Just the other day I heard someone updating Sir Isaac Newton’s classic law of nature “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction” with “, plus a social media overreaction”. I guess this week’s storm in the media was a great example.
The action was NEVS announcing the partnership with Dongfeng on Monday and the social media overreaction was the proclamation that the SAAB brand won’t be appearing on new cars anymore. An unfounded conclusion. Let’s look a little closer on what actually happened.
In February, one of the Swedish daily newspapers broke a story about the fact that defence and security company SAAB AB denied to be in negotiations with NEVS about the use of the SAAB trademark and NEVS was essentially accused of lying (see my earlier blog post). Something that later got rectified and while there weren’t any negotiations going on at that time, they actually had been going on earlier. The context in February was that NEVS still was in reorganisation and the business plan / administrator report that was sent to the District Court was referring to the fact that NEVS considered the trademark very important to their future plus that there were talks ongoing with SAAB on the topic.
Dongfeng (not) a surprise
This week’s events in the press bring back the memories from a couple of months ago. So on Monday the partnership with Dongfeng was announced by NEVS. Given consistent earlier rumours mentioning their name, the announcement didn’t come as a surprise yet what was somewhat surprising (at least to me) was that Dongfeng hasn’t taken an ownership stake in NEVS, or better yet, has become majority owner with a strong investment plan and significant funding for the future years. In essence, this means that other partners beyond Dongfeng are required to enable “plan A” for NEVS (i.e. the development, production and sales of new premium cars under the SAAB brand). So while the Dongfeng partnership definitely has value to both sides (see also Tom’s post on this), it wasn’t the “big announcement” many people had been expecting.
Really a non-issue
Apparently the fact that NEVS never mentioned the word “SAAB” on the press conference on Monday triggered news agency AFP and Swedish Radio to check in again with SAAB AB to understand what was going on. The same statement as in February came back: “there are no ongoing negotiations” yet this time the headlines in the media were turned to “NEVS is banned from using the SAAB brand”. Foreign press subsequently took this as “there will never be SAAB cars manufactured anymore” or worse.
It’s interesting that neither SAAB AB nor NEVS have publicly gone on record in stating exactly how the situation is. There are no press releases about this from either side, but on several occasions NEVS has either implicitly or explicitly said that their usage rights of the SAAB trademark were suspended at the point they filed for reorganisation.
So while it looks like that the headline from Swedish Radio is correct (ie “NEVS may not use the SAAB brand”), it is old news. In fact, regional newspaper Ttela did a follow up with both the spokes people for SAAB AB and NEVS and added some interesting details.
The key paragraph from the article translates as follows: “On Thursday morning Swedish Radio reported that NEVS won’t be allowed to use the SAAB trademark anymore. But this isn’t based on a new decision that has been taken. It is however a non-issue for defence company SAAB AB, according to their press director Sebastian Carlsson. –We’re not devoting any energy to the question and we haven’t taken any decisions around it. We are discussing airplanes and submarines and are making decisions around our line of business, he says. Does this mean it is totally out of the question that NEVS ever will be able to use the SAAB trademark again in the future? –That is really a hypothetical question and I am not answering that type of questions.”
There is no actual news on the SAAB trademark question and there haven’t been any decisions taken that prevent new SAAB cars to be produced in the future. The brand is therefore not dead. Having said that, will it be difficult for NEVS to regain the usage rights? Probably yes. In fact, my theory is that NEVS in an earlier phase clearly has received the directions, guidance and/or demands from SAAB AB under what conditions they might be considering granting the rights again. NEVS isn’t in a position to start negotiations yet as all the conditions for the foundation for this haven’t been met yet.
So until a new majority owner with deep pockets that is committing for the long run has been found, it’s kind of a waste of time (and arguably counter-productive) to speculate what might happen in the future. So I hope that all self-proclaimed SAAB fans that started to paint doom scenarios on the back of this week’s AFP and Swedish Radio articles will continue to keep the faith as I do. Based on what I have seen NEVS actually deliver so far, I have sufficient reason to believe that the vision they have will indeed become a reality and that includes them developing, producing and selling premium cars under the SAAB brand.
So my conclusion is that NEVS can use the SAAB name again, in the future. Let’s now just hope this conclusion doesn’t lead to another social media overreaction…