Saab Automobile has been on life-support for the past few years. Now, it appears the Swedish automaker will be brought back from the brink—transformed into an electric car company primarily focused on the emerging Chinese market.
On Wednesday, a consortium identified as the National Electric Vehicle Sweden AB said it would buy Saab. News agencies are reporting that the consortium—51 percent owned by Hong Kong-based National Modern Energy Holdings Ltd. and 49 percent by Japanese investment group Sun Investment LLC—will likely to pay between $208 to $250 million. The offer was submitted in early April.
“We will match Swedish automobile design and manufacturing experience with Japanese electric vehicle technology and a strong presence in China,” said Karl-Erling Trogen, a former executive of Volvo Trucks and chairman of the newly created consortium. His statements were reported by Associated Press.
General Motors bought 50 percent of Saab in 1989, and took full ownership in 2000. After years of dwindling sales, GM attempted to find a buyer in 2009 and early 2010. Spyker, a Dutch group, attempted to revive the Saab brand in 2011, but failed to get sufficient backing.
In Sept. 2010—still under GM ownership—Saab debuted the Saab 9-3 ePower electric wagon at the Paris Motor Show. A test fleet of 70 vehicles was intended for field-testing in Sweden in early 2011. The vehicle featured a 135-kilowatt (184 horsepower) electric motor driving the front wheels. Acceleration from zero-to-60 mpg was a modest 8.5 seconds, with a top speed of about 90 miles per hour. The 35.5-kilowatt-hour lithium ion battery pack was designed to provide about 125 miles on a charge.
A noteworthy innovation in the Saab 9-3 ePower was the use of lithium ion batteries supplied by Boston-Power. The chemistry of those batteries provide “27 percent more driving range per weight and volume than any other electric car,” said Christina Lampe-Onnerud, Boston-Power’s CEO.
With today’s news, Saab could emerge as one of the world’s few dedicated makers of electric vehicles. But finding a market in China will not be easy. Electric cars are expensive—due to the high cost of batteries—and new car buyers in China will need to be encouraged to go electric. The Chinese government would like to leapfrog conventional internal combustion technology, but has not proven that it can stimulate sales with the right incentives.
Nonetheless, China is the world’s largest automotive market. Electric cars will become an increasingly important part of the Chinese market, as the government tightens controls on vehicle emissions. As that develops in the coming years, a new Saab focused on EVs would be very well positioned.
For more information about electric cars, visit eBay’s Green Driving Center.