Saleen, no matter which way you look at it, is a deeply strange car company. Sometimes its funds are dwindling, sometimes it’s resurrecting cars that it first started building nearly 20 years ago, and sometimes it’s hosting a live news conference, in China, with a claimed 24,000 people in attendance, seemingly at the behest of its deep-pocketed Chinese backer, unveiling an SUV for the first time, “unveiling” three other cars that have already been publicly displayed, and Jason Statham. At least two of those three things happened the other night.
Dubbed the 2019 Saleen Night Grand Launch Ceremony, it featured pageantry, dance numbers, jazz hands, Tanner Foust, and the aforementioned Statham.
You may be wondering why Saleen—known for tuned Ford Mustangs and the S7 supercar—is doing a vehicle launch of any sort in Beijing. And that’s the start of a long story.
While the timeline is not completely clear, the company had been in rough financial shape for years. In 2014 the company said it owed millions, with less than $10,000 in the bank. Two years later, it was being sued by a dealership over allegations of late deliveries and missing parts.
But then, in 2017, things started looking up for the embattled company. A backer (really, “backer” is the best term we can come up for it, since the nature of the relationship is still unclear) from China emerged, under the name Jiangsu Secco. Information on Jiangsu Secco is hard to come by as well, but a press release from Saleen says that the two companies’ new joint venture, Jiangsu Saleen Automotive Technology, Co., or JSAT, has a “world-class automated production facility has ample production capacity to cater for the surging demand for sports cars and passenger vehicles in China.”
JSAT went on to predict in the press release that two Saleen vehicles, the previously-seen Saleen S1 (now apparently re-named the “Saleen 1”) and a Saleen-branded SUV, would roll off assembly lines from the Chinese market in 2020.
But Jiangsu Secco is not a mere joint venture partner for Saleen vehicles in the Chinese market. It appears to be a financial lifeline.
Saleen Automotive says that it is “dependent on Jiangsu Saleen Automotive Technology Co., Ltd. (“JSAT”) for a significant portion” of its revenue, according to a recent 10K filing with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission. The filing went on to say that 75 percent of Saleen’s revenue for the last nine months of 2018 came from JSAT, which is up from the 66 percent it saw the previous fiscal year.
So that should provide a little background as to how we got here. “Here,” in this case, being the spectacle in Beijing.
The company showed off five models, ranging from yet another version of the Saleen S7, a car that first hit customer hands in 2000; to the Saleen 1, a car first seen as the Saleen S1 in 2017; to an electric city vehicle called the Saleen MaiMai, which actually just appears to be refreshed version of something called the EuAuto MyCar, which debuted in 2009; to the new SUV.
The SUV, at best, could be said to look like An SUV. Design elements of other cars abound, and concrete details about this particular car do not. Known as the MAC, it has an output of 400 horsepower and 332 lb-ft of torque, and is supposed to enter production in 2020. And while intended to compete against the Porsche Macan, we’re mostly hoping for Saleen’s sake that it competes on price, since not for nothing Porsche is Porsche and if you come at the king you best not miss, and the Macan Turbo S already packs 34 more horsepower than the Saleen.
The ceremony where all of this was announced could generously be described as “gratuitous.” Steve Saleen declared that “many people” regard him as an “automotive legend,” that the S7 is the most successful supercar ever created, and the company’s intention to expand the product portfolio to include sedans, coupes, and SUVs alongside the sports cars.
This was followed by a jazzy dance number. There were flashing lights, elements of tap and break dancing, and what sounded like synth saxophone.
There was an orchestra, there was a choir, and a Saleen S7 was unveiled from beneath what looked to be something from the same store as those giant parachutes you used to play with in elementary school. The S7’s right blinker was briefly left flashing.
Steve Saleen’s “business partner” in JSAT, Charles Wang, discussed the Saleen 1 for a bit, as well as the new SUV. This was followed by what looked to be burlesque dancers and guys in mesh tank tops.
And then Jason Statham showed up.
“Hey,” he began. “How we doin’, Beijing?”
Beijing responded with a muted rumble. It was unclear what Statham was doing there besides lending a bit of action movie star power, but Wang asked him how his flight was.
“I told the pilot to fly straight,” Statham responded, which served as an explanation for how he arrived at the event on time. Wang asked Statham if he had any comments on what he had seen so far.
“Uhhhh… what do you want to say?” Statham asked, seemingly confused. He is then promised a gift from Steve Saleen, and Statham looks around for said gift, but first a translation into Mandarin must be given first.
When Steve Saleen finally emerges, it is with the proper honorifics. “Hi! Legend!” comes the call from someone with a microphone.
But what could Steve’s gift be? Could it be the first Saleen 1 to roll off the line? Maybe a Mustang with some extra fins? In his heart of hearts, could it be an S7 itself?
No. Instead, Steve gifts Statham a jacket.
“Great present. Thanks.”
Statham is then asked to kick a cap off of a water bottle. He does not.
None of this is to single out or denigrate the kind of big show that Chinese companies like to put on; we’ve seen it with many others, like the startups or Faraday Future. That’s just how they roll, and they’re excited to get their auto industry humming along in their own way. The Americans and Europeans do it, too—insane presentations are the bedrock of any auto show.
What is weird about all this is how the Chinese pageantry revolves around... Steve Saleen, an American dude mostly famous for tuning Mustangs in the ‘90s and the S7, who has been dogged by debt, lawsuits and financial troubles for years.
It’s all very strange in that context!
Anyway, more songs and dances follow.
And then, goodbye.
You can watch the whole thing here, and it’s a great way to blow 90 minutes.
Additional reporting by Bozi Tatarevic