Episode 290 – Saab Saga Almost Over, Plug-In Prius, Battery Free Hybrid

December 14th, 2009 at 12:00pm

Runtime 7:08

GM has finalized a deal to sell some of Saab’s tooling and equipment to Chinese automaker Beijing Auto, however, sports car company Spyker is still in talks to get the rights to the Saab name and the rest of its assets. Toyota says it will start selling plug-in versions of the Prius in two years. All that and more, plus a look at a hybrid system that doesn’t use any batteries at all.

Transcript and Story Links after the jump . . .

Here are today’s top headlines. The saga over Saab is coming to a crescendo. Toyota’s plug-in Prius is rated at 134 miles per gallon. And a look at a hybrid system that doesn’t use any batteries at all.

Up next, we’ll be back with the news behind the headlines.

This is Autoline Daily for Monday, December 14, 2009. And now, the news.

Saab as we know it will not exist much longer. General Motors has finalized a deal to sell some of the tooling and equipment (subscription required) needed to make the current Saab 9.5 to Chinese automaker Beijing Auto, the Wall Street Journal reports. Beijing Auto will also get the rights to make Saab engines and transmissions. However, Bloomberg reports the sports car company Spyker is still in talks to get the rights to the Saab name and the rest of its assets, including the company’s assembly plant in Trollhattan, Sweden.

I visited the Trollhattan plant in the early 1990s, just a couple of years before GM bought it. It was the most inefficient plants I’d ever seen in my life. Clean and modern, yes, but horribly inefficient. At the time, most assembly plants needed 25 to 30 labor hours to build a car. At Trollhattan it took over 70 labor hours. It’s the only plant I’d ever seen in the world, where it was not uncommon for workers to take a break, sitting in the back seat of a car as it came down the assembly line, smoking cigarettes. If GM had not taken over Saab in 1993, I’m sure it would have been out of business not long after that.

Toyota says it will start selling plug-in versions of the Prius in two years. According to the AFP, the company will start leasing the vehicle to governments and businesses in the first half of next year to gauge demand and then will start selling it to the public in 2011. It can go about 15 miles in pure-electric mode and gets 134 MPG or 1.8 l/100km.

16 employees from Tesla will drive from Los Angeles to Detroit to attend the Auto Show in January. They will be making the 2,700-plus mile trek in a Tesla Roadster but instead of just taking a couple of days, the trip will take several weeks because the car can only travel about 250 miles before it needs to recharge, which can take several hours. And they will be making stops to promote the car as well. The employees want to prove that the Roadster is “tough, durable and range anxiety is for the weak.”

Ford’s popular SYNC infotainment system offers drivers a lot, from hands-free audio control to turn-by-turn navigation. The company has added another feature to the system that gives users with older cell phones the ability to dial by voice, e.g. “Call John.” Not all phones support voice recognition, so the company just released a free computer program that allows users to upload contact information directly to the car via a USB thumb drive. SYNCMyPhone, allows users to use the voice recognition feature.

Autoblog reports that one very enthusiastic fan of the “Back to the Future” movies has turned a 1980s Dodge Daytona into a DeLorean! The K-Car coupe doesn’t look too far off from the famous time machine, especially since the owner has added all kinds of props, from hoses and vents to the “Mr. Fusion” unit on the back. And let’s not forget about the gullwing doors. The guy says he could save enough money to buy a real DeLorean, but his wife probably wouldn’t let him spend it on a 28 year-old car! All he’s missing now is the flux capacitor.

Did you know you don’t need batteries to make a hybrid? All you need is a way to store energy. And it turns out hydraulic pressure can do that as well as any battery.

There can be all different kinds of ways to make hybrid vehicles. Who needs batteries if you can do it with hydraulic pressure? Here’s a great little video that was sent to me from someone at Next Energy, a Detroit-based, non-profit research organization that’s trying to change the energy landscape in the U.S. The following clip shows in plain English how hydraulic hybrids work.

Well, we got the word over the weekend that we did not win the podcast awards. But we sure appreciate all of you who voted for us. And to borrow that eternal optimism of the Chicago Cubs baseball team, “Wait ‘till next year.”

And that’s it for today’s top news in the global automotive industry. Thanks for watching, we’ll see you tomorrow.

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41 Comments to “Episode 290 – Saab Saga Almost Over, Plug-In Prius, Battery Free Hybrid”

  1. G.A.Branigan Says:

    Tesla still around? Not a waste,but certainly their vehicles are way overpriced for the average family/driver.

