TTAC’s eulogy on Saab was premature. The Chinese willing, there will be new Saabs in the future. Surprisingly, Swedish defense contractor Saab AB licensed the Saab name to National Electric Vehicle Sweden (NEVS) to be used in future vehicles, a press release of NEVS says. NEVS also “finalized its acquisition of the main assets of Saab Automobile AB, Saab Automobile Powertrain AB and Saab Automobile Tools AB, effective August 31, 2012.”
The ultimatum given to NEVS last week apparently instilled fresh urgency into the parties, and an undisclosed amount changed hands on Friday. For the money, NEVS also received “IP rights for the Saab 9-3, IP rights for the Phoenix platform, tools, the manufacturing plant, and test and laboratory facilities.” There are others who think they also own that Phoenix platform. And the people of Trollhättan better don’t get their hopes up on EV exports to China.
Once in China, the new Saab logo probably will be a dragon with a crown and a long tongue, because the griffin logo was not included in the sale. That is owned by SCANIA, and folks there vehemently refused to sell the winged lion with the long tongue, due to the fact that the buyer is Chinese. When that happened, NEVS denied that is Chinese, telling just-auto that the deal is “not a Chinese investment” and claiming that the majority owner in NEVS is National Modern Energy Holdings, managed from Hong Kong and registered in the British Virgin Islands.
Two weeks later and with all signatures on the paper, NEVS rediscovered its Chinese identity. “NEVS is an international consortium formed by Swedish and Chinese stakeholders,” says the press release. “NEVS is wholly owned by National Modern Energy Holdings Ltd., whose founder and principal owner is Kai Johan Jiang.”
While “Chinese stakeholders” appear, the fabled Japanese venture capital fund exits stage left. We never bought into that story anyway.
With everything properly papered, NEVS could theoretically start building and selling Saabs today. However, NEVS is “solely dedicated to development and manufacturing of electric vehicles (EVs),” says the press release. The market for those EVs is China, which is “investing heavily in developing the EV market.” Says the NEVS statement:
“In approximately 18 months, we plan to introduce our first electric vehicle based on Saab 9-3 technologies and a new technology electric powertrain.”
NEVS Chairman Karl-Erling Trogen says that “the electric car of the future will be produced in Trollhättan.”
Here is something that does not compute at all. China is adamant that electric vehicles, if they want to receive generous government subsidies, must be produced in China, and must be made under a brand that is owned by a Chinese entity. This is why Nissan’s Leaf will be a Venucia and made in China, Volkswagen will have Tantos EVs with SAIC and Kaili EVs with FAW, Daimler builds a Denza EV with BYD, and so forth. Even stubborn Toyota caved in to Chinese demands and will create two “Chinese” EV brands with its Chinese joint venture partners. Why then spend the money on getting the Saab brand? Alright, it could be transferred to a Chinese venture – if the licensing language allows it.
But production in Trollhättan? That would be a big Bu Hao, as in forget about it. Carrying huge import duties and not qualifying for government subsidies, imported EVs are huge non-starters in China. If the Swedes expect that Trollhättan will turn into a bustling export hub for EVs destined to China, then they will be utterly disappointed.
There is a possibly additional fly in the Chinese duck soup. According to the press release, NEVS thinks it has bought “IP rights for the Phoenix platform.” Strangely, China’s Youngman also thinks it has “acquired a license in 2011” to the same Phoenix platform, and it will contribute that license to the Spyker Phoenix company, to be started with Victor Muller. Then again, if we understood last year’s press release right, that was a non-exclusive license, meaning that licenses can be sold as often as the copying machine allows.