Saab bets on electric cars and China for revival

Wed Dec 18, 2013 11:34am EST
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By Simon Johnson

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - A year out of bankruptcy and with just two cars a day rolling off its production line, Saab is betting on an as yet unbuilt electric version of a decade old car to bring the iconic Swedish marque back from the dead.

Saab's new owner, National Electric Vehicle Sweden (NEVS), is targeting its home market of China, where the government is promoting clean automotive technology with up to 100 billion yuan ($16 billion) in vehicle subsidies, R&D and infrastructure spending, according to research firm Frost & Sullivan.

However, the battery version of Saab's 9-3 model will be up against the likes of BMW (BMWG.DE: Quote), VW (VOWG_p.DE: Quote) and Ford (F.N: Quote) in one of the most competitive industries in the world.

Even die-hard fans are skeptical.

The 9-3 is "already out of date" from a new buyer's point of view, Chih Hao Yeh, who runs Saab Club Taiwan, said by email.

As for the electric version, "will it offer the pure driving pleasure regular Saabs do?" he asked.

For NEVS President Matthias Bergman, only bold action will resurrect a more than 60-year-old brand, which pioneered such auto innovations as side-impact protection, heated seats and headlight washers, but which was hurt by high labor costs and lost its quirky image under General Motors' (GM.N: Quote) ownership.

And he thinks the timing is right.   Continued...

The logo of Swedish manufacturer Saab is seen on a car in Prague June 13, 2012. REUTERS/David W Cerny