Saab Back From the Dead… Again?

Saab_NEVS_9-3

Saab is the zombie of cars.

The company has a convoluted history that has put it among the walking dead since the turn of the century.

Saab was in its prime as an independent Swedish automaker from 1948 to 1989. That’s when it built some of the quirkiest (some might say coolest) automobiles the world has ever seen.

General Motors acquired a 50 percent stake in Saab in 1989, and 100 percent in 2000. Some say that’s when the slow death of Saab began. By 2008 it was clear that the GM/Saab experiment was failing, mostly because the behemoth automaker stripped Saab of its personality and replaced it with rebadged Malibus and Trailblazers.

In 2009, Swedish supercar maker Koenigsegg announced plans to buy Saab, but that fell apart a few months later. In 2010, another supercar maker, Spyker, completed the purchase of Saab but then went bankrupt a year later.

In 2012, a Chinese consortium that went by the name of National Electric Vehicle Sweden (NEVS) purchased what was left of Saab with the intent of transforming the brand into a line of electric cars. Now we’re on the cusp of 2016 and it appears the once-dead Saab brand is lumbering back to life.

Sort of.

NEVS says it has an order to build 150,000 electric 9-3 sedans for a vehicle leasing company in China that wants to be one of the largest of its kind in the world.

I foresee some problems, however.

The first problem is that NEVS will build the cars on a GM platform that dates back to 2003. Why would any company invest so much money in an unproven electric car with a platform that’s at least 13 years old? Why would other companies lease cars that it knows are built on antiquated technology?

The platform underpinned a previous-generation Chevy Malibu in addition to the old 9-3 and other GM models. NEVS has plans for future models that are slated to use the PhoeniX platform, which was developed for a new generation of post-GM Saabs, but it has never been proven with production vehicles.

The second problem might be even harder to overcome.

NEVS lost the rights to the Saab name last year to a Swedish company that uses it in the aerospace industry. Negotiations for the name continue, but so far to no avail.

Can an unbranded electric car that is built on old technology succeed? I’m not holding my breath. The ghost of Saab will certainly live in future NEVS vehicles, but the odds of a full-fledged Saab revival, especially in the U.S. market, are next to nothing.

Do you hope Saab returns to the United States?

-tgriffith

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