Do Saab need a “9-3x”

This one might stir up the Saab vs Subaru debate just a little more, a debate for which there seems to be three trains of thought:

    The two companies are unrelated
    Subaru is the new Saab
    Subaru is the Japanese Saab

Some time ago, when the 9-3 was just a twinke in someone’s eye, this was part of the design idea – a crossover type vehicle – back in a time when just a handful of manufacturers were making all-wheel-drive vehicles based on cars instead of trucks.

As you can see, Saab had a fully planned AWD model ready way back then. We were all told that Epsilon couldn’t handle all-wheel-drive (bollocks) and that there wasn’t a model like this in the making (bollocks). The word that’s come through to me from people around at the time is that some Putz figured that a car-based AWD Saab vehicle was too small for the American market, and with costs spiralling out of control already over the development of the 9-3 the vehicle was shelved.

Fast forward a few years and the landscape has definitely changed.

‘Crossover’ vehicles are fast approaching the mainstream. Costs are much more controlled at Saab and they’re making solid contributions to GM’s efforts in turbocharging, E85 and now, all wheel drive. AWD itself has become XWD and Saab are the first to use it.

And so the plans may well come out of their dusty cupboard and become a reality.

When the new MY2008 9-3 was first discovered as being a future reality back in late 2006, there were rumblings shortly thereafter that the 9-3 crossover vehicle may well be re-born with it. All the fuss has been over the Black Turbo special edition and the rumblings have gone quiet, but there hasn’t been anything to say it’s not coming.

But if it does, one has to ask whether or not it will find a market.

The 9-3 SportCombi, whilst being possibly the best car in Saab’s current lineup (MHO) is short on one thing – rear legroom. As most of these crossover vehicles are bought by people with a much more active lifestyle than mine, one often shared with friends who are of a common mind, will it suffice? Will it fit a family on those weekend hiking trips?

And more than those, will there be a need for it with the impending arrival of the supposedly very good Saab 9-4x?

Everything that we’ve heard says that the 9-4x is due in 2008 as a 2009 model. What’s more, those who have seen it – and that’s likely more than you think at this stage – say that it’s a great looking vehicle. Jan-Ake Jonsson himself recently described it to some European press types as one of the best Saabs he’s ever seen. I’ve got no doubt that Saab’s engineering folks will make it as functional as it is good looking, too.

If a 9-3 crossover vehicle is coming, then it’s likely to be coming soon. With just a year or so between now and the 9-4x, is there a need for it?

I’m all for new models and developments in the Saab lineup and it looks like 2008 is going to be a busy year already. There will be the arrival of XWD in the 9-3 range along with the Black Turbo (however they choose to name it). Solid information indicates that the 9-4x will be coming that year as well. Three significant releases in the course of one year? For Saab?

Throw a “9-3x” into that mix and it’s almost intoxicating.

Whilst the decision to cancel the 9-3 crossover way-back-when was a boneheaded move that denied Saab a player in a growing segment, today represents a different commercial reality. And it’s one in which Saab will soon have a crossover vehicle that’s more in line with what people tend to expect. Is this smaller one worthwhile in 2008?

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18 Comments

  1. It will sell. Period. Some people just want a more rugged look. It’s a cheap way to sell more and it’s strange that Saab (from Sweden with all the bad and small roads) hasn’t done it yet.

  2. I am not sure SAAB needs to spend money on a 9-3x style wagon when the SUV like 9-4x crossover is coming. Use the money on the XWD Black Turbo SC instead!
    With exception to Subaru Outbacks, crossover wagons just do not sell over here in the US. I do not have the numbers to back me up, but just looking around on my way to work in Dallas I see far more more XC90’s than XC70’s and I can not remember ever seeing an Audi AllRoad on the road. Ford Freestyle/Taurus X anyone? Hum… Does anyone else even make them besides Audi, Ovlov, Ford and Subaru???

  3. Sell it in America. The Volvo Cross Country sells like hottcakes.

    America is the market for the sport utility wagon.

