Former dealers await information about relaunch of Saab in U.S.

12/03/2013 8:34 AM

12/03/2013 8:39 AM

Two and a half years after Saab shut down production because of financial problems, the Swedish car maker rolled a new sedan off its assembly lines in Trollhattan, in southwest Sweden, on Monday.

National Electric Vehicle Sweden, the Hong Kong-based company that bought the brand out of bankruptcy in September 2012, presented its new 9-3 Aero Sedan as the first in a series of new cars it will produce.

The company, also called NEVS, said the first 200 cars will be delivered in the spring and will cost $42,500 each. Next year, it will also launch a 9-3 wagon, followed by convertible and electric models.

Saab shut down production in April 2011 after six decades of building cars as its earlier Dutch owner, Spyker Cars, struggled with financing. It filed for bankruptcy in December that same year, dealing a huge blow to the town of Trollhattan and the company’s 3,000 employees.

NEVS now employs about 600 people, including many former Saab employees, and acting president Mattias Bergman said he felt “incredibly happy, proud and humble” that the company has been able to restart production.

Bergman wouldn’t give any forecast of how many cars NEVS expects to sell, but it will start on a small scale and adjust production based on orders.

The company aims to make electric cars under the Saab brand but said it will also provide gasoline-fueled cars until “electric cars fully meet customer demands.” It said it decided to start with a gasoline-fueled car to get production going as fast as possible and retain previous supply chains and specialist staff members.

What’s not clear is the company’s future distribution plans beyond Sweden.

Ron Fortune, owner of Euro-Tech at 1122 E. Central, said Monday that he was among the former Saab dealers in the U.S. to recently receive an e-mail questionnaire from the company that also inquired whether he would be a dealer for the brand once again.

“I don’t really know very much yet,” said Fortune, who was the Wichita Saab dealer starting in 2003 and who still carries the Saab name and logo on a large sign outside the used import and luxury car business.

He said Saab is hosting a webinar on Wednesday for its former U.S. dealers. “Maybe this is what this is about,” Fortune said.

Since the brand ended production, Fortune said, his dealership has been an Official Saab Center, allowing it to access Saab parts to repair Saab vehicles.

He said the accessibility of Saab parts was difficult for awhile but has recently improved. “They’ve made a lot of strides to keep the dealer network together,” Fortune added.

The luxury sports car maker Spyker Cars bought Saab from General Motors – itself in bankruptcy protection following the financial crisis – in 2010. At that time, Saab sales had dwindled to around 27,000 from a peak of around 133,000 cars in 2006.

GM had acquired a 50 percent stake in Saab in 1989 and gained full ownership in 2000.

Contributing: Jerry Siebenmark of The Eagle

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