2014 Saab 9-3 AeroEnlarge Photo
If you're a Saab fan, Christmas has come early -- or a few years late, depending on your point of view.
The Swedish automaker essentially shut its doors in mid-2011, after years of sagging sales and Spyker's purchase of the company from General Motors. (If you've got the time, we've posted a lengthier recap of the Saab saga here.)
Afterward, Saab was sold yet again -- this time, to a new company called National Electric Vehicle Sweden AB, which, just to make things a bit more confusing, is a joint venture led by firms from China and Japan. In January of this year, NEVS announced plans to relaunch the Saab brand over the summer, with the first production vehicle slated to be a diesel version of the 9-3 sedan.
Though the company didn't meet that timeline, it has continued to plug away, and today, its efforts are finally bearing fruit: production of the 9-3 Aero begins today at the Saab factory in Trollhattan, Sweden. Interestingly, this version of the 9-3 will be a gasoline model, with a 2.0-liter turbo engine delivering 220 hp. The manual version will run approximately 279,000 SEK ($42,654 U.S.), while the automatic will hit 289,000 ($44,000 U.S.). NEVS plans to conduct sales directly through SaabCars.com, beginning next Tuesday, December 10.
But don't get your hopes up about purchasing one of these new Saabs -- at least not yet. Production is going to be very, very minimal: workers will assemble just ten cars per week to start. Of that number, most will be sold in China, though a few will be made available to Swedish consumers. Like Volvo, Saab customers will be invited to the factory to take possession of their vehicles.
Of course, NEVS initially vowed to rebuild Saab as a leader in the electric car market, and the company has promised to roll out an electric version of the 9-3 in the spring of 2014. In fact, Saab already has an order for 200 of those vehicles from one of its partners, Quingdao.
Can NEVS succeed where GM and Spyker failed? That's a matter for debate.
In the decades that GM owned Saab, the brand never turned a profit -- and of course, GM had plenty of capital at its disposal, not to mention access to loads of automotive technology. Spyker had a history of building high-end automobiles, but lacked the funds (and perhaps the know-how) to create and sell mass-market vehicles.
And what about NEVS? It has cash in hand, of course, but can it spend enough to bring Saab up to speed? That won't be easy.
First, it will need to make the 9-3 stand out. We don't have all the specs on the Aero, but at the moment, it doesn't seem all that different from other pricey sedans. True, there are lots of Saab fans who appreciate the marque's distinct design, but are there enough to keep the company afloat?
The problem is even more complicated in China, which is experiencing growing pains from its transition to a capitalist economy. Scores of auto brands have flooded the Chinese market, making it exponentially harder for Saab to score a foothold.
Second, NEVS will need to figure out distribution. Even Tesla -- which relies heavily on its website for sales -- has a network of showrooms around the globe. To generate Saab sales of around 120,000 units per year (NEVS' stated goal for 2016), it'll need a much bigger presence in the global marketplace.
For more news and perspective on Saab's return, check out our colleagues at MotorAuthority.com.