Did GM Screw Saab’s Hybrid?

IMPORTANT: check the bottom of the story to the follow-up to this piece.


Some things are more important than a house-moving hiatus…..

Hybrid badge.jpg

Could this badge be hiding a multitude of sins?

Word from Robert Collin at Aftonbladet this morning that GM may have thwarted Saab’s Hybrid being announced as an even bigger breakthrough than it seemed to be. As it is, the Saab 9-3 Hybrid won rave reviews for being the first hybrid vehicle to potentially return zero fossil fuel emissions.

Aftonbladet are reporting today that what Saab didn’t say about the Hybrid was that it is a plug-in hybrid.

And why didn’t they say it?

Well, if Robert Collin is correct, they were gagged. A translation of the Aftonbladet article, from Tom at iSaab, a Swedish Saab forum:

A couple of days previous to the premiere at the Stockholm Autoshow the orders came from Detroit: Not a word that the car can be charged from the socket! The Saab emblem on the boot, that hides the 220-volt intake, was glued shut. The pressmaterial was withdrawn and had to be rewritten. In Trollhattan they don´t know why, but it might be that GM will show a similar solution on one of its American brands that will be shown at the autoshow in New York later this April.

So why the fuss? Go to Calcars and check out why they’re touting Plug-ins. In short, there’s the mileage benefits, cleaner energy source benefits, lifetime service cost benefits and power storage benefits.

Plug-ins are the current darling of the environmental set and if you’re that way inclined, then being the first car company to produce a good, practical and realistic working prototype would be a major coup. The significance of the Saab Hybrid concept lay in the fact that they did it with an existing model, and to prove that it wasn’t going to be a huge bulky proposition, they did with a convertible!

This sort of clever design and development is a perfect fit for the environmentally responsible Saab brand.

Apparently GM killed it in Stockholm because they want to debut it, possibly on one of their home brands, at the New York Auto Show. If so, then GM’s true commitment to Saab and the realisation of its true growth potential must be questioned, in my opinion.

Saab is the one brand amongst GM’s portfolio with huge growth potential, and a vehicle like this, especially in a truly revolutionary configuration like the plug-in Hybrid, would have been a huge boost to Saab’s profile and in perfect keeping with its previous history of drivetrain leadership. Anyone but me notice how a lot of recent articles on future powertains are mentioning turbocharging?

If this story is accurate, then GM should come out and give credit where credit’s due. If they debut a plug-in hybrid on anything other than a Saab later this week in New York, then it’s shame, GM, Shame.

My thanks to Tom from iSaab.net for the tip-off, links and translation.


UPDATE: There’s a follow-up piece to this story and the title says it all: The Smoking Gun. The original press release was found, with the reference to the plug-in capability.

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  1. Thanks swade for taking the time to post this; wish GM had your committment to the Saab marque.
    Right now though I’ve got a sick feeling in my gut. I don’t trust GM one bit.

  2. Sell the manufacturer to anyone, NOW! I cant stand to see GM take a proverbial dump over my beloved Saab. GM seems to have basically admitted it isnt interested anymore so sell it I tell you – SELL IT!!!

  3. Swade, I posted a link to trollhattansaab on alt.autos.saab and Saabcentral news about this post trying to call more attention to it–hope you don’t mind.
    However, I couldn’t seem to post any message at saabnet.com with “www.trollhattansaab.net” in it;-(
    Coincidence maybe?

  4. Ted, no coincidence there. I’ve been on Scott Paterson’s blacklist since very early days as I linked to UK sites, SaabCentral and SaabScene – a practice he wouldn’t tolerate. I got myself onto the blacker-than-blacklist when I wrote an article here attacking his banning policy.

    So be it.

  5. I hate everything that G.M has done with THE brand.They deserve some plum jam.
    And this is coming from a saab and G.M master tech..
    How can one brand get but fudged so much??

  6. I understand the dislike of GM, as I am just as angry about their relationship to Saab. But I don’t understsand why this has ruined everything that GM has supposedly done for Saab in the past months. Was Saab going to be the first plug-in in all of GMs range?

  7. “Anyone but me notice how a lot of recent articles on future powertains are mentioning turbocharging?”

