News Column

Saab Rescued by Electric-Vehicle Consortium

June 14, 2012

Michelle Corbet

Saab

Word that Saab Automobile has been rescued came as music to the ears of a Memphis dealer who has stuck by the brand through a difficult year.

"This is a day to celebrate," said Barry Lanier, manager of Saab of Memphis, 2420 Covington Pike.

"We are a proud brand -- over 60 years old. It's been independent before and it is again. We look forward to the future."

An Asian consortium announced Wednesday that has agreed to buy the Swedish automaker's main assets with the aim of making electric cars. The price tag for Saab's assets, which includes the main parts of the automobile manufacturing division, was not made public.

The buyer, National Electric Vehicle Sweden AB, is co-owned by Hong Kong-based National Modern Energy Holdings Ltd. and Japanese investment group Sun Investment LLC. It was recently formed with the purpose of bidding for Saab.

NEVS said it would initially focus the sale of its electric cars on the Chinese market, but that it also has wider plans to expand more globally in the long term.

The Saab brand fits into its plans to offer a premium electric vehicle, company founder Kai Johan Jiang said in a statement.

The carmaker's Saab Parts unit was not included in the agreement and the intellectual property rights for the Saab 9-5 car model, owned by the brand's former owner General Motors Corp., were also excluded.

Saab, which has more than 3,000 workers, filed for bankruptcy in December last year after its previous owner, the Dutch luxury car group Spyker -- later named Swedish Automobile -- failed to get sufficient backing for the brand.

Saab's bankruptcy filing caused sales to drop, something Lanier attributed to negative publicity more than anything.

"Saab goes through bankruptcy and everyone says they're dead," Lanier said. "They're not dead, they're going through reconstruction."

Still, the impact on sales caused dealerships in the region to close, leaving Memphis as one of the few still open for business.

"Well, certainly there's no dealership over the country that hasn't been affected," Lanier said. "Some have chosen to liquidate, but we've stuck it out and waited for new owners."

Lanier said he's still waiting to learn the new owners' plans for the brand, and the time frame, but he believes there's definitely market for alternative technology.

"They could produce it as is, or they could develop a hybrid technology or rear-axle electric," he said. "I do think there is an electric car market with Prius and others out there -- that is the future. ... How big is the question."

Karl-Erling Trogen, a former executive of Volvo Trucks and chairman of the newly created consortium that's acquiring Saab, said he was thrilled to now "start a new future-oriented venture."

"We will match Swedish automobile design and manufacturing experience with Japanese electric vehicle technology and a strong presence in China. Electric vehicles powered by clean electricity are the future, and the electric car of the future will be produced in Trollhattan."

National Electric Vehicle said its first model would be based on the current Saab 9-3, with the addition of Japanese technology. It said it hoped to have its market debut by the end of 2013 or early 2014. It will also be working to roll out an all-new electric model initially for the Chinese market.

Mattias Bergman, a spokesman for National Electric Vehicle, said, "The plan is not to sell only to China. There is a global plan, but China is the initial focus."

Saab Automobile's sales peaked at 133,000 cars in 2006. After that, sales dwindled to 93,000 cars in 2008 and just 27,000 in 2009, as GM -- itself in bankruptcy protection following the financial crisis -- prepared to wind down the Swedish brand.

The New York Times and Associated Press contributed to this story.



Source: (c) 2012 The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tenn.)


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