The rumors about Saab's death have been greatly exaggerated -- at least, that's what the brand's new owners say. According to Bloomberg news, Saab's long-quiet assembly lines will return to action this summer, and the company hopes to meet some pretty lofty production goals within three years.
A full recounting of the Saab saga is more suited for a tell-all bestseller, not a blog post. But if you haven't been following along at home, the major plot points are:
- In the wake of the Great Recession, General Motors sold Saab to supercar manufacturer Spyker Cars in 2010.
- Like GM, Spyker had a hard time making Saab profitable.
- Saab's facility in Trollhattan, Sweden was all but shuttered in mid-2011, and the company was shoved toward bankruptcy court because of its inability to make payroll and meet other financial obligations. (Note: Spyker blamed GM for that.)
- At the 11th hour, a group called National Electric Vehicle Sweden AB (NEVS) swooped in and purchased Saab. Despite the name, NEVS is actually a joint endeavor of National Modern Energy Holdings (based in China) and Sun Investment (based in Japan). It was uncertain whether GM would okay the sale, since the Detroit automaker blocked a previous lifesaving deal with Chinese investors due to concerns over its technology's fate under China's loosey-goosey intellectual property laws. It was also uncertain whether NEVS would still be allowed to use the "Saab" name. Apparently, both issues have been resolved.
Bloomberg received a copy of a letter recently sent by NEVS to Saab's parts suppliers. In that letter, NEVS details a few of the company's goals for Saab, including:
- Re-launching production of the diesel-powered 9-3 sedan and convertible by August 2013.
- Adding the 9-3X station wagon to that lineup later in 2013.
- Producing electric cars based on the 9-3 in 2014.
- Manufacturing a total of 120,000 vehicles per year by 2016. Though the letter doesn't spell out how many of those vehicles would be gas-powered and how many would be electric, it appears that the majority would be electric.
Some analysts are dubious about Saab's prospects in the electric-car market -- and rightly so. NEVS' goal of 120,000 is just shy of Saab's production peak of 133,000, reached in 2006. It's also significantly more than the 107,200 fully electric vehicles assembled by all automakers around the globe in 2012.
According to Bloomberg, the key to NEVS' hopes and dreams for Saab lays in China. The country has an aggressive plan for electric-vehicle adoption, including boosting sales of alt-fuel vehicles to 500,000 units by 2015 (from fewer than 13,000 in 2012) and by adding 400,000 recharging stations within 20 major metropolitan areas by 2015. If China sticks to its plan, electric Saabs could be well positioned for success.
Also boosting Saab's chances for success: a $307 million infusion of cash, courtesy of the city of Qingdao, which it's providing in exchange for a 22% stake in NEVS.
Other factors could also lend a hand -- for example, if Saab relies more heavily on extended-range electric cars than on fully electric vehicles. That, combined with looming advances in battery technology, could also help overcome consumer's range anxiety.
We'll reserve judgement on Saab's prospects for now, but we'll keep you posted as NEVS releases further details about its plans.
[via John Voelcker]