IMPORTANT NEWS: National Electric Vehicle Sweden has agreed to buy the assets of Saab Automobile and the sale is expected to be finalized during the summer.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Victor Muller talks to Aftonbladet

Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet was one of the many Swedish news media which attended Tuesday's press conference from Beijing over the telephone wires. Here is a translation of their summary of the conference call.

"Hawtai - a gift from above"
Hawtai becomes a Chinese major owner of Saab. This opens the door for export to China, manufacturing in China, perhaps a necessary diesel engine in the new SUV 9-4X and the transfer of technical know-how to China from Trollhattän.

For ailing Saab today’s news is godsend.

The day began with a press conference in Beijing and continued with a conference call where Swedish journalists could ask questions to Victor Muller of Saab. More or less all Swedish media were online.

- We have been negotiating with Chinese manufacturers for a year, said Victor Muller, and the last month when Saab has been in a crisis, we were courted by a dozen Chinese automakers. But Hawtai suits us best.

- They are about our size, they built 60,000 cars last year, and their owners Zhang Xiugen is an entrepreneur just like me. He is well regarded and he is also the largest shareholder in Bank of Beijing.

- In addition, Hawtai manufacture world leading diesel engines under license from Italian VM Motori, and just their V6 diesel has been mentioned in connection to our new 9-4X. They are a very good partner.

Can lead to new employment
The idea is that Hawtai will become the official importer to China of Saab's current models, 9-3, 9-5 and 9-4X. Today Saab has no importer in China, a market which is the world's largest and fastest growing car market. Chinese import means increased production in Trollhättan, and perhaps the need to hire new staff.

The current Saab models are built with technology from General Motors and can therefore not be manufactured in China.

- But the new 9-3, which we will launch in 2012 and future models will be built in a joint venture with Hawtai in their factories in China for the Chinese market.

"Increased interest from Antonov"
Muller was asked if Vladimir Antonov’s interest in Saab has cooled down now that the Chinese are buying a 29 per cent of Saab.

- Quite the opposite! He is even more interested now that Saab has such a strong financial partner.

The Chinese are interested in Saab's technology and want to start a collaboration to develop Hawtai’s own models.

- They want our electric rear axle for a plug-in hybrid and they want to access our electric car technology. Electric cars are very, very big in China, Muller said.

The cover was painted on
It is true that electric cars raise a big interest in China. At the motor show in Shanghai which just ended, almost all Chinese producers displayed an electric car, even if none of the producers had a car in production yet. The same thing applies to plug-in hybrids, many concept cars, but no production yet.

Hawtai had a plug-in hybrid on its stand, but it was such an early prototype that the cover over the charging outlet was not even real. The cover was simply painted on the side of the car.

- Hawtai built 60,000 cars last year, but their ambition is to build 500,000 a couple of years from now, Muller said. And that’s no fantasy.

"We lost 4,000 cars"
On Saab's own production this year, Muller at first did not want to say anything. But then he changed his mind.

- 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.

Yesterday, Saab got a loan from finance company Gemeni, and the money will be transferred within a few days and will be used to pay the subcontractors so that production can resume. Of the EUR 150 million which Hawtai is to pay, Saab will get the first payment next week, according to Muller and the entire amount will be available for Saab in six to twelve weeks. The only small hurdle now is an approval from the European Investment Bank (EIB).

- And that's just a formality, Muller said.

We may hope so. For the sake of Trollhättan. Up till now the EIB and the Swedish Government have been very restrictive with their authorizations and approvals.