Saab Goes Electric


Saab Automobile, after years of languishing at the bottom of the automobile market, has reinvented itself. After being acquired by National Electric Vehicle Sweden, a consortium of Chinese, Japanese and Swedish shareholders, it now has plans to produce new vehicles again at its flagship factory at Trollhattan, Sweden, as early as the last quarter of 2013.

In a telephone interview, Mikael Ostlund, spokesperson for the NEVS investment group, Saab would build electric cars for the Chinese market with long range plans on international expansion, if the market demands it. He added, “The Chinese government plans to invest heavily in the infrastructure that will reinforce the market for electric vehicles.”

The focus on electric vehicle platforms is not surprising as the Chinese government has instituted aggressive sales targets for pure electric and hybrid cars. The new arrangement though is still unclear as to who would be providing the power to propel these new electric vehicles from Saab.

One of the accessory companies is battery supplier Boston-Power, lead by its founder and chairperson Christina Lampe-Onnerud, would be supplying the ePower program consisting of EV’s inspired by the 9-3 SportCombi wagon. While the initial projections would be to build seventy ePower wagons for the test fleet, there was great uncertainty as to the total number of wagons that were built before the automaker shut down operations last year.

According to Boston-Power, its 35.5 KwH lithium ion battery packs would propel the SportCombis for a range of 124 miles, fully charge in just three hours and able to accelerate from zero to sixty miles per hour in about ten seconds.

Ms. Lampe-Onnerud said in a telephone interview, “Saab is having a revival moment.” While she admitted that she has not discussed matters with the National Electric Vehicle consortium, she agreed with the assessment that focus in the EV market in China would propel the country to become the industry leader in the technology and agrees China would remain as such for some time.

In response, Ostlund did not confirm if National Electric Vehicle would utilize the previous technology of the ePower program but did say that the company was planning to use “Japanese electric vehicle technology and expertise.”

A former communications manager at Saab, Steven Rossi, warned that many of the mechanical parts that distinguished the automaker would not be useable as it transitions to the new ownership. He assessed, “It may be an acquisition of Saab but it’s really more like a ground zero start-up with some hardware included.”

The first plan of National Electric Vehicle is a battery car based on the current 9-3 model, as the company bought the design rights to the 9-3 platform as well as the PhoeniXconcept.

Ostlund declined to detail the volume of cars to be completed by 2014 but he noted that the carmaker’s flagship factory had the production capacity of 200,000 vehicles a year. What he did say though, “Production will be based on market demand.”