Auto blogFri, 13 Jun 2014 10:29:00 EST
General Motors issued a recall for more than a half million Chevrolet Camaros on Friday morning because of an ignition-switch safety hazard that mirrors the one at the center of the company's current crisis.
The problem affects Camaro models from the 2010 to 2014 model years. Approximately 464,712 cars are impacted in the United States, and 511,528 overall in North America. GM will alter the Camaro key to a more standard design, and will notify car owners with a recall notice in the mail.
In an announcement, the company said the ignition switches on the Camaros are fundamentally different parts than the older ignition switches found on defective cars that are responsible for killing at least 13 people and causing 54 crashes.
It seems that quirky, Swedish automaker Saab might be on life support yet again. Its owner, National Electric Vehicle Sweden, has announced that it's reducing its workforce and temporarily halting production of the 9-3 due to financial problems. NEVS was only building six cars a day, anyway.
The company put out a press release admitting its economic woes, but it still appeared hopeful. NEVS claims it's developing "a new platform on the Phoenix architecture," and it has a frame agreement with an international automotive OEM. It didn't give any specific details about either one of these assertions though. According to The Wall Street Journal, NEVS needs the partnership to lower development costs in order to stay afloat. Saab spokesperson Mikael Ostlund told Autoblog in an email that the stop in production of the 9-3 in Trollhättan would last four weeks.
NEVS says it's in negotiation to sell a portion of the company to an automotive company. Its current monetary woes are caused by shareholder Qingbo Investment Company not financing the company as agreed. "We plan to have the results of the discussions at latest during June," said Ostlund.
The saga of Saab goes to show that you can't keep a good automaker down. Founded back in 1947 (the same year, incidentally, as Ferrari, TVR and Maserati defector OSCA), Saab split off from its aerospace division, merged with Scania trucks, was subsequently picked up by General Motors, then pawned off onto Spyker before its current Chinese owners brought it back out of bankruptcy. Now under the auspices of National Electric Vehicle Sweden (NEVS), Saab has official restarted production of the 9-3 sedan, but what are its plans for the future?
In correspondence with Autoblog, NEVS communications director Mikael Ostlund gave us an idea of what to expect. First of all, NEVS is living up to its name by launching an electric version of the 9-3. As we reported a couple of weeks ago, the 9-3 EV currently is undergoing a pilot launch in the Chinese city of Qingdao (which owns part of NEVS) before being rolled out in other markets around the world. But that's not all NEVS has planned for Saab.
The reborn Swedish automaker also plans to relaunch the 9-3 SportCombi to supplement the 9-3 sedan. The wagon version was part of the second-gen 9-3's rollout in the early 2000s, offering increased cargo space and versatility - particularly vital since GM had seen it fit to replace the previous hatchback bodystyle favored by the brand faithful with a more traditional trunked form to lure new buyers into the fold. Although Ostlund confirmed that NEVS has "the option of adding the convertible" back into the lineup, nut has yet to decide on if and when it will do so.
To say that Saab has had a tough time lately would be like saying that it's been a little colder than usual this winter. After General Motors finally gave up and sold it to Spyker in 2010, Saab declared bankruptcy the following year. GM successfully blocked Spyker from selling Saab to Chinese automaker Youngman the following year, but ultimately it ended up in the hands of another Chinese consortium called NEVS. Standing as it does for National Electric Vehicle Sweden, the new owners promised not only to restart production of the long-suffering 9-3, but also to turn it into an electric vehicle. And that's just what it's doing.
The latest news coming out of Sweden indicates that NEVS/Saab has started building the first examples of the 9-3 EV. These first 200 or so examples are set to be shipped off to Qingdao - the Chinese city that is home to the Tsingtao brewery, hosted the sailing components of the 2008 summer games on Beijing, was supposed to host an IndyCar race in 2012 before it was canceled, and also itself just happens to own 22 percent of NEVS.
These first EVs have their batteries mounted down low in the chassis for a low center of gravity and have a range of about 20 miles on a full charge. That's absolutely paltry compared to the other EVs on the market: a Nissan Leaf will travel more than four times that distance, and a Tesla Model S will go ten times farther on a charge.
German auto designs lean toward function and purpose. Italian designers deliver passion and beauty. The Brits, majesty. American cars, brashness and authority. If you want a funky design, though, you go to Sweden. The land of cheap, do-it-yourself furniture and delicious meatballs knows a thing or six about style and design, and while that character is only now reemerging thanks to a certain string of Volvo concepts, it use to be that Saab was the authority on penning some of the industry's more unique designs.