    I like the hydraulic drive system.Certainly a lot more “green” then expensive batteries and the recharging process.Maybe Tesla should take a look.

  2. Todd Jaspers Says:

    I’d really like to see Spyker buy the Saab name. I think the Dutch company would really revitalize this company. Saab has too much history to let it die like this.

    Dare I say, the original Saab Sonnett looks far better than a Porsche 550 Spyder!

    I just wonder if Spyker can handle the finances… it’s very un-Dutch-like for them. They made the leap in Formula-1 a couple of years ago, and they bombed out miserably…

  3. Tony Gray Says:

    Well, ya didn’t win the Podcast but don’t worry, we still love you anyway.

    As for that Delorean knock off…when I was a kid I put SuperSport badges on my mom’s 66 Malibu. She grounded me for a week. I think THAT guy will be in the doghouse for, well, maybe as long as Tiger!! Yeech!

  4. Nick Stevens Says:

    Congrats to John MC for exposing the utterly unacceptable inefficiencies and poor practices at that SAAB Plant. The image of a smoking worker in the assembly line cars reminded me of that movie CHRISTINE where the infamous car is on the assembly line, some bozo worker sits inside, lights a cigar, and like a total jerk lets the ash fall on the plastic. No wonder after a few minutes he has been choked to death by the infamous Devil-car!

  5. Ron Paris Says:

    So Tesla wants to dispell consumer anxiety over limited range electric cars by taking several weeks to make a trip that a Toyota Yaris could make in 3 days at a cost of less than $200. Now that’s ingenuity boys! Just keep collecting those government subsidies and tax credits while the rest of us marvel at the sheer stupidity of the electrification of the automobile.

  6. Nick Stevens Says:

    “Toyota says it will start selling plug-in versions of the Prius in two years. According to the AFP, the company will start leasing the vehicle to governments and businesses in the first half of next year to gauge demand and then will start selling it to the public in 2011. ”

    The 800 lb gorilla in the room is not mentioned. How MUCH will the plug-in Prius cost?

    And John Mc, I saw other news items for the plug-in prius that had the current generation body styling, but your video shows the old one.

  7. Len simpson Says:

    In the forties, my machinist dad drew up a 38 plymouth w/hydraulic hub motors & the old (not so old, then)flathead 6 driving the pump.The war effort couldn,t spare such equipment,so the idea never got off the drawing board.

  8. Nick Stevens Says:

    To answer my own question above:

    “The new plug in hybrids boast a 57km/l (134 non-EPA mpg), can travel up to 23 kilometres (15 miles) on a fully charged lithium ion battery and with the aid of the combustion engine, can travel up 1400 kilometres (870 miles). Mr Uchiyamada said that the price for the plug in hasn’t been set yet, but hoped to limit the extra charge (no pun intended) for the plug in model to less than 1 million yen ($11228). $11K on top of $23K for a Prius? That gets you a number that’s dangerously close to the Volt’s rumored MSRP of $35k-40k, without the Volt’s 40-mile EV range. Besides, there are already plug-in conversions for the Prius, like A12’s Hymotion, which offer some plug-in performance for about $10k; Toyota will have to handily beat their performance to make a solid case for the OEM plug-in. On the other hand, maybe the fact that Toyota’s testing its plug ins before its mass-market rollout counts for something. Besides, unlike most first-generation mass-market EVs, Toyota’s Prius hybrid is solidly profitable. Rather than race to get ahead, Toyota are building slowly from there.”

  9. pedro fernandez Says:

    Chinese made Saabs? what a joke, I just hope they don’t put the starter key UNDER the cupholders, and by the way Chinese smoke way more than Swedes, so I don’t think the smoking assembly line worker will go away as these cars roll down the assembly line. I was under the impression that the plug-in Prius was coming THIS year.

  10. Nick Stevens Says:

    The difference between the “swedish” (most likely Turkish immigrant) smoking assembly line workers and their chinese counterparts is that the Turks will get million dollar socialized medicine packages to treat their lung cancer while the chinese workers will be shot and fired… or fired and then shot, whichever comes first.

  11. Pedro Fernandez Says:

    I guess Saab will drop that absurd “Born from Jets” ad BS they used for years, now it should read: “Born from rickshaws”?