    That is exactly right. GM should have Saab build on its traditional virtues which is in particular innovative powertrains. The entire group of so called german premium brands are currently developing smaller turbocharged engines to improve fuel economy while preserving output; something Saab has done for decades. When the Americans still called for gaz guzzler V8’s and introduced such ridiculous things as cylinder cut off Saab simply couldn’t convey the message of the beauty their concept. Now, some 20 years later, the other manufacturers are jumping on the same train. If its right what you wrote about presenting the Saab hybrid technology in N.Y. with another GM brand, then GM still has apparantly not understood that Saab should be the leader of the GM pack in terms of innovation, something the other brands could count on. Its not authentic to present such a leading piece of technology as the hybrid on say a Cadillac or Chevrolet. Let Saab be the premium front player with new concepts and then transfer these to the other GM brands. Then the high development costs produced by Saab could be justified and re-badging (9-2, 9-7) could be avoided.

  8. Similar to versatile powerplants… Recent articles on future cars (in the USA) are discussing how the hatchback tide may be turning.

    See: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/09/automobiles/09HATCH.html

    I would agree, given that SUVs are essentially very large inefficient hatchbacks. Americans are now used to having an auto with versatility, now they can get used to a smaller versatile vehicle. Saab was well in advance of this trend (in the USA) until it was stupidly removed in 2003. The 1994-2002 Saab 9-3 was a 2nd generation Saab crossover and GM was too short-sighted to recognize and market it properly. Instead they tried to be another Audi/Lexus/BMW.

    I think GM could afford to make a 3-door and 5-door 9-3 SportCombi pretty quickly. it’s clear to me that innovation will sell in the modern marketplace, Too bad GM squashed it at Saab,

  9. So if I understand this, there was a miscommunication or no communication about what Saab was going to show at the auto show and once parent GM found out they shut it down. How did it get so far that a parent GM did not know or was not told by their division what under R&D? Seems like another interesting story is in there somewhere

  10. Probably GM concluded introducing the technology in another brand would be of more benifit. I can think of them making this decision, without thinking they lost interest in SAAB.

    Agree SAAB should be in front were it comes on clever new enigines, but at this moment a lot is on environment, saving the planet blah blah. Maybe this is bigger.

    ..and Toyota has to be battled.

  11. Well… The story is in Aftonbladet, written by Collins. He is a good journalist, no doubt about it. But, I often wonder if he really has all these sources deep inside Saab and Volvo, or if he just having fun making up stories like this from bits and pieces…

  12. It was always plug-in hybrid for me, I wouldnt make this so huge issue.

    GM didnt hide fusion reactor or something. There has been rechargeable batterys for over 100 years.

    Its well known that plug-in is very sensitive subject in the USA as there are energy problems.

    Well Saab gets double attention now, for free.

  13. Swade, I want to begin thanking you for this great site. I had to say something when I saw your comment on S. Pat. I know his black list, two times he threw me out for puting in a link to a swedish enth. site http://www.stcs.nu that didn´t link back to him. Had a discussion over email about all this and found out that I did not want to say more to him, he is the boss.

    Is this “Aftonbladet” a reliable paper? Do you have some other sources?

    Thanks, Jón Gunnar Kristinsson, icelandic SAAB club.

  14. Wow!! Lots of claws come out when there seems to be a bit of skulduggery!

    To most of you, I agree with the negative vibe that we are getting from GM. Something is amiss and it can’t hold much longer. The shake-up at GM HQ is real — two of my friends that work at Saturn (the plant is only 10 miles from me) have commented on the unexpectedly severe consequences — at least 400 project managers, program managers and engineers were summarily fired last week over a lack of results. 400 doesn’t sound like much, but these people weren’t the rank-and-file — they were in the middle levels of corporate management and development. They are hurting, sure.

    I also agree that Saab’s leadership in technology is sometimes muted for the percieved greater good. Not always a satisfying play. Definitely it defies logic at times. However, there are perfectly legitimate reasons for pulling back on a feature like this….

    1. To enhance the technology prior to introducing it. It amazes me that people will announce an inferior product with fanfare when a competitor has a superior product. Perhaps GM knows something about the competing products that Saab doesn’t, and they were saving Saab from a blunder.

    2. GM wants the GM ‘family’ to benefit from the announcement, not just Saab. A rising tide raises all ships.

    3. Perhaps there were patent issues to investigate. GM’s been burned on this one.

    4. Perhaps GM knows that a competitor is planning a big announcement at the upcoming shows and GM wants to counter with news of their own.

