SAAB hometown prays for Chinese electric revival

SAAB Automobile is raising fresh hopes in its Swedish hometown as the mothballed brand gears up for another revival, more than a year after it went bankrupt, reported Shanghai Daily.

SAAB set to revive with its electric cars plan. Photo:

The company’s new parent, owned by a Chinese renewable energy investor, intends to start turning out 9-3 sedans and convertibles in August, according to a letter sent to parts suppliers. Sales of the diesel-powered vehicles are intended to help fund Saab’s conversion to an electric-car manufacturer.

Trollhaettan has had a rough time since assembly lines halted there almost two years ago. About 3,400 people – 7 percent of the city’s population – worked for Saab before its bankruptcy.

“Even in the darkest and hardest times, new hopes can be awakened through new possibilities,” said Birgitta Simson, a 52-year-old deacon at the Swedish Church in Trollhaettan. “We have to believe that God cares about our city and that in the darkest hours, a possibility can come from the most unexpected direction.”

General Motors had trouble finding a buyer for Saab after deciding to sell the company in late 2008. A year later, as equipment at the Trollhaettan plant was being packed, supercar-maker Spyker swooped in with a last-minute bid, sealing the deal in February 2010. By June 2011, a lack of cash forced Spyker to halt production.

Difficult business
The new owners aim to supply China with electric vehicles. After adding a 9-3X wagon later this year and electrics based on the 9-3 in 2014, the goal is to produce 120,000 cars a year by 2016, according to the letter from National Electric Vehicle Sweden AB, or Nevs, which bought Saab out of bankruptcy last August. That target would come close to the brand’s 2006 peak of 133,000 vehicles.

“The likelihood of this project turning into a success is very small,” said Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer, director of the Center for Automotive Research at Germany’s University of Duisburg-Essen. “Even in China, selling electric cars is a very difficult business.”

Although Saab’s production goal exceeds the 107,200 electric vehicles assembled worldwide last year, according to market researcher IHS Automotive, that’s not curbing enthusiasm in Trollhaettan.

“The business plan is well thought out and completely realistic,” said Paul Aakerlund, one of the town’s three mayors, who drives a Saab 9-3 and worked at the manufacturer for more than 30 years. “Imagine if the world’s first large-scale electric-car venture starts in little Trollhaettan. It’s undoubtedly very tickling and exciting.”

The plan hinges on China, where the government plans to set up 400,000 recharging stations in 20 cities by 2015, according to a five-year development plan for electric cars. The goal is to increase sales of alternative energy vehicles to 500,000 by 2015, from 12,791 last year, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers.

“China realizes the need to meet the climate challenges through electric vehicles,” Mikael Oestlund, a spokesman for Nevs.

Earlier this month, Nevs announced that the city of Qingdao would invest 2 billion kronor (US$307 million) in exchange for a 22 percent stake in Nevs, with further investment to be made through a joint venture in China. Nevs plans to build a second factory in Qingdao once production in Trollhaettan reaches capacity.

Nevs is owned by National Modern Energy Holdings Ltd, a Hong Kong-based company that also controls renewable power-plant builder State Power Group, which last year opened plant in Beijing to make batteries for cars and buses.

Saab and Trollhaettan are inextricably linked. In the 1980s, stickers saying “Made in Trollhaettan by Trolls” became popular among the brand’s fans.


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