Yesterday was a big day for Saab. They gained a critical partner that not only helps them stay alive in the short term but also helps them establish a strong foothold in the largest auto market in the world. To say it was a big day for Hawtai would be an understatement. And it was an even bigger day for Hawtai, who gets the most valuable commodity of all in its home market– credibility. They scored the deal that a dozen other automakers wanted, which should give them new respect among consumers and competitors.
So how will Saab turn the tide of bad press, skeptical consumers, and financial uncertainty?
Victor Muller wants people to know not only about the deal with Hawtai, but Antonov too, so much so that he’s announced a global media blitz similar to last spring. From Automotive News:
Saab Automobile plans a global public relations blitz to introduce its new Chinese partner and its likely new investor, Vladimir Antonov from Russia.
The plan will include Saab Chairman Victor Muller and will target major media and auto shows. It will be similar to an effort last spring by Muller to show that Saab is alive and making vehicles.
“If and when Antonov gets involved, we want to include him,” said Michele Tinson, a spokesman for Saab Cars North America. “We want people to meet him and know who he is. Obviously we want to include our Chinese joint-venture partners as well in our tour.”
If you’d like to hear just what Victor might be talking about on his tour, Swedish Radio has an excellent phone interview with him, who is now resting in Mallorca, that you can listen to below. You can hear how optimistic he is about the Hawtai deal, as well as information and his reflections on the status of various approvals (and around 8:45 you can hear how excited his kids are about their dad being home in the background 🙂 ). I think you’ll really enjoy it (and I hope you had a nice nap, Victor).
Just how big is the sales goal for Hawtai in China? According to Hawtai VP Richard Zhang, the joint-venture between Saab has a target of 100,000 to 200,000 cars per year in China. That’s more than the breakeven point for Saab on its own. The terms of who shares what percentage of the profits in Chinese domestic production aren’t clear just yet, but Saab should be getting a fair chunk of it.
In an Aftonbladet piece today, Victor Muller made several revelations about the deal through the press conference. “We negotiated with Chinese manufacturers for a year, and the last month during Saab’s financial crisis we were courted by a dozen Chinese automakers. But Hawtai fits us best,” he said.
Asked whether Vladimir Antonov was upset that the Chinese are buying 29% of Saab, he responded, “Quite the opposite! He’s even more interested now that Saab has such a strong financial partner.”
The Chinese are especially keen to gain access to Saab’s electric vehicle technology, a hot segment in China right now. “They want our electric rear axle for a plug-in hybrid and they want access to our electric car (eDrive) technology. Electric cars are very, very big in China, Muller said.
Perhaps his biggest revelation during the conference call to Swedish reporters was that the month offline means that Saab lost 4,000 cars. As covered earlier, there are 5,000 orders on the books and the factory now has to work at high speed to fill them, but Muller says sales will be revised down from the 80,000 2011 target. “It is quite clear that we will not be up to the 80,000 we talked about. The factory has been stopped for nearly a month and we have lost 4,000 cars. But I do not know how far we will reach.”
Finally, just to indicate how big a deal this is for Saab, it even got press on US television. The local news even. That’s fairly incredible, considering the last time anything made the news for Saab on affiliate tv was when they were slated to shut down at GM’s hand in December 2009. As I’ve said before, this coupled with the launch of the 9-4x give Saab a huge reboot opportunity. But allowing the media to report the news in this way though to a mainstream audience certainly doesn’t help. This was probably broadcasted a similar way on dozens of US stations, as most purchase their newsbytes from the same few companies. Hopefully going forward Saab can get more of the press to report a strong message focusing on their stability, not fragility. Here’s the clip.
After reading Swade’s post over at InsideSaab, I think you’ll see he’s done a great job of answering most people’s questions.