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Compliance Cars, Return of SAAB, What Next?

The economic crisis of the mid to late 2000’s was a tough time for almost every company. Car manufacturer General Motors actually filed for chapter 11 government-assisted bankruptcy during this time, reducing the size of the company by about 60% in the process. This was great news for the few employees that got to keep their jobs, but it was devastating for the majority of employees, who were laid off as part of a massive restructure. This gave the automotive giant a fresh start, and a chance do things right.

They did, at least partly. The new General Motors has since put out two pure electric vehicles, and one PHEV. But alongside these, GM also continued production of their big, gas-guzzling pickups such as the Chevrolet Silverado, and their iconic sports cars such as the Camaro and Corvette, both without any major upgrades to their fuel efficiency. I have a bit of a soft spot for all of these vehicles, but the pollution they produce is horrendous.

Which is why I think it may have been better to let General Motors die. The death of General Motors would have meant the end of several major car manufacturers, and the loss of tens of thousands of jobs, but it would also have made room for smaller manufacturers of long-range electric vehicles, such as Tesla, Fisker, and Lucid, to eventually take their place.

Not that I am a fan of the Fisker Karma, but you get the point. I mean seriously, that car is pretty ugly:

Fisker_Karma_PHEV
Fisker Karma. Source: Wikimedia Commons

But the rise of manufacturers like Tesla and Lucid would have been a very favorable outcome for the planet, and would have more than solved the mass-unemployment that the downfall of General Motors would produce.

I don’t hate General Motors by any measure, but they need to get more serious about producing EVs. The Chevrolet Bolt is a great car, and a worthy rival to the Tesla Model 3. The problem is that the way GM has treated the Bolt right now, the idea that it is a compliance car is quite believable. Production is capped at 30,000 units per year, yet the numerous EV groups of which I am a member seem to indicate that demand is closer to Tesla’s 2017 production target for the Model 3.

This isn’t the first time that the automotive giant has done this, either. In 1996 they launched the EV1, a lease-only electric car that many users loved. There is even a website dedicated to its memory. This vehicle was developed from the ground up by General Motors, and marketed in California by Saturn.

General Motors later ceased development of the EV1, citing a lack of demand, and by 2006 all but 40 of them had been recalled and crushed. The remainder were deactivated and sent to museums and universities. Only the Smithsonian Institute received a functional EV1.

The EV1 was a purpose-built compliance car, and in typical compliance car fashion, it was produced in low enough volumes that it couldn’t hurt the sale of the products that GM actually wanted to sell – they flatly refused offers from former drivers, who were willing to pay well above the actual cost of the car in order to keep their beloved EV1 in the family.

All of this brings me to ask; is General Motors really serious about producing electric vehicles? And if they aren’t, maybe they are just going to spend the next 20 years to get right back where they were back in 2009…

Which brings us to SAAB. General Motors sold the company in 2010 to dutch company Spyker N.V. In 2012, SAAB went bankrupt. This was the end of the company, which had been struggling to cover basic expenses for a long time. Or so we thought. The defunct automaker was sold to a Chinese firm, and later returned as National Electric Vehicle Sweden. The firm is now set to start up the production line as one of only 14 licensed electric vehicle manufacturers in China.

But with such scarce information on their website, it is hard to know what they actually plan on making. We will have to wait and see…