It’s 2019, and many of our customers are continuing to drive their aging Swedish cars. That’s great, because in their heyday, the Swedes focused a lot on how to make a solid product last a long time. Perhaps a bit too much, since engineering and high grade materials are expensive. Long story short, the two main Swedish brands we are most familiar with are now run by Chinese businessmen (sorta). That fact generally bums out the loyalists, who firmly believe that a proper Swedish car should run on a simple and powerful turbocharged gasoline engine, and be forged by flame in the forests of Myrkviðr by barechested vikings. There’s no reason to not keep a car like this running until you die of old age, and most Swedish cars built before 2000 will are likely to outlive you. We also have to realize that there are some Swedish engineers doing amazing things right now, and we need to embrace it.
Swedish cars of yesteryear
Swedish cars were always about reinventing the way we think about transportation. Whether it be investing in safety, pioneering construction processes, prioritizing efficiency without sacrificing fun….the results were always described with a semi-toxic buzzword. Quirky. When other manufacturers were producing cars consumers thought they wanted, the Swedes were putting cars in the dealerships that the Swedes thought people needed. Cars that were good in snow, got great gas mileage, had tons of room, and were extremely safe… Unfortunately, the former is far more profitable, and it didn’t take long for these ‘quirky’ cars to fall on financial hardship. Saab was purchased by GM, Volvo was taken over by Ford, and around the year 2000 the arduous journey to profitability began. A lot of great cars were made during this period, but the true revolutionary thinking was distilled out in favor of cost savings.
The worst part was that the market for quirky yet cheaper quality cars was even smaller, and around a decade later Zhejiang Geely Holding Group took control of Volvo, and Saab dissolved into a few entities. Their large spare parts network was sold to Orio, and the auto manufacturing section went to a newly formed company called NEVS. If you lived in China and breathed air there for any period of time, the writing is on the wall. If sustainability is the conversation, then electricity must be part of the vocabulary. That’s where it gets interesting.
The new resurgence of Swedish cool
Electric cars are no new thing. Remember GM’s EV1? That’s right, nobody does (if you do, here’s a cookie). The EV1 was the result of a group of very smart people thinking a little too far into the future. Well, that was over 20 years ago, and if Tesla’s through-the-roof desirability is any clue on the state of the industry, it’s safe to say electric is back and here to stay. Take a look at Jon Volk’s Electic E30 project. Mega cool, and we’ll be seeing a lot more electric powered vehicles soon enough. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that this new trend is going to put Sweden right back at the front, and that’s something to really look forward to.
What’s going on at Volvo?
Part of Geely’s plan when it purchased the majority stake of Volvo was to revamp the engine availability. That meant focusing on smaller, more fuel efficient engines. It also meant starting work on some serious hybrid technologies to get their hands dirty on current electric tech. In 2016, the new XC90 could be purchased with an electric hybrid system that was able to be plugged in. That truck is able to drive up to 19 miles on electric only power…that means if you have a short commute Volvo already has a plug in electric car.
Now that they’ve established these systems as a good base, they’ve made the announcement that by this year (2019), every new model will have some form of electric drive. That includes all electric options coming soon, some under Volvo and some under their performance subsidiary Polestar which is now a separate entity. Those will most likely be produced in China in a brand new state-of-the-art plant.
At the same time, there’s a deal for Uber to buy a bunch of these new cars to attempt an autonomous taxi service. That’s neither here nor there, but regardless it’s pretty cool.
The best part is that Volvo is still a Swedish company. The bulk of Volvo cars are currently designed and manufactured in Sweden and assembled worldwide (including South Carolina). Active European plants are in Torslanda Sweden and Ghent Belgium. As of 2016, around 60% of all Volvo employees were in Sweden. Big things are coming, and it’s going to be exciting that Sweden is about to ride the crest of this new wave, using Geely as the surfboard.
What’s Going on at Saab?
