National Electric Vehicle Sweden (NEVS), which bought the rights to the Saab brand in June, is forging ahead with plans to build two EV models for sale in China, company spokesman Mikael Östlund said in an interview with the Swadeology blog. The first of the new EVs will be “a premium car,” and is scheduled for launch early in 2014. It will be based on the Saab 9-3 platform but “it will be a new car and it will be re-designed, the interior and the exterior as well,” Östlund said. The second EV model will be based on the Phoenix platform.
A related company has recently opened a battery production facility in China, which is now selling batteries to power electric buses. That factory will be the main supplier of batteries for the Saab cars, but the main assembly of vehicles will take place at the NEVS facility in Trollhättan, Sweden. “The batteries that are being produced in China have a very high energy density,” said Östlund. “They’re being built upon Japanese technology and they’re really at the forefront of this area. We have an R&D department that continues to work on those, working with different materials. That also goes for the construction of the car, where we will use different materials to lower the car’s weight.”
Östlund says that the company is getting some demand to resurrect the old (gas/diesel) 9-3, and it is considering doing so as a way of getting its factory back into action and generating some cash flow. So, it seems that the company’s announced intention of being an “EV-only” brand may be up for discussion.
Asked about the economics of producing a car in high-wage Sweden to compete with domestically produced Chinese EVs, Mr. Östlund said, “It’s very hard to establish manufacturing in China without an established market there. We feel that to do that would be too expensive. The Trollhättan plant is a world-class facility. I think there have been about 50 billion [Swedish kronor] invested there, so why not take advantage of that? That’s where the scale, the capacity is, so for us it’s obvious: why not use that facility? The labor cost is not that much on the whole, taking advantage of the facilities here compared to the costs of starting up in China.”
What about a swappable battery, a la the Better Place model? “Right now, for our cars, I don’t think swapping batteries will be the solution. We see that for commercial vehicles, or taxi fleets…but for private cars, in the market estimates that I’ve seen, the absolute majority will charge their cars overnight, at home.”