National Electric Vehicle Sweden, the group that bought the Saab factory and production rights to the Saab 9-3 after the Swedish automaker's second collapse in 2011, would like to think time has stood still. It would really help as they prepare to start production of the new 9-3 – which is a lot like the old 9-3.
According to reports on Automotive News and the enthusiast website SaabsUnited, NEVS is lined up to start making the car largely engineered in the General Motors days of Saab and last produced when Spyker was running the show, before it ran out of money.
In addition to gathering funding to pay people to build the new old car, NEVS has weeded out as much of the old GM content as possible. That means it's going to be powered by a new, turbocharged engine of unknown origin. Ultimately, though, it's going to look a lot like the car that went out of production almost two years ago.
That's the problem. A two-year-old 9-3 with low mileage goes for about $20,000. And it's not really a two-year-old car anyway, because the basic shape was introduced 11 years ago. Even though there has been much done to try and make the 9-3 start, stop and steer like a modern car, no one should think it's going to be a viable Audi A4 competitor with an engine of unknown origin.
The whole reason a company with "Electric Vehicle" in its name is resuming production of a gas-powered Saab is to raise more money to make a 9-3 EV down the road. With more styling tweaks and an electric motor, that sounds far more interesting.
From where I'm standing, an NEVS 9-3 only makes sense if it's very cheap (like VW Jetta money) and this mysterious engine is very good. And while it's only confirmed for European and Chinese markets as of now (the US is reportedly next on the priority list), I highly doubt other buyers could be fooled into believing what's essentially a 12-year-old car with several facelifts is a credible rival for anything from Acura TSX to Volvo S60.
I still sit in the "I'll believe it when I see it" camp when viewing all of these NEVS developments. But I also think Saab should be dead and buried unless it's going to be applied to something good and/or interesting, like an electric sedan. Even if a new 9-3 were to be $25,000, you'd have to think long and hard about buying one over a newer rival. And I think even other Saab fans feel the same way.