The Evolution of Saab: After Filing For Bankruptcy, Iconic Swedish Company Now Only Producing Electric Cars

Saab, the Swedish automaker left for dead after being jettisoned by General Motors in 2010, has been purchased by National Electric Vehicle Sweden (NEVS). The company plans to turn Saab into an electrical vehicle maker.

NEVS is owned by Kai Johan Jiang a Chinese entrepreneur educated in Sweden, and Sun Investments, a Japanese company. The plan, according to NEVS is to “meld Swedish car design and manufacturing know-how with Japanese electric vehicle technology to promote premium electric vehicles in China.”

The goal, according to comments made Wednesday at the announcement of the purchase, is to design an electric vehicle for sale in China based on the existing Saab 9-3 small sedan platform using Japanese-made batteries. The car would go on sale in late 2013 or early 2014. Meanwhile, a team of roughly 200 designers — far fewer than the 3,000 employees Saab employed until recently — would be working in Trollhatan, Sweden, site of the Saab factory, on an entirely new vehicle.

Some analysts have questioned the acquisition, particularly the use of the 9-3 as the model for the first electric car:

“Because of the challenges of battery capacity, most electric cars were small and designed for city driving, while the Saab 9-3 was a midsize car, something that could leave it with a short driving range in its usual environment.”

But the shift for Saab is an illustration of the broad changes that car companies are being forced to make.

The road to becoming a Swedish-designed, Japanese-outfitted, Chinese-distributed electric car manufacturer has been a long one for Saab. The company was started during World War II as an airplane manufacturer, with the the automobile division branching out after the war. Over the next few decades, Saab developed a steady and devoted following, particularly for its 900 and 9000 lines. In 1989, after a disappointing roll out of the 9000, General Motors purchased a 50% stake in the company. In, 2000, GM purchased the other 50%, thus making Saab a wholly owned subsidiary.

In late 2011, Saab filed for bankruptcy. Although there were rumors about possible interested buyers, it seemed like the end for Saab. In it way it was. After the recent acquisition by NEVS, Saab will never be the traditional car manufacturer it once was — and it may never even come to the United States again.

However, this possible loss for die-hard Saab enthusiasts is a big gain for environmental advocates. With Saab now only supporting electric vehicles, its brand could help boost prospects for the technology.

Though the market for EVs in China is still small, NEVS hopes the addition of state-of-the-art Japanese electronics and battery technology — in addition to the power of Saab’s brand — will help give the project legs wheels.

Max Frankel is a senior at Vassar College and an intern at the Center for American Progress.

2 Responses to The Evolution of Saab: After Filing For Bankruptcy, Iconic Swedish Company Now Only Producing Electric Cars

  1. Ken Barrows says:

    That’s great. But most posters here know we should have fewer cars, right?

  2. jyyh says:

    “To get to a point in time is nice, so why such hurry?”, anonymous.