This whole new Sonett thing

I’ve moved this back to the top slot for a couple of reasons:

a) There’s hardly anything else to write about at the moment without really tearing myself away for a presentation I have to do on Friday.

b) The Road and Track story about the ‘new Sonett’ is appearing on sites and forums all over the web and is being taken as gospel without any critical thinking or history being applied.

This was first published here on June 28, 2006.

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There’s been a bit of talk going on in various publications about a possible new Sonett, based loosely (or not so loosely) on the Aero-X.

Saabscene have a thread going on, which includes a snippet from the August issue of Road & Track (the August issue is out already? in June?):

Saab’s jet-inspired sports car concept – the Aero X (see Ampersand, May 2006) – has reportedly been cleared for production, according to our sources. The rear- or all-wheel drive Audi TT rival (possibly called the Sonett) will go on sale in two years, as a 2-seat convertible first and later as a 2+2 coupe.

As you can see from the image, there is a lot of Aero X in the Sonett, despite replacing the concept’s canopy-style roof with a power folding soft-top. The Sonett will feature a wraparound windscreen, an aerodynamic front end, flared wheel arches, and a chopped tail. The coupe’s rear seats will be suitable for short trips or extra luggage space.

If the Sonett reminds a bit of the Saturn Sky, that’s because it’s based on GM’s Kappa platform, which currently serves the Sky, Pontiac Solstice and Opel [Vauxhall for you folks] GT convertibles. The base engine will be a 2.0-liter turbo four with about 200 bhp, with Saab’s 250-bhp 2.8-liter turbo V-6 with awd the top choice. Transmission options include a 6-speed manual and a VW/Audi DSG-style twin-clutch system.

Saab’s engineers are expected to tune the handling of the Sonett to proper sports-car levels, with sharp steering and high handling limits from the chassis.

Mike Monticello

This comes on top of Auto Motor and Sport also claiming a roadster/coupe model is in the pipeline. They date the release as coming in 2008 AND they give us an artist’s impression:

Aero-X roadster.jpg

So, we have one speculative picture and two speculative reports. Time to sort the wheat from the chaff, based on what we’ve heard before and what we know about GM and it’s resources.

Point No. 1.
The Road and Track report (above) states that the new car will be built on the Kappa platform and will be available with AWD available in the premium model.

I have two issues with this.

First up, Kappa is a RWD platform. I haven’t read anywhere that it’s incapable of accepting AWD, but it’s a fairly compact platform from what I can tell. I’m not an engineer or anything, but AWD requires a certain amount of space for fitmet of the various component parts. Regardless of the space issue, Kappa has been presented as a RWD-only platform thus far.

Secondly, back in late 2005, a few months prior to the Aero-X release, there was a lot of speculation as to the possibility of a Kappa-based roadster for Saab. This was in the wake of the Pontiac Solstice coming online etc etc. In November 2005, Jay Spenchian was the subject of an article at Edmunds. The article stated the following….

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.

Note: not on Kappa. Not necessarily dead all together, just not on Kappa.

A little later on we learned more about the fact that there may be a Sonett inspired car at Geneva. The car that turned out to be the Aero-X. What also surfaced at this time was the following:

….insiders say Saab now expects to tap German sibling Opel for a front-wheel-drive platform — specifically, the sporting chassis that underpins the new Astra OPC coupe that was revealed earlier this year at the Geneva show.

The Saab sportster, which reportedly was developed by former design boss Michael Mauer before he left to head Porsche’s design department, will likely be unveiled next spring at the 2006 Geneva show.

The Saab two-seater may share Opel’s turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder, which makes 240 horsepower, or it may accommodate one of the Swedish firm’s turbocharged V6 engines. A six-speed manual gearbox will be standard.

It’s hard to know what parts of this we can take and use. Mauer didn’t design the Aero-X, for example. But if the rest is accurate, then it’s possible that we’re looking towards the Delta platform that underpins the Astra OPC. A fine looking liitle thing if you’re that way inclined.

