Saab's hometown prays for electric vehicle revival

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 January, 2013, 4:56am

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.

Saab's new parent, owned by a Chinese renewable energy investor, intends to start producing 9-3 cars 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 into an electric-car manufacturer.

Trollhaettan, where Saab is based, has had a rough time since assembly lines were halted almost two years ago. About 3,400 people - 7 per cent of the city's population - worked for Saab there before its bankruptcy. The parking lot at the once-bustling factory is now all but abandoned.

"Even in the darkest … 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, that effort had fizzled as a lack of cash forced Spyker to halt production. The new owners aim to supply China with electric vehicles.

After adding the 9-3X executive compact 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, or Nevs, which bought Saab out of bankruptcy last August. That target would come close to the brand's 2006 peak of 133,000 cars.

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

Saab's production goal exceeds the 107,200 electric vehicles assembled worldwide last year, according to market researcher IHS Automotive.