  12. Nick Stevens Says:

    Saab should have dropped the misleading, stupid slogan decades ago, once it adulterated the brand by making Saabs that were basically clones of Opels, Lancias and Vauxhalls.

  13. Drew Says:

    This is not related to the broadcast today, but…..why is it that a 1987 Buick Grand National rated at 240hp is faster 0-60 and the 1/4 mile than a 2010 Ford Taurus SHO rated at 365hp???
    Could it be that the Taurus is an overweight, fat, bloated, whale, pigmobile??? (along with a lot of today’s cars).

  14. Alex Kovnat Says:

    >Did you know you don’t need batteries
    >to make a hybrid? All you need is a
    >way to store energy. And it turns out
    >hydraulic pressure can do that as
    >well as any battery.

    Autoline Detroit, where have you been all these years? I saw a hydraulic hybrid truck at the annual SAE Congress 3 years or so ago. The system utilizes two hydraulic fluid reservoirs, one of which is under ~5000 psi pressure, to store energy until its needed. The other, stores hydraulic fluid at low pressure, which an engine-driven pump/motor pumps up to high pressure for transfer to the high pressure reservoir. Since the pump is also a motor, its like Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist system – except for being hydraulic rather than electric.

    The problem is: the hydraulic reservoirs are capable of high discharge rate, but don’t store as much total energy as a lithium-ion battery.
    For cars, the hydraulic reservoirs add a lot of weight and take up a lot of space. For this reason, I don’t think anyone’s proposing the hydraulic equivalent of a plug-in hybrid.

  15. Pedro Fernandez Says:

    Yes, Drew, cars are getting heavier and larger with no end in sight, not even with the upcoming mpg standards. If they don’t cut weight/size, they can’t do it with just improvements in drive-line efficiency. You need an industry-wide downsizing and losing weight campaign.

  16. Nick Stevens Says:

    “You need an industry-wide downsizing and losing weight campaign.”

    Won’t work. Sermons do not work with the US consumer, who is an economic animal. The only thing that can convince the US consumer is price and affordability.

    When large heavy cars are affordable, they will buy them. In Europe, they are not affordable, largely thanks to gas prices double than ours, so few, usually wealthy, buy them.

    BTW, people need size but few need the extra weight. There were cars in the 80s that were far larger inside than many current cars, but weighed much less. Not all of the increase is due to regulations BTW.

    And if gas becomes really expensive, we have another ace up our sleeves, use lighter (but more expensive) materials such as Aluminum and Carbon Fiber.

  17. Dan D Says:

    A couple of nitpicks with your description of Saab. First, GM bought control in 1990 not 1993 (and the whole thing in 2000). Second, yes the production was inefficient, with high absenteeism, a questionable work ethic and all the rest. But GM ownership changed all that by the mid-to-late 1990′s, perhaps the best thing to come out of the relationship. Were it not for those improvements Saab would have been shut down years ago. The biggest challenges today for Saab – or rather its new owners if it is to continue in business – are funding for product development and repairing the brand damage done during the GM years. Spyker (or whoever) will have its hands full to turn Saab around, however, manufacturing will be the least of their concerns despite the lingering bad impression you may have gotten.

  18. Pedro Fernandez Says:

    When you compare a 1980′s car with today’s, the first thing you notice is how much leg room has been taken up by gigantic center consoles and dashboards, the whole idea of going FWD was to give larger interior volume and leg room with a smaller exterior, well now this seems to have been passed up completely in favor of tighter leg room and a hump on the floor which cuts back even more interior space.

  19. Edward Lipman Says:

    I DO NOT like the idea that selling ANY TOOLS OR TECHNOLOGY to the Chinese at all. They will clone or copy it for LESS money and quality.
    This WILL come back to bite us later !
    Air works to store energy too , but the cost and weight of high pressure containers for ANY pressurized medium would be prohibitively large and heavy.

  20. Max Christensen Says:

    While the cars of today are heavier, it is true not ALL of it is due to regulations. But, a good share of it IS due to regulations. And as much as some like to cuss all the regulations (me included at times), those regulations are saving lives.

    Let me ask you this. Given the choice of being in a high speed collision, would you rather be in a 1980′s car (of any brand) or a 2010 car (of any brand)? Your chances of survival will be much greater in one of today’s models. So yeah, while being heavier and all, today’s cars do have some advantages.

