the current situation at NEVS with the reorganization phase behind you now, what is the biggest challenge in the coming three months? Frank: "We'll need to get the new partners on board as soon as possible. These signatures need to be put on paper so that the rest of our plans can indeed be realized. That's why the moment we're in need of recruitment more people. At this point we're working hard to develop the 'next generation' cars. That process has never come to a standstill and the first need we are going to have more engineers. "
Do not you think it's tricky to get these engineers (back)? As strange as it may sound, I actually believe it will be easier to recruit them. I think that NEVS and the vision we have are compelling enough to attract the right people. Things will probably become even easier. "
Looking into the future, say 3 years, suppose you have unlimited resources and money, what then?
"Well, by then we'll give you goose bumps. Cars many people are not to, but touch your heart. When you look at them, when you drive in your driveway, and when you drive it of course. Like the SAAB car has been: not like the others and cars that are really fun to drive. Another aspect is that we have a really good relationship, much more connected. I believe this is not only crucial and therefore relatively easily doable. We do not have the ambition to reach Volkswagen Group volumes and for them it seems much more difficult to know all of their customers by name. For us I think it's much easier and the technology to make this possible is already available.
Our current owner wants to look like, Kai Johan wants to continue to deliver a key to realise this vision. There is nobody in the world who would start a new car manufacturing company based on combustion engines. The potential new partners are currently talking to share this vision. Dramatically, focus on conventional engines and start making Toyota's cubic-shaped. If only this is not a competitive advantage. But do not worry: the three musketeers are here! "
Footnote: this is post is an abridged version of the article that will appear in the July issue of "Saabberichten", the official magazine of SAAB Club Netherlands, The interview was taken prior to the NEVS announcements on May 27th.