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Saab to launch electric 9-3 sedan in 2014

Order of 200 electric cars has already been placed, initially for the Chinese market

Saab 9-3 Aero Sedan. (Pic: NEVS)

Saab 9-3 Aero Sedan. (Pic: NEVS)

By Nilima Choudhury

The new owners of car manufacturer Saab have announced it will launch an electric version of its sedan, with China as its first market.

Chinese-owned National Electric Vehicle Sweden (NEVS), which bought Saab out of bankruptcy in August 2012, will pick up production of the petrol-driven 9-3 sedan the company was working on before it became insolvent.

NEVS’ partner and part owner Qingdao has placed an order for a pilot fleet of 200 electric cars with delivery starting in spring 2014.

Kai Johan Jiang, NEVS founder and main owner said: “Swedish expertise along with Japanese technology around batteries and new lightweight materials and our Chinese group’s focus on green technology is our strength for the future.”

Saab teetered on the edge of collapse for nearly two years and was briefly owned by the Dutch car firm Spyker which became embroiled in a legal battle with Saab’s former owner General Motors (GM).

A last-ditch bid to raise funds in China, with the Youngman group, was blocked by GM over issues concerning the transfer of technology and the company ended up in bankruptcy.

NEVS said the production rate will start at a modest ten cars a week for its petrol-based sedan and then gradually the pace will be increased to meet customers’ demand.

Hong Kong-based National Modern Energy Holdings, a clean energy company, has a 78% holding in NEVS, and the Chinese city of Qingdao which has a 22% stake.

Chinese market

Electric vehicles (EV) are gaining traction in China due to high pollution levels and generous government subsidies.

In September, the government announced a programme to support new energy vehicle adoption and introduce related subsidies in a bid to reduce energy consumption and control excessive air pollution in major cities over the next three years.

The government is looking to invest $14.8 billion over the next ten years towards plug-in hybrid and pure EVs. The plan is to put five million EVs on the road by 2020.

Think-tank The Climate Group said these new policy incentives are expected to speed up the scale of electric vehicles in urban areas.

Changhua Wu, Greater China director, said: “Such incentive policy will be a new boost to market demand for EVs, which will drive continued technology innovation and collaboration. Financing manufacturing, consumption, and more importantly the infrastructure will definitely generate growth and jobs. The benefits go beyond economic, but environmental and social.

“But while as exciting as it is, gaps do still exist that must be bridged for the successful implementation of this policy.”

Wu said the sector continues to face technological barriers from things like lack of infrastructure to accommodate EV charging still remains at the piloting stages.

“To address those barriers, sharing and learning from other countries’ experiences becomes critical. China must more actively reach out to other countries for collaboration – the opportunity cannot be missed.”

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