TROLLHÄTTAN. While Volvo is dismissing 4 400 empleyees, SAAB is employing more people. “It’s on complete different levels, but maybe Saab is a hopeful sign, a signal that Sweden is about to industrialise again.
That’s what you want to think when you’re walking through the large automobile factory in Trollhättan, guided by Göran Fredriksson, PR manager and Stefan Lövberg., manager general assembly. They are enthusiastic. Both of them worked for the company for 30 years, decades of mostly tough times, and a long excerpt death that ended in bankruptcy. Saab is alive again. It’s becoming an electric car.
Lövberg stands in front of a picture that shows the plant’s capacity. This factory was one of the world’s most modern car company, and probably the smalleest one that had a constantly running production line. It has the capacity to make 42 cars in an hour. The speed of the line is adapted to 28 cars per hour. It is for practicing purpose. Production amounts are now reduced to three cars. Per day. If you listen you hear a buzzing sound from fans and air-conditioning systems, a swish as the silence grows in strength that says: You’re in a huge factory where machines should clatter, where hundreds, thousands, of people should rush around. But the machinery is at a standstill and people are elsewhere. The factory is running without really running. The production line rolls. An empty line without chassis, without car bodies, without engines. The bright floor is recently refinished and shines.
You can go wherever you want. Nevertheless, we must watch out. Suddenly, a truck shows up, coming from nowhere heading on it’s way to nowhere with a pallet.
The factory is 80 000 square meters large. It measures 400 meters from wall to wall. We climb over an empty assemly line that rolls into emptiness and then over another line, and down to the left, way down there, I see a team that assembles a car. One of the fitters is Sara Bokefalk, 24 years old, born in Trollhättan, former summer worker at Saab in 2008 and 2010, then an employee at Ikea in Uddevalla, and now she’s back at Saab. “It’s really fun to build a car,” she said. – We’re hiring former Saab staff and young people to get a mix. Experience and innovation, says Fredriksson. 85 people are currently working in the factory. The time is 10:30, and they’re done for the day. Three cars was mad. A couple pre-built cars stands inside the factory, indoors, protected from the bad weather outside. They stand in here, protected, as a ceremony of love, silver grey and black, the two colors that the customer can choose. No one can touch the finished cars . I’m not allowed to touch them at all. It’s to show respect for the customers, says Fredriksson. He who decides to buy a brand new Saab, that person is assured that his car is as new as it possibly can be. You can only buy your Saab online. It is available in one version and will cost 279 000SEK, plus 10 000SEK for an automatic transmission. When asked how many clicks the buy button Fredriksson responds: We get some orders per week. Deliveries will begin in April. Buyers get the chance to visit the factory, get a tour, visit the Saab Museum, and then receive the keys to their new cars. Of course it is a sustaining activity. When the workmen made the three vehicles per day they go to an adjacent facility and continues to assemble, for practicing purpose. They are waiting to assembly the E-version, the battery powered vehicle with the range of 174 miles.
Saab’s new owner, Kai Johan Jiang, a Chinese entrepreneur who studied in Sweden in the 1990s. In China he has power plant fuelled by biomass. He wants to go all in on green energy in the transporting sector. The Saab brand is owned by the company NEVS, which stands for National Electric Vehicle Sweden. NEVS is part of a network of the companies belonging to Jiang. Göran Fredriksson demonstrates with a picture in the Executive Board’s meeting room of the Consortium. Then he shows other pictures that involves that the world, and in particular China, need cleaner air. Besides, we’ll run out of oil in 2050. Electric cars are the future. “The pleasure of driving is back,” says one of the pictures. – We invest in Sweden and China, and then the rest of the world, step by step. The batteries are manufactured in Beijing. Fredriksson won’t answer how the batteries will be mounted in the 9-3. He won’t reveal what the cars will cost either. The electric Saab will start it’s marketing in China “later in spring”. Late in the fall, or possibly early next year, it will be available for sale in Sweden. All the world’s major car manufacturers and a bunch of new brands are experimenting with solutions for electric and hybrid cars. Why should Saab succeed? Fredriksson is vague, he suggests a competitive price and talks about a humble, long-term investment.
– 100 years ago pharmacies were selling pertol. All new technology must start out somewhere.
In september 2012, 75 people were working at Saab. Now they are 571 employees, plus 130 consultants on a full-time basis.
“We have the will. We are fused together. We want to change and make history, says Fredriksson.
I turn around and look out over the empty staff car park. Where the journalists used to breed during the recurring crises to interview workers who risked losing the job. Over the years it became increasingly difficult to get the workers to say something. At the end everyone seemed exhausted – the employees, Saab owners, the journalists, the public, the politicians. -If all households with two cars would replace it to one electric vehicle, just imagine what that would do to the environment! says Fredriksson.
I guess that’s what Saab is, a strange, lively optimism.