Sometimes things seem to be much further in the past than they really are, even more if lots of things happened since then. So last week I was reminded that it was only one year ago that the German Dealer Tour started.
Back then the team of Saab Germany came up with the idea of a tour through the entire county to show the soon-to-come 9-4x and 9-5 SC to the potential customers. It was a long fight until the idea could become reality as some departments at Saab were not sure if it was a good idea to let customers take a closer look at those pre-production models. But the team did not give up on the idea and finally got the ok.
Throughout that tour it became clear that the Saab customers really liked the character of that presentation. Despite the fact that those dealer events happened on short notice they were pretty well attended. The interest even compiled into an impressibe number of pre-orders for both cars despite no final prices were avilable at that time. Due to the huge success of the tour the idea was picked up by other European countries. I feel that this tour has had much more effect on the target group than those expensive campaigns that were done for the original 9-5 launch. This could be a strategy to remember for Saab 2.0.
While the cars were in general not available for test drives I was fortunate enough to do a 70 or so kilometer stint in a 9-4x Aero. Every time I think about that day I still feel sad that this car never made it to Europe. I truly believe that with the 2012 model range Saab could have shown the real potential of the company, could have given the dealers something to sell. It was also pretty fitting that while the tour was underway the news broke that Youngman and PangDa had bought Saab. But well, that’s history.
Looking at it in todays context I have some serious doubts that those last minute efforts would have had the desired effect. When Saabs production line first stopped just shortly after the Geneva show things might have been solved by the injection of a few million Euros. But the longer this took Saabs debt was growing quicker and quicker. So every sum that was ever said to come from China would most likely only have extingushed the most urgent fires without providing a serious long term funding.
The European car market has become even tougher in 2012, you could even say some markets have almost vanished. When the car markets went down in 2009/2010 many governments came up with scrapping bonusses that should help the car comapnies over the toughest times. But in the end it just moved the problem of slow markets and overcapacities to a later point in time. And that point seems to be now.
Many car manufacturers are struggling. This leads to quite strange things. Opel, GM’s next unwanted child after Saab had gone, enters a partnership with PSA, who just got a 9 billion Euro support by the French government (through a back door of course), just as if two sick companies could heal each other. The European subsidiary of Ford also announced last week it will shut down a plant in Belgium as well as two operations in Great Britain. If you sum that up it means that about 13% of the Ford employees in Europe loose their jobs. Volvo also slowed production in Sweden and just recently in Belgium, too. I hope they can finalize the discussions on their needed credit line soon or it might get even worse in Gothenburg.
Looking at all this and judging the capabilities of Youngman I feel that even if Saab had been rescued at the end of 2011 we might have faced a deja vu now. It’s kinda sad to judge it that way. But then, we’ll never know what could have been. We have a different reality now: NEVS.
One may say that they will have a tough time given how things develop in Europe right now. And for sure it won’t be easy. But you can also see their situation at this point in time as an advantage.
While all other companies are suffering from overcapacities and lots full of unsold cars which bring the need to sell at reduced profit NEVS can focus on developing the EV1, which through it’s electric powertrain will be a niche vehicle for quite some time in Europe and most likely also the US. So the may be able to avoid the toughest part of the market and, ironically, loose less money on selling no product than others who are still in the market.
It also explains their initial focus on China. It’s still an emerging car market and maybe the only place in the world where you have a merely secure long term plan for electric infrastructure since it is government controlled. Similar plans are at hand in Europe but through the current crisis I am not too sure how many power companies are willing to make those huge investments in the needed infrastructure. This will have to grow slowly.
I still feel that with the EV2 we may see other powetrain options and by the time it comes out I’d hope that the marked has consolidated. So NEVS has a fair chance to be there at the right time. No need to hurry too much. The perfect storm in the car industry is just about to reach its peak. No mistake to hide a bit longer, it can only get better.