  21. Art DesJardins Says:

    With Saab’s going the way of Oldsmobiles and Plymouths and now Pontiacs, What will the parts availability be on the existing cars if you need a repair? Foreign car parts are not always so easy to find for some older makes no longer sold here so is Saab going to be junkyard only or is there a stockpile to keep them on the road a while? I would not expect the chinese to supply parts for older models if they are only buying the machinery for the current 9.5.

  22. Chuck Grenci Says:

    Not since the advent of the automobile’s early years have we seen the industry in such flux. I believe in 5 to 10 years there will be a new direction for the automobile, as certain technologies fall by the wayside and others dominate. Interesting times ahead, no doubt about it.

  23. Drew Says:

    @Max Christensen:

    If ALL the vehicles would stay lighter, it wouldn’t matter. BUT, since many of today’s vehicles are grossly overweight, it makes the roads less safe than if they were lighter.

  24. EAB Says:

    Let’s get one thing straight. The Buick Grand National takes the award as the most underrated advertised horsepower in the 80′s, possibly of all time. As I remember reading in the rags, hydramatic saw the performance figures when the car was being developed and told Buick that they simply had to tone it down as the transmission couldn’t handle the HP they were creating. Buick responded with a wink the same statement they told the Corvette folks; that the car only had 245HP. That was their story and they were sticking to it. Actually, the GN off the showroom floor was cranking out around 300HP in cold weather and the GNX, which was rated at 276HP, was cranking out WAY over 300HP. Think about the 0-60 time you quoted was with STREET TIRES! 80′s STREET TIRES. 245HP my arse….

  25. Pedro Fernandez Says:

    Max: I was not referring to safety but rather to the feeling of roominess in 80′s cars to almost feeling claustrophobic in modern cars, specially these new ones with the “hunkered-down” look,I personally like the high looking over the hood feeling; @Art: as far as Saab parts, it may be a good time to dump these while they’re still worth something, I don’t believe you will find many junk yard parts for these and if they stop making the parts, you’ll be out of luck.

  26. Max Christensen Says:

    @ Drew

    Regardless of weight, it DOES matter. Today’s cars are so much more safe than even the cars of the 1980′s. I notice you didn’t answer the question about which car you’d rather be in if your life depended on it? Safety isn’t cheap nor is it light……….

    Check out this video between a 2009 Malibu and a 1959 Chevy. It really drives home the point.


  27. Max Christensen Says:

    @ Pedro

    I fully agree with you! I was sitting in a 1973 Dodge Charger not long ago. At the time, they were considered a ‘mid-size’ car. Then go sit in a ‘full-size’ 2009-10 Charger, and there really is no comparison – the new cars ARE cramped for space!

  28. dcars Says:

    Saabs before GM were terrible cars. I remember reading how the Saab designers were saying that they were finely able to design the cars they truly wanted to make. Even with GM’s billions of investment they were still very unreliable. I’m sure it will be a great MBA Case study to look at the amount of money that GM invested into Saturn, Saab and their labor relations that lead to it’s 80 billion dollar down fall.

  29. Pedro Fernandez Says:

    Dcars: when you add up the billions GM has wasted on Saab, Saturn, Fiat, Hummer, and the jury is still out on Daewoo. It’s no wonder they’re bankrupt. I don’t know about Subaru, at one time they owned part of it, but I don’t know if they lost any $ also.

  30. Mike G Says:

    To Drew … post #13. Cars today have to meet side impact, rollover, frontal offset, airbag requirements, emissions, MPG, speed, reliability/durability, comfort, mega accessories (weight) and on and on. The ONLY thing the GN was good for was speed. There’s no way I’d drive that POS today. What’s your beef with Ford anyway? How heavy is the Camaro?

  31. Swade - SaabsUnited.com Says:


    A couple of points on your commentary about Saab.

    First, what’s been sold to Beijing Automotive is related to the outgoing Saab 9-5 model, not the new 9-5 being shown at auto shows right now. Then there’s older Saab 9-3 technology. This sale is pure gravy for Saab, basically selling off old technology that would have laid to waste and laying the foundations for what could be a lucrative partnership in China for years to come.

    Secondly, to base your opinions about Saab’s manufacturing on a visit you paid them 16 years ago is a bit beyond reason. Saab recently won a LEAN award in Sweden, which as the name implies, is awarded to manufactuing businesses with the best organisation and efficiency. Now if you visit a McDonalds in Sweden, when you leave you are expected to sort your trash into different categories (food, liquid, recyclables, etc). That’s how organised these people are as a society. For Saab to win a LEAN award in this country is no small statement as to how well they’re organised in 2009 (and have been for some years).

