Saab has joined the EV fray with a lineup of battery-powered wagons set to go into testing mode in early 2011 before a production model hits the road around 2015.

Back from the brink of death, Saab has unveiled its first new product since the Spyker takeover: The Saab 9-3 ePower, an electric Saab 9-3 SportCombi wagon developed in conjunction with Boston Power, Electroengine, Innovatum and Power Circle.

Saab says that 70 9-3 ePowers will be made available early next year in Sweden as part of a test fleet before the automaker offers a regular production EV. The company has reportedly set a 2015 on-sale date for a battery-powered model, which would place it among the first luxury or near-luxury brands to offer an EV.

The 9-3 ePower features a 184-horsepower electric motor that motivates the front wheels through a single-speed Electroengine-developed transmission. Saab's only non-turbocharged offering still manages to hit 62 mph in 8.5 seconds before topping out at 93 miles per hour. Saab says the car will have a 125-mile range.

Saab says the car uses a 35.5 kWh lithium-ion battery pack designed by Boston Power mounted primarily where the gasoline-engined 9-3 SportCombi's exhaust system and fuel tank would sit. The automaker says that the battery pack is light enough to not offset weight distribution enough to affect the car's handling characteristics. Naturally, the car uses electro-hydraulic steering and the air conditioning is run from a separate compressor powered by the battery pack. Another 12-volt battery back runs the car's lighting and interior accessories.

Given Saab's Nordic home, it should come as no surprise that the car has been engineered to operate at -30 degrees Celsius (-22 Fahrenheit) full 10 degrees Celsius below any other battery pack currently on the market.

The automaker did not release details on the battery's charging time.

Don't look for the 9-3 ePower to be offered directly to consumers; a production EV is still several years out and will likely be based on the next-generation 9-3.

"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," said Mats Fägerhag, Executive Director, Vehicle Engineering at Saab, in a statement released by the automaker.

"This includes engine rightsizing, which exploits Saab expertise in turbocharging, as well as the use of alternative fuel, such as bio-ethanol through Saab BioPower technology."

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