Take the beautiful Sonett for example - a small coupe whose appearance is a funky mishmash of a Porsche 911 and a Bugeyed Sprite with just a hint of a Citroën DS (it's that convex rear window). It's a positively striking car, made more unique by its two-stroke, three-cylinder powertrain and four-on-the-tree manual transmission. With just 70 horsepower hauling about 1,500 pounds of Swedish style, the Sonett strikes us as an ideal alternative to some of the English sports cars of its day, particularly for those that are looking for something beyond your average MG or Triumph.
For Glenn Roberts, the Sonett was a part of his childhood. His family owned example was originally a special-order item by his parents in 1967. He bought the car from them 13 years later and has never looked back, completing a restoration in 2004. With a story like that, it's not surprising that Roberts and his silver Sonett are the most recent pairing to get some attention from Petrolicious.
Saab is officially building cars again. Production of the 9-3 Sedan has kicked back off in Trollhättan, Sweden, and the first example is reportedly earmarked for the company's museum. Initial sales are targeted for China, although Swedish customers will also be able to buy new Saabs built in their country right away, too. It isn't immediately clear if the model will be available in the rest of Europe, let alone in North America.
The initial run of 9-3s will be powered by a 220-horsepower, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder before an electric model joins the range next year. There are no Biopower or XWD all-wheel-drive models presently in production. And while the lion's share of the 2014 9-3 is a carryover from the pre-bankruptcy car, there are some changes, including a new anti-whiplash seat system and a "greater number of non-GM parts," reports SaabsUnited.
"I am very proud of the dedication and the focus that NEVS management and employees have demonstrated over the year that has passed since we became owners of the plant in Trollhättan, and who have made this possible. 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," said Kai Johan Jiang, the founder of Saab's parent company, National Electric Vehicle Sweden.
If you're one of the small cadre of Saab drivers, first of all, kudos to you. Because as Top Gear pointed out, Saab drivers are among the most intellectual drivers out there. Secondly, we've got good news for you, because the 9-3 has officially resumed production at the Trollhättan plant in Sweden.
For those of you who may not have followed the story, a quick refresher: Founded in 1947, Saab Automobile AB was an independent automaker until 1989 when General Motors began the decade-long process acquiring it. Unable to make it profitable, GM sold Saab to Spyker in 2010, but that Dutch automaker proved unable to make a go of it, either, and finally shut it down a year later. Much of Saab's assets were acquired by National Electric Vehicle Sweden, which in turn is partially owned by the Chinese city of Qingdao, which pledged to get production back online by the end of the year.
NEVS has apparently made good on its promise, bringing 600 workers back to the factory to resume production of the 9-3 much as it was when a workforce of 3,500 labored on it and its stablemates prior to the bankruptcy. The reborn 9-3 will be sold in Sweden and in China, with an electric version to bring some other updates sometime next year.
The latest video from the crew at Petrolicious covers one funky Swede - a 1989 Saab 900 SPG. Produced from 1978 to 1998, the 900 enjoyed a long history, and thanks to its iconic look, it's quickly becoming a modern classic for the off-kilter car enthusiast. The SPG, short for Special Performance Group, makes this a particularly rare find, with owner Jordan Melville saying, "I didn't even realize what I had at the time."
Melville gives a rundown of his life with the 900 and his passion for Saab overall, even reflecting on that dark day that saw the Swedish brand closed its doors. As always, the videography is excellent and the story is intriguing in this latest video from Petrolicious. You can view the entire video down below.
Victor Muller, Saab's CEO from 2010 to 2011, has been ordered by the Swedish court to pay the back taxes he owes the country for his work at Saab, Autoweek and Volkskrant report. When he was the automaker's CEO he received a salary of about 8 million Swedish Krona ($1.25 million), which was recorded as a reward for consultancy work for a company in the US that Muller owns. The move allowed him to evade taxes for awhile, but the court has ordered him to pay taxes on his full salary.
Muller, who is also CEO of Spyker, and two other Saab executives were accused of accounting fraud in May, which took place in 2010 and 2011. According to reports, Muller maintains that he is not subject to taxes in Sweden.
The new owner of Saab, National Electric Vehicle Sweden, has bolted together its first two new cars at the company's traditional home in Trollhättan. The two 9-3 sedans were built to work bugs out of the production line and test newer components before full-scale production starts near the end of the year.
NEVS acting President, Mattias Bergman, issued a statement saying, "Prior to our decision to start production of Saab cars, we need to finalize a few remaining dialogues to build partnerships with suppliers. We now know that the plant is ready for production." First up for NEVS will be gas-powered, turbocharged 9-3s, before bringing a facelifted, electrified variant later next year. There are also plans to rejigger Saab's never-was Phoenix architecture for production, although NEVS needs to excise the remaining General Motors tech from the platform before building anything.
According to a report on Automotive News Europe, once under way, NEVS has set an optimistic target of 120,000 units per year by 2016, with sales focused in Europe and China - there's no official word on if NEVS ever plans to bring the Saab name back to North America.