Auto Outlook: Saab Redux

Auto Outlook: Saab Redux
The logo for Saab is displayed at the Chicago Auto Show at McCormick Place in Chicago on February 9, 2011. UPI/Brian Kersey | License Photo

CHICAGO, April 1 (UPI) -- Just when you thought the bankrupt Swedish automobile Saab was completely dead there are reports of interest in reviving the iconic brand.

While a news report that India's Tata Motors Ltd. was interested in Saab's assets was denied by the company, another report by just-auto cited Swedish sources who said a Japanese-Chinese consortium was looking at making Saab-branded electric vehicles.


A source told just-auto, an automotive news Web site, the potential joint bid is serious.

"They have tabled a bid and are very aggressive -- it is a Japanese-Chinese consortium. [It is] a huge consortium together with battery manufacturing -- they are planning to make electric cars."

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That report surfaced days after Tata Motors Chairman Ratan Tata told the Wall Street Journal India's largest automaker had not tendered a bid for Saab's assets. However, Tata, which bought Jaguar Land Rover from Ford in 2008, indicated Indian SUV maker Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd. had bid for the Saab assets.


A Mahindra spokesman said the company would not comment on speculative reports.

Chinese automaker Zhejaing Youngman Lotus Automobile Co., which wanted to buy controlling interest in the Swedish automaker in a joint venture before Saab declared bankruptcy in December, also was reported to be interested.

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Sales of modern high-tech electric cars are still in their infancy and industry observers doubt they can be profitable in the short term. Most current Saabs use engine and drivetrain technology licensed from General Motors, Saab's former corporate parent, which refused to share patents with the Chinese.

Rival Swedish automaker Volvo said in February it might purchase some of Saab's machinery and test equipment.

Meanwhile, some gasoline-powered Saabs are back in production, sort of.

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Saab United, a Saab enthusiast Web site, said around 100 Saabs left sitting on the production line in various states of assembly were bought by ANA, a dealership in Trollhattan, Sweden, along with enough Saab parts to finish production of the cars.

Torque News said the hand-completed Saabs may be the last ever made and could be real collectors' cars.

Dodge Dart on track

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Don't look for the new 2013 Dodge Dart in showrooms before June.

Reid Bigland, Dodge president and chief executive officer, said autoworkers at Chrysler's Belvidere, Ill., assembly plant would build 2,000 Darts in May and 8,000 more of the new compacts in June, just enough to give each dealership a handful.


"It's going to be late summer before we really hit the stride with all the option availability," he told the Detroit Free Press. "Given the size of the segment throughout North America and the enthusiasm for the Dart, we think it's going to go OK."

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All Dodge dealers should get an ample supply of Darts by late summer when 10,000 to 12,000 cars will begin rolling off the Belvidere assembly line each month.

The new Dart is built on an expanded platform shared with Italy's Alfa Romeo Giulietta and is the first Chrysler product to use the European architecture since Fiat acquired Chrysler in June 2009.

The Dart is aimed at younger buyers with a starting price of $15,995 and has an EPA fuel economy rating of 40 mpg.

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Dodge hopes to build interest in the Dart by competing in the Global RallyCross Championship, which became a closed-circuit racing series last year. The Dodge Dart SRT rally car's 2-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine cranks out 600 horsepower and is capable of going from zero to 60 mph in less than 2 seconds.

The Dart SRT will be introduced at this week's New York auto show.

Car cellphone ban proposal defended


The National Transportation Safety Board is sticking with its proposal to ban drivers from using cellphones on the road, including for hands-free calls.

"Whether it's handheld or hands-free, touching the dashboard, or waving at a windshield, it can be distracting," NTSB Chairwoman Deborah Hersman said. "What is the price of our desire to be mobile and connected at the same time? Can any message, call or text be worth someone's life?"

Nine U.S. states have prohibited use of cellphone handsets by drivers while behind the wheel and 30 states have banned all cell phone use by young drivers. Thirty-five states ban texting while driving, The Detroit News said.

The city of Chapel Hill, N.C., last week became the first in the nation to ban both hand-held and hands-free cellphone calls by drivers.

In December, the five-member NTSB recommended a ban on use of cellphones by drivers but would permit use of built-in vehicle communications systems like GM's OnStar and Ford's MyFordTouch, that can notify authorities in the event of an accident involving airbag deployment.

First Datsun, now Beijing

Last month Nissan announced it was reviving the Datsun brand after a 31-year hiatus. Now China's Beijing Motor Corp. said it is bringing back its Beijing brand.


The last Beijing subcompacts were produced in China 30 years ago.

Beijing Motor, which partners with Germany's Daimler AG and South Korea's Hyundai Motor Co., plans to sell a micro-car called the Beijing E-Class -- based on the Smart ForFour -- starting at $10,700 for a 1.3-liter engine version. A larger 1.5-liter engine car would cost $17,280, reported.

Beijing Motor Corp. President Han Yonggui announced ambitious plans to sell 20 passenger models ranging from micro cars to a sport-utility vehicle. China's fifth largest automaker said it hopes to sell 700,000 vehicles a year with the Beijing brand by 2015 and was looking at eventually exporting vehicles to fast-growing foreign markets in Southeast Asia, Russia and South America.

Ford thinking ahead

Ford is devoting more space at its 500-acre Advanced Engineering Center in Dearborn, Mich., to facilities to develop electric and alternative-fuel technologies.

Chuck Gray, Ford chief engineer for Global Core Engineering Hybrid and Electric vehicles, said 285,000-square feet of the facility would be converted for use by more than 1,000 engineers now on the sustainable Mobility Technologies team, which has doubled in size since 2007.

The team -- which includes former rocket and aerospace engineers -- developed Ford's Eco-Boost turbocharged gasoline engines and is working on hybrids, plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles. Eleven 2012 Fords offer Eco-Boost engines, which improve fuel economy as much as 20 percent compared to conventional gasoline engines.


Ford's new Fusion hybrid gets an estimated 37 mpg and the plug-in hybrid is expected to have a 100 mpg equivalent.

Ford said it would add more than 12,000 new salaried and hourly jobs in the United States by 2015 and triple production capability of hybrid, plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles in 2013 compared with 2011.

"Ford remains absolutely committed to providing a wide range of choices of top fuel economy solutions for our customers -- from EcoBoost-powered gasoline vehicles and hybrids to plug-in hybrids and full-electric," said Mark Field, Ford president of The Americas. "To meet growing demand for our fuel-efficient vehicles, we are continuing to invest in new jobs in the U.S. and converting our facilities for further advancements."

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