Saab have had a rough time of late. Mismanagement and poor guidance under General Motors led to an uncompetitive product line and when GM pulled the plug, Saab momentarily disappeared from the scene.

Luckily though, Dutch supercar manufacturer Spyker stepped in and the company is due for rejuvenation. Amongst the release of the new 9-5 and plans for a retro-inspired compact, Saab have now unveiled their first electric vehicle.

Saab 9-3 ePower

The 9-3 ePower makes its debut at the Paris Motor Show later this month. Based on the production 9-3 SportCombi, Saab claims the ePower is "the first all-electric car to offer its occupants the comfort and size of a wagon bodystyle".

All the electric technology is integrated into the standard 9-3 body, leaving the interior space the same way Saab intended. That technology includes a 135 kilowatt (184 horsepower) electric motor that drives the front wheels, just like in most gasoline 9-3s. The 60 miles per hour benchmark is reached in an impressive 8.5 seconds, and top speed is around 93mph.

Power is provided by a compact 35.5 kWh lithium-ion battery pack, which Saab say is installed in the space left by the absent exhaust system and fuel tank. As with many EVs, this means the centre of gravity is kept low down, improving driving dynamics and stability.

One thing we've seen from EVs like the MINI E is that battery performance can suffer significantly in cold weather. Saab think they've got around this problem, and the pack is designed to operate at full power in ambient temperatures as low as -22 degrees Farenheit (-30 degrees Celcius). The ePower has an estimated range of 200 kilometers, or 124 miles, and the pack is designed to take recharge cycles of up to 10 years expected use.

Inside, things are pretty conventional. Drive modes are selected by a conventional park, reverse, neutral and drive lever, though an electric parking brake replaces the regular 9-3 parking brake to save space.

User Trials

Trials of the 9-3 ePower will run from 2011-2012 with a fleet of 70 cars throughout Sweden. As with other EV trials such as Audi's A1 e-tron project, Saab are using the fleet to monitor useage of the cars and driving conditions, and charging patterns.

Mats Fägerhag, Executive Director of Vehicle Engineering at Saab Automobile, says that "this program is designed to evaluate the potential for developing a high performance, zero emission electric vehicle and is an important next-step in the extension of our EcoPower propulsion strategy".

Jan Åke Jonsson, Saab Automobile's CEO adds "The 9-3 ePower program is our first step towards developing a potential production vehicle that will deliver the sort of advanced performance our customers expect".

The project is being run in conjunction with several other organisations, including battery supplier Boston Power, Electroengine in Sweden AB (electric power trains), and Power Circle (Sweden’s electric power industry trade organization). The project is being managed by Innovatum.