Auto Outlook: Saab gets back in the game, U.S. auto sales soar

By AL SWANSON, UPI Auto Writer
The logo for Saab is displayed at the Chicago Auto Show at McCormick Place in Chicago on February 9, 2011. UPI/Brian Kersey
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

You can't keep a good $40,000 car down.

Swedish automaker Saab, which filed for bankruptcy in 2011, restarted production of its 9-3 Aero compact for the Swedish and Chinese markets as a traditional gasoline-powered model.


The Saab is not cheap. It costs about $42,500.

The lead investor in Saab's new owner, National Electric Vehicle Sweden AB, is a Chinese company called National Modern Energy Holdings Ltd. The first cars produced by the venture are being built by 600 workers at Saab's Trollhatten factory in Sweden. Production will be added later in China.

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Initially the car equipped with a 220-horsepower turbocharged 2-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine is being sold only on the Internet because Saab's dealer network was shuttered. Just 10 cars are being assembled a week. A plug-in electric model will be added in spring 2014.

Potential buyers who want a test drive will have to travel to Trollhatten in western Sweden, but NEVS says it has pre-orders for 200 of the plug-in electric 9-3s in China, the Wall Street Journal said.


A Chinese-Japanese team is jointly developing batteries for the plug-in electric model in China.

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"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," NEVS founder Kai Johan Jiang said in a statement.

NEVS bought Saab's assets from Dutch carmaker Spyker NV last year, but the 9-3 is an old model and was designed when the company was part of General Motors, which sold it after filing for federal bankruptcy protection in the United States in 2009.

Saab plans to produce the gasoline engine model of the 9-3 until demand for the battery-powered plug-in grows enough to make a profit.

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Feds want Tesla data on battery fire risks

Facing an NHTSA investigation after three car fires this year, U.S. electric car maker Tesla has been asked to turn over detailed records on everything from warranty claims to customer complaints.

The watchdog National Highway Traffic Safety Administration sent the California automaker a nine-page letter Nov. 27 informing it of its preliminary investigation. Tesla is supposed to surrender data including field reports, studies, surveys, simulations, internal investigations and property damage claims by mid-January.

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The inquiry was opened after three reports of battery fires in the 13,100 Tesla Motors Model Ses on the road, one near Seattle and one in Tennessee. The third car fire was in Merida, Mexico.


The letter, sent by certified mail, instructs Tesla to, "Describe in detail all possible consequences to the vehicle from an impact to the subject that damages the battery. Describe in detail how these possible consequences were addressed in the design of the [Model S] and the limits of the design to prevent damage to the propulsion battery, stalling and fires."

The 1,300-pound, lithium-ion battery in the Model S is made up of 7,000 small Panasonic rechargeable cells wired in series and is guaranteed for eight years or 125,000 miles. The battery tray is on the bottom of the car.

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Tesla last month extended warranty coverage on the $70,000 to $125,000 sedans to cover unintentional fires "even if due to driver error" and sent out software updates that raise the car's electronically controlled air suspension at highway speeds giving it more road clearance.

The two U.S. battery fires were caused by metal road debris piercing the armored undercarriage.

"In each incident, the vehicle's battery monitoring system provided escalating visible and audible warnings, allowing the driver to execute a controlled stop and exit the vehicle before the battery emitted smoke and fire," NHTSA said.

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Tesla last month got a boost from the German Federal Motor Transport Authority (Kraftfahrt-Bundesamt), which concluded "no manufacturer-related defect could be found" in the Model S.


U.S. automakers lead strong November sales

With U.S. vehicle sales on pace to hit 15.5 million this year, industry experts estimate U.S. car buyers spent more than $30 billion on new vehicles in November.

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Because of aggressive year-end incentives, rebates and discounted financing, the average vehicle transaction price was $30,634, down $198 from November 2012, TrueCar estimates.

Ford, Chrysler and General Motors all posted strong November sales, with GM having its best November since 2007.

Sales of the largest Detroit automaker were up 14 percent compared with the same month a year ago to 212,060 vehicles. GMC sales were up 19.8 percent, Buick 13.4 percent, Cadillac 11.4 percent and Chevrolet up 12.6 percent.

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Rival Chrysler Group reported a 16 percent sales gain with sales of 145,275 vehicles in November led by a 30 percent jump in Jeep sales, the best November ever for Jeep.

"Our all-new Jeep Cherokee is off to a terrific start with more than 10,169 units sold in its first full month on sale," U.S. Chrysler sales head Reid Bigland said in a statement.

Chrysler delayed introduction of the Jeep Cherokee twice earlier this year to fix quality problems and to reprogram shift points on the Cherokee's German-designed nine-speed transmission.


"Our launch emphasis on Jeep Cherokee quality is now being rewarded with brisk sales and helping Chrysler Group achieve our 44th consecutive month of year-over-year sales growth," Bigland said.

Fiat sales dipped 15 percent in the United States.

Ford Motor Co. saw sales rise 6.9 percent last month to 190,449 vehicles, with Lincoln leading the way with a 17.4 percent sales increase, selling 2,854 vehicles. Sales of F-Series trucks were 16 percent higher than in November 2012.

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Toyota sales were up 10.1 percent November-over-November with 178,044 vehicles sold last month. Nissan sales rose 10.7 percent, with the Altima midsize sedan setting an all-time sales record for the month. Sales of Nissan's plug-in Leaf rose 30.1 percent to 2,003 of the all-electric vehicles.

South Korea's Hyundai had November sales of 56,005 vehicles, up 5 percent from the same month a year ago as sales of the new Santa Fe sport utility vehicle jumped 43 percent. Sales of Hyundai's subcompact Accent jumped 42 percent.

Honda sales of 116,507 in November were basically flat and Volkswagen said its sales of 30,727 vehicles were 16.3 percent lower, but it was still VW's second-best November in 40 years, the Detroit News said.


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