"The only thing that is different is everything"- that's the way I would summarize what happened when newly formed National Electric Vehicle Sweden (NEVS) acquired the main assets of SAAB Automobile AB in June 2012. A tiny company taking over the legacy of an iconic brand with the goal to build electric vehicles . Huge expectations were raised, especially from the side of the SAAB fans. Three years have since passed and some 400 MY14 9-3's and seven 9-3EV prototypes left the production line. The earlier financial challenges have been addressed, a whole flurry of new partnerships in China and now Turkey have been announced but there still aren't any new SAABs rolling off the Stallbacka assembly line. Sounds like a doom scenario? Not necessarily ... Later today the authors of SAAB are hosting a meeting with the title "What actually happened with SAAB? ”. Svenska Dagbladet journalist Jonas Fröberg, former deputy minister of economic affairs Jöran Hägglund and TV4 reporter Jens B. Nordström have been providing behind- -the-scenes information and analyzes in their books that primarily deal with the period GM-Spyker, although Nordström's latest book “SAAB's sista strid” (“SAAB's final battle”) also briefly touches on the NEVS era. I've read all four of them and from my perspective they are all very insightful and help to put the different pieces of the puzzle together.
Why am I bringing this up? Besides the fact that this meeting takes place in Trollhättan, the X-2009 period 2012-9 period. SAKE Automobile's takeover from "the evil GM" by little Spyker Cars and its flamboyant CEO. 5-9NG and 4-XNUMXX came to market and there was a great and positive buzz. Then the big anti-climax with the bankruptcy. Everybody declared SAAB dead. Then came NEVS.
National Electric Vehicle Sweden. - "Say that again? Electric vehicles only? And they want to take over the SAAB Automobile assets? I do not get it. ” Massive confusion in the market, especially amongst the die-hard SAAB fans was caused by this newly formed company owned by Kai Johan Jiang, Chinese-Swedish business man. Another shock. A Chinese owner. What now? I still remember Mattias Bergman's presentation at the 2013 Saabfestival well. At that point he was in charge of PR for NEVS and only a few months had passed since they had acquired SAAB Automobile's main assets. Back in 2013 the number of electric vehicles sold in Sweden was really low. My guestimate is a few hundred at the most, and that for a country that claimed to be at the forefront in this field. In many other markets around the world hadn't even seen an electric car, let alone understood the concept or in fact driven or bought one.
Bergman starts his presentation talking about the proud legacy of SAAB innovations. The vast majority of the polluters say they are looking for a good alternative to the NEVS mission: to build premium electric vehicles under the SAAB brand.
"Mr. SAAB ", the late Erik Carlsson, joined Bergman on stage at the end of the presentation and thus declared that he believed he was a NEVS supporter. That statement drew a resounding applause but the questions and doubts remain in many people's minds. The fans were expecting to hear about new turbo-based models. They wanted to know what they would look like and when they would become available in their respective countries. Not just China. And why electric vehicles only? Nobody else did this and the infrastructure was not there ....
Things are really accelerated. NEVS started hiring hundreds of people and actually restarted the production. Of the SAAB 9-3 based on the Epsilon platform. With a petrol engine. For the Swedish market. But hold on. Did not they say that they were going to produce electric vehicles? During his earlier speech, Bergman had confirmed that NEVS had a new shareholder, the Chinese city of Qingdao. Conventional 9-3's first. NEVS to get into financial difficulties, with a yet again halted production, layoffs and an application for reorganization as a result. The Qingdao adventure has had a positive effect that the factory has again and that is a significant part of the critical supply chain was re-established. 400 brand new MY14 SAAB 9-3's were made. I am the proud owner of one and silently enjoying it every day.
The one thing that I want to highlight from the reorganization phase however, is the plan that was shared with the court and the creditors. The document lays out the NEVS plans pretty clearly and how they want to achieve them. If you have not read it yet I would encourage you to read it. The bottom line is that their main objective remains to develop, produce and market premium cars under the SAAB brand for a worldwide market, This is called "plan A". The second part of the plan is to offer contract manufacturing, Essentially the monetization of all services for 3rd parties, from design and testing to production. This is called "plan B" and is therefore known as "NEVS Industrial Services". Bergman's presentation at this year's Saab Festival (now as the NEVS president) as arguably the best delivery. Again, if you have not read the transcript of this speech yet, I would very much encourage you to do so.
Selling out to China?