But again we may have platform/AWD problems as Delta’s a compact FWD platform.

I have a feeling that the answer may even lie in Epsilon. See Point 3 below.

Point No 2
The Auto Motor and Sport article raised the possibility of the following model developments:

– Saab 9-4X (spring 2007)
– Saab 9-5 (autumn 2007)
– roadster/coupé with Aero-X heritage (2008)
– Saab 9-1 (2008)
– Saab 9-3 (2009)

I don’t want to be a wet blanket here, but that’s a heck of a lot more model development than has ever been mentioned before in relation to Saab. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but I tend to think it’s highly improbable.

GM head honchos have previously stated that the priorities for Saab are the 9-4x and then possibly the smaller, more entry level 9-1. Obviously the redevelopment of the core 9-5 and 9-3 are priorities too.

Is GM Europe really going to resource Saab to the point of doing all four of these (re)developments and develop a brand new niche roadster/coupe as well? it’s not just the money, but also the time factor too. Model development takes plenty of time and with all the resources that went into recent concepts, I can’t see more than the two brand new models we’ve already been told are priorities.

I’m told, quite reliably, that we can look forward to no new concepts at the Paris Auto Show later this year because of the time taken up with the Aero-X and Hybrid Convertible over the preceeding 12 to 18 months. These things take resources, and as we all know (except children and the Hiltons) – resources are finite.

Point No. 3
I tend to think that the money’s going to go into the primary four mentioned above as priorities, with the 9-3 Convertible perhaps getting a retractable hardtop. The Epsilon II platform is going to be AWD capable and the Aero-X styling is supposed to make it’s way into the coming Saab model range. It already fits a V6 with no problems and the adaptation of the convertible into a sportier model would then kill two birds with one stone.

I just can’t see GM spending the money, nor having the time to undertake such a comprehensive model program for a player as small as Saab.

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These are just my thoughts on the whole recent new Sonett thing, but they’re based on what we’ve seen and heard from GM in recent months. If it means we can drive a Sonett around in the near future then I’ll be quite pleased to be proved wrong.

It’s certainly going to be interesting to see what develops.

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UPDATE: For those of you who don’t read comments….

This from commenter John Patrick, whom I don’t know, but whose contribution is certainly quite interesting and tends to confirm that the aforementioned magazines are indulging in some sensationalism and guesswork:

As someone in the biz..and work with someone who was very close to the deciders..i can say without hesitation that there is NO Sonnett or convert in the pipeline at all especially after the Kappa was cancelled..your timeline is fairly close on the 9-4. but 9-5 will be calendar year 08. The 08 9-3 will have the Aero X inspired front end and tailight design with full width design almost exactly like concept, plus the C pillar will have a “floating buttress” design as well. Plus coming sooner is the AWD version of the Combi 9-3. Then 9-4X – then new 9-5 and if everything goes as planned a redone 9-3. The earliest the 9-2 replacement would be 2010 and even that is questionable. But sadly no Sonnett in the plans or works..of course there have been rumors.but sadly thats all it is. The Kappa platform was cancelled because the dimensions and the structure would not be capable to accept all of the engineering changes Saab wanted. If they had proceeded the car would have had a 9 gallon fuel tank and that is only one of many shortcomings of the platform. I just wanted to not get peoples hopes up too high when a Sonnett does not appear anytime soon.

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8 Comments

  1. Geeze swade, do you have a photographic memory or what? It would have taken me days to put all that info and insights together, and I would have still got it mostly wrong.

    Thanks for the effort.

  2. All I can say is thank God that Saab isn’t releasing anything based on the Solstice/Sky. I went to the Sky unveiling (at my local Saab/Saturn dealer), and that car is just nasty. It is held together by bailing wire (check-out the top mechanism) and cheap pressed-steel brackets that attach to other cheap pressed-steel brackets.

    It’s as if the body and the chassis didn’t match-up and the engineers spent a late night with metal snips and some scrap sheet metal trying to get it to work. They didn’t even bother to roll the edges, so the whole car is one giant serrated knife waiting to cut you.

