Most Americans at this point are quite familiar with the TV show The Walking Dead. This depressing look at life on the run is so influential that it even inspired us to do an article on five vehicles built for the zombie apocalypse, which the last time I checked, is slated to pop-off sometime next week during tea time. The country of Turkey, on the other hand, has opted to prep its own post-apocalyptic automobile: Saab is being brought back to life as a zombified version of its former self, and instead of being turbocharged and “born from jets,” the Swedish brand is going to be reborn as an electric car.
The thought of Saab being resurrected as an electric entity, with almost all of its parts being manufactured in Turkey for use as the driving force behind a “Turkish National Car” is an unexpected surprise, as many of us thought that the quirky Swedish brand had been permanently put out to pasture. Quite frankly, we don’t know what is more peculiar: the thought of an all-electric Saab, that the brand was not left to gracefully rest in peace, or that it is being brought back with “Turkish reliability” stamped on its rebirth certificate.
Originally reported by the Daily Sabah, a respected Turkish news source, this move to make a Turkish Saab comes several years after the brand name’s owners, National Electric Vehicle Sweden (NEVS), failed to get the 9-3 back into the limelight after its attempt to jump-start the production of an electric version fell apart. But instead of trying again, NEVS recently sold the intellectual property rights to the second-generation 9-3 to the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TÜBITAK), a government-supported agency with controversial funding and reorganization woes.
All of the transactions reportedly went down back in June, when NEVS and TÜBITAK first agreed that “future industrial synergies” via development and manufacturing should be a cooperative venture between the two houses. This joint venture means that NEVS’s assets can be utilized almost immediately, and that Turkey’s government will be able to access decades of automotive knowledge and experience without issue. The whole project seems like a great way for both companies to benefit from the production of a Turkish 9-3, but is resurrecting a long gone, beloved icon in the form of an electric car really going to work?
For decades, the Saab 9-3 was considered the Honda Accord of Sweden, and for good reason. Smaller in stature, sporty to a fault, available in multiple trim levels, and known for being a solid choice when it was time to hand the keys over to your kids for the first time, this long-lost staple of unorthodox engineering is now slated to strengthen Turkey’s underwhelming auto industry. Redesigned as an extended-range electric vehicle, NEVS and TÜBITAK plan on having their operation cranking out cars by 2020, and according to sources, 85 to 90% of the car’s components will be manufactured and assembled within Turkey’s borders. “From design to production, Turkey will be the center for all parts and processes regarding the first domestically produced car,” says Turkish Technology Minister, Fikri I??k.
TÜBITAK is utilizing this approach as sort of a back-up plan, after it realized that developing its own vehicle from the ground up would drive costs well past $1 billion and that buying the rights to a defunct product was a far more financially feasible option. Strangely enough, even though it no longer holds the property rights to the 9-3, NEVS has agreed to help formulate a business plan for the Turkish program and has offered to create a much needed supply and distribution chain for the vehicle to boot.
But NEVS isn’t the only one getting in on the action: New-found shareholders Tianjin and SRIT are on board, alongside global partner Teamsun and the Chinese-owned Dongfeng Motor Corporation, a company that is best known for working with Honda, Nissan, Peugeot, and Citroen. Together, this cooperation with TÜBITAK is what Daily Sabah calls “an important step in building up NEVS as a strong automotive company with industrial, technological, and financial partnerships.”
When asked about the joint venture, President of NEVS Mattias Bergman said that he is “very proud to have this strategic cooperation in place,” and that Turkey’s long-term focus on electric vehicles is “an important step towards our vision of shaping mobility for a more sustainable future.”
Nevertheless, many Saab fanatics are likely grinding their teeth over the notion of electric Turkish 9-3 sedans, and it is not hard to see why. A small but fiercely loved automaker went belly-up after decades of ingenuity and toil (followed by mismanagement and bad badge engineering), and for hardcore Saab fans, the thought of it being brought back as a shadow of its former self is like rubbing salt into a fresh wound. Perhaps their fear isn’t just that the 9-3 is being reincarnated in an inappropriate manner, but that if this grandiose plan fails, it will be yet another tarnished stain resting atop the beloved crowned griffin badge, which so nobly represented some of the coolest cars ever to be “born from jets.”