Some brands have cried out for electric cars for years.
Take Subaru: its eco-minded audience snapped up every one of the mediocre Crosstrek Hybrids it deigned to put out. As a Subie driver myself, I can firmly attest that many of my fellow owners—y’know, the kayak-carrying, Golden Retriever-toting, Sierra Club-tote-bagged ones—would go for an all-electric Subaru in a heartbeat. (Small numbers of a Subaru EV will finally arrive for 2023.)
Similarly, Volvo’s buyers have proven receptive to its plug-in hybrids. It will soon have a whole lot more models with plugs, including an all-electric XC90 7-seat luxury crossover. Its new corporate sibling Polestar is now EV-only after one early plug-in hybrid.
Electric cars could have been the place where Saab stole a march on the rest of the car market. The Trollhättan maker defined quirky decades ago, when Subaru was still selling 360 minicars. It took a sensible Swedish approach to new technology, adding features — turbochargers, blackout “night dash” lighting, ignition locks on the transmission — for explicit engineering reasons.
An EV would have slotted right into Saab’s lineup, especially since its owner GM had pioneered the modern electric car with its mid-1990s launch of the EV1. That aerodynamic oddball was sold through the dealers of another small brand: Saturn.
Then GM’s 2009 bankruptcy and government-backed restructuring abruptly killed off four of its eight brands entirely: Hummer, Pontiac, Saab, and Saturn were all executed.
Saab had always been special, and its passionate following spanned Europe as well as North America. In due course, GM sold off the brand, the products, the workforce, and the factory. Dutch supercar maker Spyker couldn’t make it work, but in June 2012, a newly formed company called National Electric Vehicle Sweden (NEVS) bought Saab Automobile’s bankrupt estate with Chinese backing.
Saab would now be an all-electric car company, with the outgoing 9-3 as the vehicle to be electrified. Except that in the end, NEVS wasn’t allowed to use the Saab name. Despite a flashy 2017 launch event, little more was heard until the electric NEVS 9-3 staggered into production in mid-2019.
A better Bolt EV
So what is a Saab 9e, anyway? Looks rather like a Bolt EV, right? We’ll let its owner, Mike Kamm, explain.
“Years ago, we had two Saabs in the family — both 9-5s,” he said. “I thought they were very well-engineered, and we really liked them. They were comfortable, fuel-efficient, and aerodynamic.”
“I’ve always liked to drive something unique, and a little different,” Kamm said. A decade ago, he found electric cars.
He was one of only 1,100 people to lease and drive the Honda Fit EV, an electric adaptation of the Fit subcompact hatchback—and one of just a tiny handful found outside California, where all but a few were marketed from 2013 to 2015.
Among other unusual pursuits, Kamm took his electric Fit ice-racing on a frozen upstate lake from his home outside Albany, New York. He even won a prize for his image of an EV charging in an unusual place.
After a couple of lease extensions, Kamm had to give back his beloved Fit EV. The nearest approximation he could find was the much higher-volume Chevrolet Bolt EV. Among other advances, the Bolt EV was EPA-rated at 238 miles of range versus the Fit EV’s 82 miles.
The Bolt just didn’t tick the “unusual” box for Kamm. “I really like my Bolt EV, but there are tens of thousands of them just like mine,” he said. “Also, I think GM chose unwisely in naming the car, which is too close to Volt, and confuses a lot of people.”
If you build it ...?
So Mike Kamm decided to make his Bolt EV into what it should have been all along: an electric car from a premium brand known for its quirkiness. “My imagination picked up, and I decided to take the car upscale, and turn it into an all-electric Saab 9e.” Think of it as a modern descendant of the Saab 9-2X, a much nicer version of the then-current Subaru Impreza.
After replacing the Bolt’s textured silver grille panel with a glossy, smooth, piano black blanking plate with a Saab griffin at the center, Kamm swapped the Bolt’s wheels for a more Saab-like design from a Chevrolet Cruze Eco. With careful work on half a dozen different Saab and model badges, Kamm now drives the world’s only Saab 9e Aero. (Don’t ask what the paperwork calls it.)
He doesn’t get a ton of questions about it, but he’s comfortable in having a unique Saab that carries on where his family started all those years back. It lets him drive an EV from an alternative history that he likes to muse might have worked out better.
“It checks all of the boxes for me. And, it’s one of a kind.”
John Voelcker is a freelance auto writer and analyst. He edited Green Car Reports for nine years, publishing more than 12,000 articles on hybrids, electric cars, and the energy ecosystem around them. His work has appeared in print, online, and radio outlets that include Car and Driver, The Drive, Wired, Popular Science, Tech Review, and NPR’s “All Things Considered.”