Saab’s philosophy change

Saab’s philosophy change probably happened many years ago, but as with all slow-moving changes, there are benchmark years where the change is crystallised in a decision or an event.

If you were a car buyer in Sweden 40 years ago, it was highly likely that you’d be buying either a Volvo or a Saab. Saab’s rally success in the early 1960’s, the Monte Carlo rally success in particular, set Saab up as the sporting choice, while Volvo was a more conservative family choice. The little company from Trollhattan had set itself up as a giant-slayer and had the support and fierce loyalty of a relatively large portion of the local population.

That differentiation continued with the introduction of the turbocharged models in the 1970’s, though Saab had expanded its range and its turbocharged models were now midsize family cars as well. You could have your cake and eat it too!

Fast forward to the mid-00’s and we may be in the midst of one of those watershed periods, where Saab’s identity is once again being forged anew, but for a different generation. We still have turbocharging in place, but there have been several changes over the last few years that have begun shaping the model line for years to come, and news recently of more changes that will define the Saab marque for some time.

An article appearing at Edmunds Inside Line over the weekend may prove to be the final stroke in process that paints Saab in a practical, rather than sporting light.

Jay Spenchian has revealed to Edmunds that a Saab variant from the Kappa platform that underpins the Pontiac Solstice, a possibility that had been received with great enthusiasm, is no longer part of the future plan for Saab.

The next Saab concept will be a 300-horsepower 9-5 BioPower sedan that will be powered by a 2.3-liter turbo engine and run on ethanol. It will be shown at the Los Angeles auto show and the Detroit auto show in January. Saab introduced a version of the 9-5 BioPower this year in Sweden and Germany.

Spenchian said the automaker is using the new concept to test consumer reaction. “We could offer it within the next year and a half in the U.S.,” he said.

Spenchian said there are no “concrete plans” for a replacement for the 9-2X, which is scheduled to be in production only through the 2007 model year. Saab officials said the company has plans for a crossover vehicle but would not give any specific details.

The possibility of a Kappa based ‘Sonett’ had tongues wagging in anticipation. The Sonett is one of Saab’s most revered historical models and if the feedback I’ve read is to be believed, then a return to such a concept would have been exceptionally well received.

The idea of a Saab-developed 9-2x replacement is also a good one that appears to be in jeapoardy. This was rumoured to be a ‘spiritual successor’ to the Saab 900 of the 1980’s. A classic vehicle that combined sporty performance, passenger comfort and load-carrying practicality.

Instead, the ‘Sonett’ has been canned, the 9-2x appears to be on shaky ground and any future model-expansion plans seem to lie purely within the realm of crossover vehicles. Perhaps Saab will retain its heritage in terms of squeezing more out of less. Turbocharging will continue to provide practical performance and cargo space will still remain as a practical priority. The wider introduction of Saab’s Biopower technology continues Saab’s reputation for innovation and progressive vehicle development. Safety has always been, and should remain, a priority.

But it seems that Saab’s much too brief sporting history has been pushed to a much lower tier. By my reckoning, that’s a sad development.

And as a side note to Jay: it’s just my opinion, but the passing off of a car that’s already available in Europe as a ‘concept car’ for the US is a rather cynical move that treats your US customers with less respect than they deserve. Bring the Biopower to the US, by all means. But when people hear about a concept car, it usually evokes images of new design directions that are currently unavailable.

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3 Comments

  1. I agree wholeheartedly with this whole opinion, but especially with the last thought. I’m hardly excited about the possibility of purchasing a car that can run off a fuel unavailable where I drive.

    The only SAAB I was excited about on the drawing board was the Sonett.

    I don’t anticipate ever buying a SAAB newer than the 2002 model year.

  2. Unlike 1985 Gripen I am probably the new target market for GM/Saab. I have no interest in a revived Sonnett, I need a car that is fun to drive, has a good deal of horsepower, safe and roomy for my family and a lot of power under the hood (okay only one of those is NEEDED, but I won’t buy a car without the others).

    The 9-5 and future crossovers are more important to me, because those are the cars I am most likely to buy.

    If Saab is not going to create a new Sonnett they need to be more active in the various racing circuits. We need more Saab cars out there — I need to know people aside from me think Saab is fast ;).

  3. “You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them.By the time you get it built, they’ll want something else”

    Steve Jobs

    Earth to GM! Hello! It works. It runs on gas and ethanol. It gives customers more bang for the bucks. You think your customers don’t wanna buy it because it’s environmentally friendly, give them more Hp and can run on gas _and_ ethanol? Just start selling it. Be _the_ car company that is all environmentally friendly.

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