Can electric vehicles jumpstart Saab?

Can electric vehicles jumpstart Saab?

[Editor's note: Electric vehicles make up a small percentage of the total auto market today, but this story provides evidence that some investors see them as a bigger opportunity than conventional cars: Saab's new buyers plan to turn it into an electric-vehicle maker. In other news this week, Renault also said it's seeing strong orders for its all-electric vehicles, indicating that sales could be ready to rise.] 

In an interesting development, bankrupt automaker Saab is being sold to a group that will convert the brand into an electric car manufacturer, Bloomberg reports.

The new manufacturer, National Electric Vehicle Sweden, plans to offer the first vehicle for sale in China in 2013-2014, although manufacturing will be in Sweden at Saab's plant.

"We're striving to be a world-leading company for electric cars," says Mattias Bergman of National Electric Vehicle Sweden. "It's not only about China being a big market for electric cars, it's also about China having the ability to make the investments required and build the needed infrastructure."

Who bought Saab? Hong Kong-based National Modern Energy Holdings Ltd., which builds high efficiency biomass plants in China, and Sun Investment, a Japanese investment firm that focuses on high tech projects with environmental solutions. About six other firms made offers.

National Modern Energy owns 28 biomass power plants and develops technology for wind power, efficient energy storage and biofuel boilers. The company employs 7,000 people.

Sun Investment, which is owned by private investors, banks and businesses, finances outstanding Japanese technology for high performance sustainable solutions, it says. It supports development of green technologies, such as renewable energy, energy storage and recycling. It wants to bring electric vehicle technology to the world market.

The investors plan to build on Saab's "long and proud history of sophisticated design and innovation and use it a a foundation for electric vehicles."

Bergman says they want to unite Swedish manufacturing and design skills with Japanese advanced technology and China's progressive initiatives in sustainable transportation solutions.

The electric car will be a new design based on Japan's cutting edge technology.

They see electric vehicles as crucial because China's oil demand would exceed world production if the country reached U.S. vehicle penetration levels.

Saab hasn't been profitable for almost 20 years. GM bought the company in 2000 and sold it in 2010 to a Dutch carmaker. It filed for bankruptcy last December.

This story was reprinted with permission from Photo of the first electric vehicle from Saab by Olga Besnard via