    If Spyker are successful in purchasing Saab, they’ll not just buy the name and the factory, they’ll get the current 9-3 range, the new 9-5 (sedan and wagon) as well as contract for GM to make the 9-4x in Mexico. That’s not a bad way to re-start a brand.

    Having watched and enjoyed quite a few episodes of AAH, I know you and Pete D are protective of Detroit and say that people don’t understand the place, hate on it, etc. Please – if you’re going to cover Saab stuff, try to employ the same diligence that you’d ask of others in talking about Detroit.

  32. dcars Says:

    I don’t think they lost anything on Subaru, but your correct Daewoo, Fiat, GM Europe – Opel and Hummer were all big losers for GM. Too many failures and no one questioning what management is up to on the Board of Directors spells disaster.

  33. HyundaiSmoke Says:

    “Saab as we know it will not exist much longer”

    SWEET!!!!! Another wasteful Baby Boomer make put out of it’s Misery!!!! GM keeps this up they will go the way of British Leyland, LMAO!!!

  34. dcars Says:

    I have no reason to like GM, but alot of people made and hopefully will continue to make, a good living from them. I hope that they can build a good, solid, business again. We use to point to GM with pride.

  35. Nick Stevens Says:

    No doubt I would not drive around in a 60s and 70s car today, even if it were a ROlls Royce Silver Shadow, big and heavy, but it would not have the most elementary safety systems today.

    What I would like to see is today’s cars instead of always trying to increase HP (400 is the new 200!) and performance, they should focus their tech abilities to improve the MPG! Sort if how Toyota did the PRIUS!

  36. Nick Stevens Says:

    Also, if people wanted smaller cars, they can still buy them.

    if the new Accord is too big and heavy for you, go buy a Civic and save $5k. After all, my old Accord coupe 90 was 2,822 lbs, about the same as a new Civic and about the same volume, even if the accord was longer (but 3″ shorter) than the Civic.

    If the Civic is too big for you, you now can buy a Fit and save $3k, the Fit is as big as a 90s civic hatch.

    But people still do not want the smaller models. Typically, 40,000 Accords and 30,000 Civics are sold every month, but less than 10,000 Fits.

    And same story with the Camry-Corolla-Yaris series.

  37. G.A.Branigan Says:

    @ Swade:John reported on what he saw 16 years ago and related that distant impression,that’s all.I have no doubt they are more efficient now.But,having sold only what……93k units last year….world wide? That doesn’t bode well for the brand,whatever the reasons.

    @ HyundiaSmoke:Please don’t hold back…..tell us how you really feel about GM ;}>

  38. Pedro Fernandez Says:

    To the Saab guy: Good for Saab that they won an award, but still, people don’t buy your cars. They lost what ever made them desirable a long time ago. The competition has gotten so much better and your cars have simply not kept up. Pontiac is a better brand and they’re going bye-bye, and it will be missed a lot more than Saab will, at least here in the states

  39. Pedro Fernandez Says:

    I don’t get the anti-American sentiment here, if a company FINALLY realizes that business-as-usual doesn’t cut it anymore and is really making a sincere effort to put out world-class products they should not be penalized for their past mistakes. I remember when Toyotas and Hondas were undesirable rust buckets.

  40. G.A.Branigan Says:

    There is an inordinate amount of anti-american vehicles on here.One of the big reasons I don’t say much here anymore.Same with shows like motorweek etc.All foreign car praise(pretty much) and down on american vehicles (pretty much).

  41. HyundaiSmoke Says:

    Well GM is trying G.A. Branigan, and I will give them the benefit of the Doubt, but their products especially from Buick wont be enough to keep me out of a Hyundai.

    That 2011 Regal (that should have been out 2 years ago) is going to get Killed by the 2011 Sonata in terms of power and fuel economy, and luxury features for the money. Compare both cars, youll see. That Next Gen Elantra will kill the 2011 Astra as well.

    That Aveo Replacement (Viva) is going to be a great product for this company. It will have 47 MPG. The other competitors like the Rio, except for Ford’s Fiesta (that should have been out 2 years ago), will stack up very well to the Viva.

    GM could be the next British Leyland, or the next Hyundai/KIA Renaissance. I dont like GM, but they do serve a need, so we’ll see.