Opening Up New Horizons
The Saab Aero X concept is a dynamic, two-seater sports coupé that showcases two core brand elements: Saab’s aviation heritage and its Scandinavian roots. Here designers Anthony Lo, Alex Daniel and Erik Rokke, who conceived this study at design operations in Sweden, explain its significance.
The muscular shape of the Saab Aero X clearly signals its role as a high performance driver’s car, while its looks and visual appeal show this is a design that could only come from Saab. With innovative features typical of the brand and thrust from a 400 bhp, twin-turbo BioPower engine, it opens up new horizons for Saab’s development.
"This car has given us the opportunity to push out the boundaries of Saab design, to explore new directions without any constraint," explains Anthony Lo, GME’s Director of Advanced Design. "It represents our vision of what a high performance car from Saab could look like. In making such a strong statement, it is probably the most self-expressive, emotional design Saab has ever produced.
"We have focused on harnessing the visual potential of Saab’s aviation roots, as well as introducing design elements in lighting and instrumentation that have been inspired by our Scandinavian experience."
The car’s most striking visual feature – the front-opening glass canopy – combines two themes, aviation and Saab design tradition. While parallels with jet aircraft are obvious, the canopy also ‘stretches’ a more conventional Saab signature, the wrap-around windshield.
The first Saab 99/900 models introduced this feature, bending the glass screen round at its front corners to meet the A-pillars. The ‘cockpit’ look is now taken to its extreme on the Aero X, with the A-pillars eliminated altogether. By contrasting dark, tinted glazing with the pearlescent white of the show car’s bodywork, the extended wrap-around screen is emphasized even further. The role of this feature as a key Saab ‘identifier’ is also underlined by the familiar curvature of the top of the screen, where it meets roof section, which echoes the ‘peaked cap’ look of previous Saabs.
"The canopy concept takes the cockpit look to a new level," explains Alex Daniel, principle designer of the exterior. "It makes a very bold graphic around the car’s cabin but it is more than a styling feature. It improves all-round vision for the driver and also makes getting in and out of such a low car rather easier. We remained consistent with Saab and Swedish design principles in giving functionality to this form."
The purity of the exterior design is reflected by the clean surfaces, notable for an absence of ‘furniture’ such as door handles, rubbing strips or even spoilers. "To maintain the analogy of an aircraft fuselage, the lines had to be kept stretched and smooth flowing, without attracting the eye to any particular point," adds Daniel.
"We wanted to represent the brand’s aviation roots in an intelligent way, without using showy gimmicks, which would not be the Saab way." The aircraft references are there, of course, but presented in a subtle fashion: the deep, front air intake ducts, the ‘turbofan’ design of the alloy wheels and the further evolution of the front grille with its aircraft-like central motif.
An innovative use of glass with illumination by LED (light emitting diode) is a recurring theme, both outside and inside the Aero X. "Apart from visualizing the brand’s links with aviation, this is the other main theme of the car," explains Erik Rokke, principle designer of the interior.
"The glass industry and the manufacturing of precision instruments is very strong in southern Sweden where we are based. We have seen how glass surfaces are treated to give various optical effects, how light is used with glass and how instrument displays possess a very clear, precise imagery. It was very natural for us to use this as an inspiration on the Aero X," adds Rokke.
Inside, the Aero X continues a Saab tradition in refining the man/machine interface to clearly and safely present driver information. In a development of the Night Panel feature on current Saab cars, the entire front fascia and central console display is now a clear zone with layered, acrylic surfaces used to display selected information.
Techniques in sandblasting, polishing and laser-etching from the Swedish glass industry are combined with subtle LED back and side lighting to produce striking ‘3-D’ imagery. Green illumination, another Saab tradition based on aviation practice, is retained for optimum clarity.
The design team has also fully exploited the advantages of LEDs – compactness, long life and fast response – in both the front and rear light detailing.
The headlamps incorporate single LEDs for full and dipped beam, previewing a development likely on production cars of the near future. These are located behind projector lenses, the details of which are highlighted in daytime running by green downlighting from small LEDs mounted in the top of the headlamp unit.
At the rear, there are no obvious tail-lights at all. Here, a slim, opaque white bar, resembling the body color, runs across the back of the car. It accommodates LEDs for all rear light functions and when a bulb illuminates its glow is diffused, disguising the pinpoint light source.
In character and performance, the Aero X is the most driver-focused design yet to come from Saab and Anthony Lo views it an important step in helping to define future products for the brand.
"The future is about looking back, as well as forward, so we can interpret the special qualities that go to make up what a brand stands for," says Lo. "However, in giving products a clear identity, we should not feel restricted by previous design conventions and the Aero X explores new ways of expressing what Saab stands for.
"In showing how a focused, high performance sports car from Saab could look, we have been able to introduce a more self-expressive, more assertive design language, tipping the balance away from understatement.
"The brand’s roots in aviation and its rich Swedish heritage are an important part of what makes a Saab a Saab and the Aero X shows how these influences can be presented in a clear and exciting way."