Saab’s transition to NEVS (National Electric Vehicles Sweden) is a little less straightforward. We’ve been teased by prototypes and images of cars being built and tested, but the reality is NEVS never felt like a tangible entity like the new Volvo, mostly due to the small size comparatively. Another reason is the CEO has somewhat bigger plans than just making cars again. Chinese-Swedish Owner Kai Johan Jiang plans on using money from Chinese investors and the core of Saab’s manufacturing know-how (and capacity) to bring together an entire electric car infrastructure. That’s something that wouldn’t only revolutionize transportation in China, but globally as well. Last year, their first car was shown as a working electric prototype, built on the outgoing Saab 9-3 platform.
The factory that would go on to produce the new Tiangin should be finishing up completion shortly, so we will see what comes of that. In the meantime however, NEVS recently purchased a 20% share in Swedish super car maker Koenigsegg. That’s a pretty big deal, and it’s created a fair bit of buzz. The idea partially is that NEVS is going to lend production capacity that it owns in Trollhättan and China, as well as allow the companies to share developed technology for electric and hybrid vehicles.
What’s going on at Koenigsegg?
Big things, that’s the answer. Koenigsegg rocked the world this week by unveiling their car that carried the somewhat cliche codename Ragnarok. Officially launched as the Koenigsegg Jesko after Christian von Koenigsegg’s father, the new car will be so bonkers it’s hard to comprehend. On E85, it should be capable of around 1600hp, and have enough downforce to stick upside down as it approaches its top speed well in excess of 250mph. Christian von Koenigsegg claimed at launch that a lower downforce (ie slipperier) version will also become available, which will be called the Jesko 300. The company claims a top speed of 300mph should be achievable. You can see the launch video below. Do yourself a favor and pause it at the moment where the 300mph figure comes out at 10:14, you will see a man have an apparent heart attack in the background.
Pistons weight around 10oz each. Wheels are hollow carbon fiber, along with just about everything else. Pneumatic tanks pre-spool the huge turbochargers to reduce lag. Those turbochargers should be pumping out a maximum of around 32psi each. The new, in-house developed transmission is called Light Speed, and has 9 gears, 7 clutches, and weighs a fraction of what a trans capable of 1600hp would traditionally weigh. If you have to ask how much, you can’t afford it, and 125 of the slated cars to be built are already sold (so there).
Simultaneously in the news for Koenigsegg is another all new car being built, which will be done with a little help from our friends at NEVS. You guessed it, it will be a hybrid technology model that is imagined to be more of an ‘entry level’ car. By entry level, we’re talking sub $1m, which in today’s hypercar landscape is fairly accessible. The NEVS Trollhatten plant will most likely take some of the weight of manufacturing more basic components. I assume that means pipes, hoses, electrical cables, glass and so forth. That would reduce the load on Koenigsegg’s Ängelholm shop, allowing them to achieve a slightly higher production.
The new car will also feature something Koenigsegg calls “Free Valve” which is a camless engine. Instead, like an F1 engine, the valves will be actuated pneumatically. That will allow for 100% control of lift, duration, and timing per each individual valve.
This won’t be Koenigsegg’s first plug in hybrid vehicle. The Regera came out around this time in 2016, and features a 22mi electric-only range out of its 4.5kw/hr liquid cooled battery. Together, with the 5.0l in house designed twin turbo V8 and the electric hybrid powertrain, the Regera makes nearly 1500hp and enough torque to potentially (if software allowed for it, which it doesn’t) spin the rear tires at 150mph.
The Regera actually doesn’t have a transmission. Instead, it has an extremely strong torque converter and direct drive. Torque at low speed is supplied by those electric motors. Theoretically, this technology can be ported into lots of things (such as semi trucks) that could run on electricity in populated areas, and transition to direct drive once up to speed on the highway. You’d then be able to delete a 12 speed transmission. In terms of outright insane car building techniques, Sweden’s Koenigsegg is pretty much at the top of the world.
So, be excited about Volvo and Polestar and their new line of efficient and extremely comfortable Swedish cars in Torslanda. Be excited about NEVS working on reinventing urban infrastructure and the way we view modern transportation from Trollhättan. Be excited about Koenigsegg making the very top supercar makers jealous from Ängelholm. Of course, since we sell thousands of parts for Swedish (and German) cars per week, so we’re excited for the future, too.