    On top of everything, the car doesn’t have any trunk space. You would think it was built 15 years before the Miata and not the other way around.

    I seriously doubt that the Solstice and Sky will be around in three years. More likely they will have one good sales year and then tank and be quietly discontinued.

  3. Well done, Swade, well done.

    I think that the Kappa platform(s) could be modified for all wheel drive with some effort; Saab’s FWD setup would work as a starting point for sure. However, you are right in pointing out that a specialty vehicle with high development costs isn’t what Saab will go for at the moment. It simply makes no sense for an AWD Kappa for any GM division at the moment, much less Saab.

    If AWD is still on the plate for the 9-3 and/or 9-5, it would make much more sense for a Sonett built on either of those platforms instead of the Kappa.

    Hmmm… a Sonett based on a shortened 9-5 platform would have its pluses…

  4. As someone in the biz..and work with someone who was very close to the deciders..i can say without hesitation that there is NO Sonnett or convert in the pipeline at all especially after the Kappa was cancelled..your timeline is fairly close on the 9-4. but 9-5 will be calendar year 08. The 08 9-3 will have the Aero X inspired front end and tailight design with full width design almost exactly like concept, plus the C pillar will have a “floating buttress” design as well. Plus coming sooner is the AWD version of the Combi 9-3. Then 9-4X – then new 9-5 and if everything goes as planned a redone 9-3. The earliest the 9-2 replacement would be 2010 and even that is questionable. But sadly no Sonnett in the plans or works..of course there have been rumors.but sadly thats all it is. The Kappa platform was cancelled because the dimensions and the structure would not be capable to accept all of the engineering changes Saab wanted. If they had proceeded the car would have had a 9 gallon fuel tank and that is only one of many shortcomings of the platform. I just wanted to not get peoples hopes up too high when a Sonnett does not appear anytime soon. (

  5. For those who dare dreaming… The Aero-X was so well received worldwide, I would not be entirely surprised if GM did allocate the necessary money and resources for a new Aero-X-inspired Sonett to hit the dealerships in the coming years. After all, if GM’s goal is to make Saab a true premium brand in the eyes of the general population then a sleek sports coupe would definitely help.

  6. JP: Thanks for the ‘insider’ viewpoint. A sanity check is need for this bunch, that’s for sure.

    After a recent renewal of my interest in Martin Roth’s converted Sonett (http://www.martin-roth.com), why don’t we all chip in and get Martin to crank out a few more of those turbocharged 2.0 liter Sonett III’s? I’d be interested.

  7. It’s been mentioned many a time that we cannot wait for an Aero-X inspired roadster. But anything Saab, based on Kappa in a ‘no go’. GM / Saab have even openly confirmed the fact yet auto magazines still insist on talking about a Saturn re-badge.

    With the Great Britain being Saab’s second largest market, all Saab’s in Europe must accommodate RHD and this I feel is a fundamental reason why Kappa would not be used.

    The follow exert taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GM_Kappa_Platform, not only states that Kappa is LHD only but also goes on further to explain that Holden had tried to combine the 2.8V6 engine but failed. (mainly because this is not Ecotec Family II)
    It has been stated by GM that the platform has only been designed to accommodate a single engine – the Ecotec Family II. It has also been stated by GM representatives that this platform was only designed to be “left-hand drive”. However, there are aftermarket tuners that have already accomplished engine transplants in Solstices, albeit the engine swaps are definitely not “bolt and go”.
    So far only the Ecotec 2.4L I-4 (LE5) and Ecotec 2.0L I-4 (LNF) have been used. Potentially any Family II engine could be used see. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GM_Ecotec_engine#Saab

    What this means is if ‘auto-mags’ do just a little bit of homework they would know not to write such drivel.

    DELTA II….
    A few German magazines have written that OPEL are not ruling out AWD for Delta II. And they also want to house the 2.8V6 in the future Astra to compete with the Golf V6.
    So really if we are to see a Saab roadster to be of equal size to the Audi TT then Delta is the platform to use.

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