NEVS Sango autonomous electric shuttle, image credit: NEVS
Way last century, Sweden had two global auto manufacturers — Volvo and Saab. Volvo built staid cars that were as solid as the rock of Gibraltar. Saab was the quirky cousin that insisted on mounting its ignition switch in the center console rather than on the dashboard. It also offered styling that was trés avant. If you wanted safety in your Swedish car, you bought a Volvo. If you wanted a little dash of excitement, you bought a Saab.
Both companies got caught up in a game of “mine’s bigger than yours” that played out between Ford and General Motors at the end of the last century. Ford started things off by buying Jaguar and Land Rover as it put together what it called its Premium Auto Group. Then it bought Volvo in 1999. Not to be outdone, General Motors then purchased Saab. Less than 10 years later, both once proud Swedish manufacturers were toast and teetering on the edge of bankruptcy as the Great White Fathers in Detroit bled both companies dry.
Volvo was rescued by Geely but Saab slowly sank between the waves. Its car manufacturing assets were purchased out of bankruptcy by a new corporation somewhat grandly known as National Electric Vehicle Sweden, which set about converting the last generation Saab 9-3 to electric power. In 2015, the company signed a strategic collaboration agreement with Panda New Energy Company of China to deliver 150,000 9-3 electric vehicles by the end of 2020.
Evergrande Group of China acquired 51% of the shares in NEVS in January 2019. Evergrande has since then increased its holdings to 68%. National Energy Holding, owned by Kai Johan Jiang, owns the remaining shares. The company is still peddling the converted 9-3 battery electric car to a largely uninterested audience.
NEVS Sango autonomous electric shuttle
But now the company says it has exciting news — Sango, an all new 6-passenger autonomous electric shuttle that is currently undergoing trials in and around the NEVS home city of Trollhättan. NEVS expects a fleet of 10 will begin operating in Stockholm later this year. The styling is a bit much for such a utilitarian vehicle but it retains some of the funkiness Saabs were always known for, which may be why Road & Track once suggested that Saabs were built in Trollhättan by trolls.
The key to the Sango autonomous shuttles is a system the company calls PONS — “the first generation of autonomous vehicles with a connected user interface.” Anna Haupt, vice president of mobility solutions at NEVS, says, “We started by looking at why urban citizens have such strong desire to use their own cars rather than public transport, even if it means sitting in traffic jams for hours each day. The reason is privacy. In your own car you feel safe, secure, relaxed and free.”
“We realized that, to be able to really benefit from autonomous technology, we had to design a vehicle that would not only be an enabler for shared vehicles, but also for shared rides. How do you combine privacy with sharing? That was one of the main challenges to overcome,” says Haupt.