To the people in the room the buyer of Saab the remaining assets of bankrupt Saab was known before the press conference started today at 1pm at the Saab showroom in Trollhättan. When Dalong “Kai Johan” Jiang takes a seat in the audience, and is joined by his Chairman Karl-Erling Trogen, it is clear what bankruptcy administrator Hans Bergqvist will announce minutes later:
“The buyer is the National Electric Vehicle AB.”
Jiang takes the microphone. He knows his audience and says what everybody wants to hear: “Electric cars powered by green electricity is the future and electric cars will be built in Trollhättan.”
The all-important Saab brand is not mentioned. Saab Parts, held by the Swedish Government is not part of the deal.
Jiang says that his company wants to electrify the Saab 9-3. “We have no interest in the 9-5 or 9-4X. Reason is that GM has no interest to sell the rights. Our interest is in 9-3.” It will be his first product.
The impact on Trollhättan’s job market will remain sedate. Karl-Erling Trogen says that initially, there will only be a few jobs for “engineers and management. We will be helped by Japanese engineers and Chinese, but we can not give an exact forecast today. Initially, a few hundred.” Official press release here.
We wish the buyer of the remaining Saab assets good luck, good luck will be needed if the “new Saab” is to focus on EVs (and possibly hybrids) alone. Saab’s old owner GM had been in the car business for a long time. Even Victor Muller had rudimentary automotive training. NEVS and Jiang know nothing about cars, and that is most likely the reason why they bought what is left in Trollhättan. If you need more background on NEVS, read this.
A few days ago, a top executive of one of the world’s largest automakers commented on a start-up in the U.S. that wants to sell made-in-China EVs: “Poor guys. They have to sell electric cars, and they have to sell cars from China, as if selling EVs is not tough enough.” This executive, who shall remain nameless, works for the market leader in the EV field, he knows what he is talking about. Ask BYD where it stands with its electric car plans. I bet Warren Buffet calls every day and asks the same.
Hybrid cars, while a bit more marketable than EVs, did not take the world by storm either. According to data compiled by Hybridcars, in May, hybrids had a market share of 2.7 percent in the U.S. In Europe, hybrids are a rarity. The few being sold are nearly exclusively Toyotas. In the emerged and emerging markets, hybrids are being laughed at.
An engagement in new energy vehicles takes extremely deep pockets and decades of patience. Toyota, a hybrid pioneer since 1995, does not expect hybrids to go mainstream before 2020. Toyota will tell you that the biggest problem with new energy vehicles is cost: They don’t sell in quantities, because they are expensive. They are expensive, because they don’t sell in quantities. Even a heavyweight player grapples with this conundrum. For a bit player, it means assured destruction.
Only the terminally naive believe that EVs are the vehicles that will take you to quick profits. NEVS-owner Dalong “Kai Johan” Jiang has not yet mastered turning a profit from his Chinese biomass powerplants, and that was the easy part. In the industry, Saab is known as a black hole that sucks up money and destroys it. From giant GM to a man named Muller, all remember iconic Saab as a giant loss generator. With a focus on EVs and possibly hybrids, that hole will get blacker than black. If industry giants cannot turn a profit on these future technologies, bit players will be eaten alive. A hungry black hole is awaiting the next feeding.
Personally, I would not be surprised if the Saab 9-3 tools will show up soon in Beijing, awaited by BAIC, which had bought the previous generation, and which tries hard to make an electrified version out of the heavy car.