Swedish car company Saab, a subsidiary of the American company General Motors, could change its business and go into producing wind power towers and turbines. That is the message from Swedish trade minister Maud Olofsson, after refusing a financial support package to the Swedish car manufacturer, now on the brink of shutdown.
The message from the Swedish government should be considered in light of the country's ambition to make Sweden a greentech export success story, even as its car industry falters. For example, Swedish power company Vattenfall, owned by the Swedish government, is already Europe's largest power supplier from wind power sources since it acquired the Dutch firm Nuon last week.
Greentech exports now represent only 2 percent Sweden's total export business, a low number that the government is trying to increase. The idea that Saab, which also manufacturers airplanes, could transfer its operations into wind power system is not at all unreasonable, claims Swedish industrial economics professor Staffan Laestadius, talking to the Swedish magazine Miljöaktuellt.
"Producing wind power is more realistic for Saab than ever being a profitable car manufacturer again. It is also substantially more desirable for Sweden," he said.
How about Volvo, a subsidiary of America's Ford Motor Company, the other Swedish car company in trouble? The Swedish government's interest in saving the car companies also reflects a desire to avoid layoffs and keep as many jobs as possible in Sweden. Denying Saab a support package or ownership deal, Maud Olofsson, however, opens up the possibility of helping Volvo keep the company alive. Many subco ntractors and jobs are on the line if the company were forced to shut down. But the owner's attitude also counts.
"Volvo's owners, Ford, told us that they will continue to support us and are ready to take full ownership responsibilites. That separates Ford from GM, who is now just leaving Saab behind," Maud Olofsson said to Swedish business weekly Veckans affärer.
Volvo has already started wind-power system investments in Sweden's west coast region. This allows Volvo to avoid car-factory layoffs in the region by switching employees into a wind-power service. The investments are being undertaken through an investor network called Power West, reported Swedish daily Göteborgsposten.
Ford could just be giving the Swedish government guarantees, which raises the question: How important is it for Ford to save Swedish factory jobs in the face of the American car industry's tailspin? Switching to wind power may seem like a good way to prepare for the future.