Saab story: NEVS pushes back plans for Saab 9-3 EV, moves production to China

2012 Saab 9-3 Sport Combi

Beware of zombie Saabs.

National Electric Vehicle Sweden (NEVS), the conglomerate that bought Saab last year, is finally ready to restart production. The new owners plan to continue production of the 9-3 in China and follow it up with an electric version, Autocar reports.

This is a bizarre twist to an already bizarre story. When Spyker Cars failed to keep Saab’s doors open, a group of Chinese and Japanese investors under the NEVS banner purchased the remains of the company, including Saab’s Trollhattan factory and the rights to build the 9-3, with the stated purpose of building an electric car.

NEVS originally intended to start selling an EV based on the 9-3 in 2014, but now it seems the company will move ahead with internal combustion versions as well.

Those cars also won’t be built in Sweden, as NEVS originally stated. Instead, they’ll be built in Qingdao, China as part of a deal with the city government, which now owns 22 percent of the company.

According to Autocar, NEVS owns the rights to the Saab name. That means the cars built in China may wear Saab badges, although fans will probably wish the company had just stayed dead.

When the 9-3 went out of production in 2012, it was already a dated design. Based on General Motors’ mediocre Epsilon platform, it had been in production since 2002 and received a facelift in 2008. It was sold as a sedan, convertible, and “Sport Combi” wagon.

In addition, the resurrected 9-3 will likely only be available in China. Its continued existence will help satisfy the Chinese government’s desire to put more electric cars on the road, but it will be too crude for other markets.

The desire for quantity over quality is the only logical reason for a company to acquire a dated car and shift production to China. NEVS’ decision to build conventional versions of the 9-3 before starting EV production shows that it is even having trouble with that slapdash plan.

It looks like Saab is destined to be an automotive zombie; a mere shadow of its former self.