Thursday, June 14, 2012

Saab As an Electric-Car Startup

All the stories I read about Saab carry a tone of surprise. No one expected the Swedish automaker to emerge from bankruptcy as an electric car startup. I am not sure how many expected it to emerge from bankruptcy at all.

Purchased at auction by investment funds based in Hong Kong and Japan, the new Saab will initially make an electric version of the Saab 9-3. It will go on from there, it says, to produce an all-new car with a mostly Japanese design. It will start out with 200 employees, 1/20 of what Saab was a few years ago, but that is better than just shutting down.

Saab says it may be able to sell its first electric car in about one year, and perhaps that is not as unrealistic as it sounds. It has, after all, an assembly plant that was making cars just one year ago, and it says it has a supplier (in Japan) for the batteries and electrical components and designs it will need.

The radical new plan for Saab was perhaps the inevitable result of its arrangements with an earlier owner, General Motors. Saab’s other recent car designs had to be excluded from the bankruptcy sale because General Motors held some rights in the designs. Without the rest of its product line, though, Saab could scarcely go back to doing what it did before. But in trying to limit competition in the market for current-generation cars, General Motors may have unwittingly ensured that there will be one more company that has a head start on it when it comes to the next generation of cars.