It was a deep winter. The Saab bankruptcy was still fresh. Mark and I met in the nightly Trollhättan with a well-known personality. Their name does not matter, we talked about the ongoing sales negotiations.
The opinion of our interlocutor had a lot of weight, the insolvency administrators kept asking him for advice. We came to talk about BMW - the company that wanted to continue the Saab brand. A new, small Saab on a mini platform was in an Italian design studio. It could have been built in Trollhättan together with Mini brand vehicles.
Our interlocutor was against BMW. He spoke unexpectedly of the German enemy, which should under no circumstances Saab should get. My facial features deviated for a very long second, the blood froze in my veins. Never before had my nationality been so negatively judged in Sweden, no one had previously taken such a clear position. Fortunately, the topic was changed quickly and the evening was saved. Later, I asked Mark if I had heard correctly. Yes I had.
China instead of Germany, so 2012 stood the shares. Trollhättan got China, and thus NEVS. The Chinese were not greeted exuberantly, but with sympathy, and perhaps they were perceived as the lesser evil. NEVS had quite a chance at the time. The Volvo-Geely story seemed to be a good template, even if not everything is as shiny as it seems.
Lucky children from China
Chinese money, Swedish engineering and design. That could have worked if there had been enough liquidity. And if you had Saab on the long leash run. At that time the lettering of the brand shone in the night, much seemed possible. The fact that NEVS was badly capitalized right from the beginning, that founder Kai Johan Jiang had the image of a lucky child, who seemed to fall in the lap due to political connections, was not known at the time.
The sympathy for the Chinese in Trollhättan melted like the snow in April. Bankruptcy and Reconstruction 2015; a restart that wasn't one. With every visit to the former Saab city, the mood was lousy. Especially the old, the Saab veterans, harbored open suspicion. There was talk of dismantling the systems in the Stallbacka, of technology transfer to China.
The criticism grew louder. The old, angry Saab engineers saw what wasn't good. That you had no plan and no goal in the Stallbacka. Instead of focusing, you got lost in many activities. Diversification, as if you had 10.000 employees and not just a few 100. Contract manufacturing, external development, a car for Turkey. Partnerships with other, equally weak manufacturers. Investing in a chronically loss-making plant in China. Everything fraught with losses, failed, or just before.
The unexpected increase in value of Saab real estate
Long-term financing was never given. Even the coming 12 months see the auditors as unsecured. To ensure survival, NEVS wants to lend the real estate. For this operation, the properties, including the plant, which has been standing still for years, gain in value. 3.5 billion kroner, around 367.000.000 € are currently worth the buildings in Stallbacka. They are to be loaned with around 84.000.000 million €.
2011, under Victor Muller, became the Value estimated by factory and development center at 53.000.000 €. A manufacturing factory, mind you, and offices full of life. Loan then 51%. In pain, on very unfavorable terms, as we learned later. Many years have passed since then. The state has not improved, the investment backlog has grown. The work stands still.
The future is uncertain. Even if the feat is successful, and NEVS in Tianjin can start production, this would not be the salvation. The present orders are not binding, there are no set specifications for delivery and price. There is no sales network in China, the company has no name. And who should buy a product from an unknown company, 2018, whose roots go back to the previous millennium?
NEVS seems to be an eternal startup. The management is not ready for surrender, it is fighting. For our Trollhättan and the Saab employees, I would have liked something different. The German enemy would have been the better choice.