Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Second Coming of Saab

Saab PhoeniX Concept Car

People love a good comeback story, the kind where a person overcomes seemingly impossible obstacles, and Saab right now might be shaping up to be that kind of a story. Many people decided the brand was deader than dead three years ago when talk of bankruptcy and winding down the brand  was first brought up by General Motors management. After languishing for a while, the Swedish automotive brand finally seemed to succumb to the many factors that caused its demise. Many kind eulogies were written for the brand and then everyone seemed to move on.

But like a phoenix, (or maybe a zombie, depending on how things turn out) Saab refused to stay dead for very long. Now it promises to rise from the ashes of the company so many wept over, hopefully stronger and ready to thrive in the modern automotive world.

Saab PhoeniX Concept

At first, plans were to relaunch the brand with only EVs (electric vehicles). That plan was an ambitious one, one that seems to have been placed on hold. Rather than let consumers continue to think that the Saab brand is dead, the company will release a new generation of the iconic 9-3 sports sedan, but it will be gasoline-powered like in the past. Rumor has it that this new 9-3 will be based on the architecture of Saab's PhoeniX concept (but sadly the scissor doors probably won't make the cut--pun intended). In the next few years, expect to see electric Saab models rolling down a road near you.

How is it that Saab has been brought back from death? Despite what most people think, when a company goes bankrupt and closes that doesn't mean the products are dead forever. If that were the case, Jeep would have been history a long time ago. The Swedish company National Electric Vehicle Sweden AB (or NEVS) is partially responsible for this reboot. The company is owned by National Modern Energy Holdings, which is based in Hong Kong. A significant portion of the company is also owned by some private Japanese citizens, with the alliance surviving the current tension between the governments of China and Japan.

Saab PhoeniX Concept

China has been weighing in on electric car technology with a mandate for quite a few electric cars on the country's roads in the near future. This has helped fuel an interest in bringing more EVs to China. The US so far is the largest EV market in the world, so expect to see quite a few of these EV Saabs coming to America in the near future as well. I would imagine a fair amount of the new 9-3s will be landing on American shores as well, considering the US was a vital market for Saab back in the day. Still, with NEVS being based in China, and with the country's growing appetite for cars, Saab should be expecting to see a huge upswing in growth in China (just like Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo are all experiencing).

Of course, everything is up in the air right now. Relaunching a car brand is not an overnight process, especially with part supply chains, readying factories, negotiating with assembly workers, training, testing, etc. I'm sure the public's response to this news will play a factor in deciding if Saab is back next year, so let's all make sure to let NEVS know there's still a viable market for a combustion engine 9-3!

Saab PhoeniX Concept Wheel - I love how it looks kind of like a turbine!