  4. Sounds like a too little too late plan. Had Saab jumped in that market 5-6 years ago perhaps it would have been a different story, but right now I think they should concentrate on updating and expanding their product range. They should focus on the 9-4X, the new 9-5 and the 9-1 – it’s the compact market where they are going to have a serious impact.

  5. While I agree partly, consider it nearly a freebie, a boost in sales. The only investment to be made seems that it would be in suspension packages to raise it to ute level, and more rugged tyres rather than the soft performance based on the current range (maybe $5k more?). Saab need not spend the time/money on developing the model itself, or the XWD for that matter since it exists in the MY08 already.

    Verdict: Jack it up, pass the price on the tag, and sell it!

  6. I’m kind of conflicted on the issue. On one hand it would probably not cost a whole heck of a lot more to make the 9-3 Sport Combi into a Ovlov XC/AUDI Allroad/Subaru Forrester competitor (it could be sold at a premium and bring-in quite a large profit margin), and on the other hand all the points you mention.

    It’d make more sense to make a version of the 9-5 wagon with these attributes (which would bring it in-line with Ovlov (the XC70 being based on the large V70 wagon) and AUDI (the Allroad being based on the large A6 Avant wagon), but a smaller model like the 9-3 might not be conducive to this as you mention.

    I think that because the 9-4X is to be a “crossover” (and replacing SAAB’s true SUV, the 9-7X) there’s no need for SAAB to make even more crossovers. If you want a SAAB XC/Allroad/Forrester competitor you can buy a 9-4X next year. A 9-3X would only take potential sales away from that model. I know Ovlov has the XC70 and XC90, but I don’t think those compete with each-other as much as a 9-3X and 9-4X would due to the fact that the XC90 is a true SUV whereas the XC70 is a large station wagon.

  7. Gripen, I agree.

    I think the key is to not make it a separate model. Maybe make the ute a “Trail Package” or “Off Road Package” or “Gripen Package”, call it what you want. But make it an option, like the Cold Weather Package or Automatic Transmission is.

    I don’t want to be the one to draw the comparison, but here goes. For years, Subaru offered the Impreza in an “Outback Sport” package. It’s still an Impreza, just up’d. It’s certainly not what the Outback is, since that is a whole different model, but it is for people that want a more sporty ute – or a more rugged rally car.

    So, have the SportCombi, the Sedan, and the ‘Vert. Have the option to add the “Rugged Stuff Package” that adds firm tyres and suspension kit and maybe, perish the tought, plastic fenders! *shiver*

    This most likely won’t take away sales from the 9-4x. As Swade mentioned, the 9-3 range has minimal rear legroom. If the consumer wants an SUV-ish ute, they will still buy the 9-4x with more room.

    Grippen, good mention on the XC70 vs XC90. The USA website lists the starting prices at $36,420 and $36,135 respectively. I imagine the 9-4x, being smaller than the 9-7x, will be priced similar or cheaper. Thus being about $34k-$37k. The Saab SportCombi starting price is $28,240 (MY07). Make the option package $4k-$5k, and we are in the ballpark to have similar pricing as the Ovlov’s.

    Just my 0.02 Euro’s worth.

  8. I agree with Gripen. But I believe the 9-4X won’t even be ready for sale until late ’08 (as an MY ’09), is that right ?

  9. SaabKen: that’s what Swade reported. But by the time they’re able to bring a “9-3X” to market it’d be closer to the 9-4X intro date anyway.

    Say they were to release a 9-3X at the same time as the Black Turbo, as a MY2008.5. That’s only a half year before the 9-4X is released anyway.

    And as for Nevitz’s well-thought-out post above, the only thing I’d want to point out when you’re comparing the price difference between the XC70 and XC90 is these two vehicles are a lot closer in size than a 9-3X and 9-4X would be, I think. Maybe if we were comparing a 9-5X and the 9-4X this would be a closer comparison.

    Like someone else said, this (9-3X) would have been a great idea four years ago as a stopgap measure until the 9-4X arrives, but now it just doesn’t seem to make sense.

