BEIJING -- National Electric Vehicle Sweden, which acquired the assets of Saab Auto, plans to make electric cars at the iconic brand's Swedish factory as it seeks to take advantage of global interest in greener vehicles.
NEVs, which bought the remnants of the Swedish automaker after it went out of business, will make EVs at Saab's plant in Trollhattan under its own NEVS brand in the second half of next year, Chairman Kai Johan Jiang said.
With growing demand for battery-powered vehicles, NEVS is also talking to municipal governments including those in Shanghai, Hangzhou and Chengdu about setting up its second factory in China, and is looking into the possibility of a plant in Turkey.
While the Swedish location is being revived, the Saab brand isn't coming back. Five years ago, NEVS bought the assets of Saab, which was split from aerospace manufacturer Saab AB in 1990. Following a pledge last year to no longer use the Saab name, the Chinese-owned company will use the NEVS trademark for cars it produces, ending a Swedish nameplate that introduced its first vehicle in 1949.
In China, NEVS is up against more than 80 rivals that are all trying to gain the upper hand in the industry's rapid shift toward advanced technologies and electrification. The nation has identified new-energy vehicles as a strategic emerging industry and aims to boost annual sales of plug-in hybrids and fully electric cars 10-fold in the next decade.
"We are embracing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in the automobile industry with the adoption of new technologies moving forward way faster than we expected," Jiang said in an interview Wednesday. "Car-sharing, electrification of automobiles and autonomous driving are the inevitable trend of future transport."
NEVS has won orders for about 300,000 electric cars from ride-sharing firms such as Panda New Energy, he said.
The company, which received one of 15 new-energy vehicle production licenses issued by China, is also working on its first fundraising round, said Jiang.
"We would like to line up investors who have the same vision as us," said Jiang. "We didn't want to raise funds previously because we were not ready, but we are now."
NEVS has spent the past five years developing electric cars and rolled out its first model -- the 9-3EV, based on a Saab platform -- in Tianjin earlier this week. The factory in northern China has initial capacity of 50,000 units a year and will be expanded to 220,000 vehicles by 2019, said Jiang.
The cost of electric cars produced by NEVS has fallen to the level of comparable gasoline-powered ones, as battery costs have dropped to about a third of the figure three years ago, said Jiang.
Industrywide sales of autos in China may accelerate next year as economic expansion helps lift demand from cities and provinces located in the interior parts of the country. Deliveries may gain by about 4 percent, twice the pace estimated for the current year, the China Passenger Car Association said Friday. Retail auto sales grew 1.6 percent to 21.4 million units in the 11 months through November.
Generous subsidies from the Chinese government and policy incentives have helped speed up the development of electric vehicles as costs of components decline. Competition is intensifying in China, the world's biggest market for both combustion-engine and electric vehicles, with major automakers such as Volkswagen Group and Ford Motor accelerating the introduction of EVs in the country.
"Being an early entrant to the electric-car industry doesn't guarantee the company will be a strong player," Jiang said. "It is like great waves sweeping away sand -- 95 percent of companies won't be able to survive, given that the threshold of electric car making is quite high, so passion alone won't nail it."