Then in June, shortly after the Saab Festival, NEVS announced basis that they had secured a new shareholder and would be building a completely new factory plus a R&D center in Tianjin, China. Another shareholder, SRIT, was announced at the same time and just four days later the first spade for the new factory hit the ground in China and even more partners were announced basis: Teamsun and Bank of China. Interestingly, these are probably the most confused and suspicious in the marketplace. Statements like "everything is simply a cover up, they don't care about SAAB and are just selling out to China and then closing down Trollhättan"And worse were circulating, but essentially confirming that the link between the announcements and the bigger picture was not clear. Most importantly, NEVS needs partners. Just Kai Johan Jiang's New Modern Energy Holdings (NME) as the main shareholder is not enough. In order to execute on the business plan, the financial means, but also to get access to markets and technology are needed. Tianjin, a city with 16 million inhabitants, delivers on multiple of these aspects. Paris confirms that 80% of all air pollution is caused by urban areas). Asian Tianjin is under the direct control of central government, accessing the Chinese market with its nearly 1,5 billion people (that's more than Europe, Australia and North America combined) is expected to be easier. As part of the agreement, NEVS intends to provide expertise to build and run the new local factory and the development of the EV for the Chinese market. And not just any EV. Through the new partnerships two IT companies, the earlier mentioned SRIT (State Research Information Technology Co, owned by China Unicom, one of the world's largest telco's) and Teamsun, technologies like the self-driving car are planned to developed. So rather than "selling out" to China, NEVS is acquiring market access to the world's 2nd largest economy, R&D and investment dollars. The new factory and R&D center in China are targeted to produce for the domestic market while Trollhättan remains the headquarter and main production and R&D facility, targeted at the rest of the world.
Then in August, the partnership with Dongfeng Motors was announced basis. Although not widely known, they are one of the largest vehicle manufacturers in the world and own 14% of the Peugeot Citroën Group. For NEVS this is a very important step, mainly as it provides them access to Dongfeng's purchasing power. Dongfeng's output was nearly 4 million units last year while the volumes NEVS is considering for their own line up under “plan A” are in the lower 5-digit range. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand that this can provide huge cost advantages. Add to this a collaboration on the R&D side and there are more costs and time savings possible.
The partner announcement that came mid October was the one with TÜBITAK and Turkey's national car project. Although this doesn't involve an investment and a change of ownership structure, the latest partnership news resembles the earlier one with the city of Tianjin. Again a new factory and development and production for the domestic market, but this time we're talking about NEVS licensing out the MY14 9-3 platform and selling services to help Turkey realize their national car project.
** start update 9 November **
On October 21st another piece was added to the puzzle. An agreement with Japanese semiconductor company Renesas Electronics Corporation was signed. Renesas is a publicly listed company with nearly 40,000 employees and is a joint venture between Hitachi, Mitsubishi Electric and NEC. According to the press announcement, NEVS and Renesas will be collaborating to build advanced automotive electronics technologies. The companies will engage in the development of high-end automotive control systems for new energy vehicles. This includes R&D of motor drive systems, automotive information systems, ADAS (Advanced Driving Assistance System), and safety control systems, and will also extend to the development of such new automotive applications as cloud-connected systems.
So after SRIT and Teamsun, another important player added to the team that wants to work on smart car solutions.
** end update 9 November **
I tried to visualize the currently known players and their respective functions in the diagram below.
New SAAB EV's from Trollhättan ...
And again the questions: "Great with all these partnerships, but when it comes to any new SAAB's I can and would like to buy in my own country? NEVS has not done anything but more of the old 9-3 yet, when they are finally showing something new? Under Spyker the factory was released at least."Interesting. When Spyker bought SAAB Automobile from GM, they also bought the 9-5NG Sedan, SportCombi, 9-4X and the basis for the Phoenix platform with it. All of these had already been in development for years and while the 9-5 and 9-4X were completed under the new management, they had received a massive head start, but only lasted for about two years. NEVS has been in operation for over three years now. When they bought the main assets from the bankruptcy estate, they weren't able to acquire the rights for the 9-5NG and the 9-4X as GM didn't allow this. So with only the old 9-3 and the Phoenix platform in the portfolio but with a pretty sophisticated production and R&D facility and some really skilled people they started their journey.
Quite some work went into the first seven prototypes of the 9-3EV. Despite the financial difficulties the R&D department had continuously been in full operation more or less from day 1. The reports from the automotive press were positive and I drove a 9-3EV myself on the factory test track and was quite impressed. OK, the platform used was still the old 9-3, but the technology under the hood and -possibly more importantly- in the floor ... the batteries is quite competitive and a strong base for the future line up of products. R&D has continued on both a new powertrain, the battery technology but also on the underlying Phoenix platform, the base from which NEVS is aiming to build a number of different models on. In fact, the ambition is “to have a broader model portfolio than SAAB Automobile has ever had”.
So when are they come and what about the SAAB brand name? I do not know. The NEVS interim report that is expected to be more specific on both topics. The SAAB brand name remains a hot item. Or better maybe, a hot potato. As I wrote in a Previous postthere is no clarity either way at this point. Under Swedish bankruptcy law SAAB AB suspends the rights when it enters this phase last year can not be true. Public relations statements about the future. Having said that, everyone at NEVS has been deeply committed to the SAAB trademark and the brand values it represents. Or as NEVS 'Frank Smit recently said in an interview"... cars that will 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. "
Now to the new models. NEVS wants more capital. 6 to 9 Figure capital injections will be needed over the course of the year next few years. Is this possible? It's not easy, but why not.
Nobody expected Nokia to get marginalized when the iPhone was first introduced. The record labels were all laughing when Spotify was introduced. Nobody took Tesla seriously when they were founded in 2003.
NEVS has the vision, the people, the facilities and the good to try and make a difference. "The only thing that is different is everything".