    However, I do think that there might be a market for a higher-ground-clearance ruggedized version on the next-gen 9-5 wagon (which I believe they’re talking about being AWD as standard anyway, right?).

  10. Just being curious, I happened to ask this from GM Finland few days ago; if there will be XWD diesel, or two liter variants and more, is there going to be “AllRoad” version with higher ground clearance, rugged bumpers and probably some shields under the engine.

    The answer (of course, why´d they tell me all the “secrets”) was short and simple: No. At the moment there is no plan to use XWD on any other models and no XC version.

    uhhuh..

    Skoda Octavia Scout Diesel is now selling more they can produce in Europe, there´s only few suitable models available with XC pack with diesel engine. But it seems that Saab is not going to catch that train… Unfortunately.

    Compare the price to Skoda, Subaru, ovloV, Audi Saab should´ve been very competitive with the price of 9-3SC+XWD+TTiD!!

    At least I´d buy one ;-P

  11. Methinks Saab needs to do loads to distinguish it from the new gen Saturn Vue/Opel Whatever-its-called in order to be a success. We all know if it isas cool as people in Trollhattan say it is, it needs to be different! Which will be hard since it is being built in Mexico alongside the Vue and others.

    Is it me, or does the new Honda CRV and Saturn Vue resemble each other? (Mebbe not a dead ringer, but the arch lines just seem too similar.)

  12. I feel that expanding the model range is a bad idea for saab right now. Especially with regards to the 9-4x, although I agree that the presence of that model will make a 9-3 ute pretty redundant. I wish saab would just focus on the 9-3 and 9-5. I guess I am in the minority though, being significantly disappointed with both models right now.

    Hey, did anyone notice the grilles on the new 2008 Subarus? Kind of looks like the Saab wing don’t ya think? And remember the Tribeca and saab95 similarities? I am almost beginning to think this is getting bizarre.

  13. MarkoA: I really wouldn’t mind buying a vehicle made in Mexico. Granted the quality would be expected to match the price tag.

    At least it will practically guarantee a decent profit margin and isn’t as affected by exchange rate issues like the vehicles to be made in Germany.

    From what I’ve gathered so far the 9-4X is slated to be less of an “SUV” than the 9-7X. It’s being called a “crossover”, which admittedly can mean a lot of things.

  14. I live in the US, and if I hadn’t realized just how amazing Saab engineering is, I would have gone for a Subaru Forrester. As it stands now, if Saab came out with the 9-3x, I’d pinch pennies ’til I could get one. However, Subary has the market cornered here, and it’d be very tough for Saab to break in at this point. I think that Saab should just stick with putting as much as they can into the 9-4x, 9-5, and 9-1, capitalizing on existing markets, and leading into the comparatively new one of compacts (in America, at least).

  15. I’d wait until the 9-5 revision, and do an XWD “Alpine edition” (or whatever) as a competitor to the Ovlov Cross Country and Audi Allroad.

    And maybe a “Timberline” edition of the 9-4x to compete with the Forester.

    But a separate 9-3x? No. No room in the market or the product line for it.

    (What the Swedish word for “mountain”? Maybe we can call it that)

  16. Erek,
    Nice catch on the Subie grills! Awful suspicious: GM owns 20% of Subaru, only partners for 1 platform for Saab (9-2x) with talks of using another for a Saab (9-6x), Fuji Heavy and GM have a disagreement, unravel the “partnership”, and now Subie’s have more aggressive “Saab’d-up” styling!

    Anyone else notice? The first thing Subaru does after the disband is send a new Tribeca and WRX to Geneva with more sex- err, I mean curb appeal!

    We all can agree that the change was a good move, that Tribeca Gen1 was OBNOXIOUS! And that even leaked over to the beak on the Impreza’s.

    So now, Subaru is trying to out-Saab Saab.

    When the time comes, I’d like to see the sales over/under from MY07 to the MY08 de-beaking on the Tribeca vs. MY07 to MY08 Saab 9-3 sales figures. It’d be a face-off to see who got the better face-lift!

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