    There are as many reasons as you could care to dream up — so why should we assume the worst? GM’s ownership has been more or less benevolent until now — why would that stop? Certainly, Saab has become less Saaby with the demands of GM ownership and changes seem to come slowly, but don’t go all paranoid just because Saab answers to a higher power.

    And, for the record, I’m NOT a huge fan of GM’s track record, either. I’m not a GM appologist. On the other hand, I recognize that Saab benefits from the GM relationship, too.

    Good and bad aren’t always opposites — they have to coexist in most areas of life.

  15. Jón Gunnar:

    Aftonbladet is the biggest paper in Sweden, although it’s a “evening paper” (lots of stuff about famous people, sport, pleasure…). Collin is a good journalist, and when testing cars he usually seems to write what he really thinks. He is not the “it’s German, it’s expensive, it’s really good at speeds above 120 mph and therefore it’s good”-type, like they are in car magazines like Auto Motor & Sport. He has been in the game for a long time (at least 15 years, I think). As I said earlie…Maybe he has some really good sources at Saab.

    But the again. I agree with eggsngrits. Maybe GM put the lid on and “took it away” from Saab. But Saab has got all the attention for over a month now with Aero-X and hybrid. One has to understand that GM have other brands that need something at a show, and since the next big show is in N.Y. then one of the U.S. brands getting the attention now.

  16. I should emphasise first up, that I have no knowledge that GM will introduce a plug-in at New York on another brand. This is Robert Collin’s speculation in Aftonbladet, which I’ve included in my opinion above.

    What I’m cheesed off about is that whilst Saab have had some time in the sun this last month, they’ve bloody well deserved it and more. If they’ve developed this hybrid system then they should get a chance to debut it and lead the corporation in this field.

    They’re capable and they certainly could do with the bolstering of their brand reputation in the marketplace as an innovator.

    I know GM has every right to take technologies developed under their umbrella and do with them as they please, but if what Aftonbladet are reporting has actually happened, then I think Saab are definitely getting the rough end of the stick.

  17. Here in bizarro-world (US) we get what we dont pay for. Saabusa (hell SaabNA) needs management that knows where its bread is buttered, ie Carl and Jan-Ake sign the checks. And Jay (before I give up on him and other Cadislackers) needs to watch Mr Sinclairs video (elsewhere on this site) and see what a genuine Saab boss was like.
    Get those PHEVs and diesels rollin over here, everywhere ASAP. FWIW the 95 (and 97) should have that V6 option…and ReaXs rearsteer. The 93 never needed the V6. But imagine the 23T.
    As long as theyre burning the furniture…Saab, Opel and yes even Saturn would be formidable.

  18. I was searching Google News and found this article on AutoWeb:

    Quote from the article:

    “To optimise the availability of ‘Zero Mode’, a plug-in-feature is available which allows the battery bank to be connected to a mains electricity supply for additional charging in the garage. This would, for example, allow a driver commuting in heavy traffic to immediately resume in ‘Zero Mode’ the next morning after arriving home the previous evening having used up all its range. A neat socket is located behind the Saab badge on the 9-3 BioPower Hybrid Concept’s trunk lid.”

  19. About Aftonbladet as a source:
    Aftonbladet is your generic tabloid in general, but Robert Collin is NOT crappy. He is one of Europes’s best auto journalist.

    Guess who made Mercedes remake the chassis of A-classe… 😉

  20. I am an PHEV entheusiast that had been unaware of the Saab effort until I saw this commentary. I personally believe that GM wants the PHEV to go away, because Toyota is far ahead of GM in this arena and is rapidly overtaking GM in all auto sales.

    GM, unfortunately is guided by the oil industry. This symbiosis has existed since Standard Oil, GM, and Firestone Tire essentially bought up the major US urban cities street railroad systems to convert them to buses for obvious profit reasons. This same profitable oil, rubber, vehicle combination has GM and big oil looking for any solution other than PHEV hybrids, which are the best quick energy solution.

    PHEV hybrids do not need expensive new infrastructure plants. They can utilize any current engine type, gas or diesel, and their technology is proven. They drastically improve the MPG figures for the user at the expense of the oil companies. These PHEV hybrids will have lower vehicle maintenance costs because brake wear is reduced, transmissions are used more lightly, engines are less stressed. This has been proven by Canadian Taxicab usage.

    The biggest problem – IT WASN’T GM’S patentable idea.

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