Gripen on Saab stuff…..

Very short on time here, so no long intro.

Gripen’s second post on his gravy train trip across the USA courtesy of Saab. I should have it so good!


I can get used to this SAAB media junket. You might remember in February I was a guest of SAAB USA representing in San Diego at the 60th Anniversary media event and the accommodations were top-notch. I think SAAB may have outdone themselves this time with a dinner at the House of Sweden at the Swedish Embassy in Washington D.C. and hotel accommodations at the Ritz-Carlton Georgetown. SAAB USA even arranged for a flyover of the President of the United States as on a couple of occasions we were flown-over by the President’s helicopter “Marine One” taking off from the White House, which is not far away from the House of Sweden.

I won’t bore you with the details of what was served for dinner, but I will simply state that it was delicious. What you really come to this ‘blog for is SAAB material, and there are a few tidbits I can offer, nothing really earth-shattering. So far I haven’t been able to get either Mr. Vester or Mr. Shannon to slip-up and give away any secrets. At one point during dinner Mr. Knut Simonsson, Global Brand and Marketing head of SAAB Global made a speech and in it I noticed two interesting (though not really previously unknown) mentions: he mentioned that the Trollhattan plant has secured production (I’m assuming he’s referring to the Astra(?) platform they’ll be producing there) and he mentioned that last year saw two important technologies hinting at SAAB’s future: the Aero-X and the BioPower 9-3 Hybrid Convertible.

The hybrid mention particularly stuck-out to me and after dinner I asked if hybrids are still on SAAB’s “radar” because it seemed to me after the debut of the hybrid in Stockholm at the International Auto Show we never heard anything else about it. I wondered openly if hybrids had been abandoned by SAAB. I’m told that hybrid is definitely still being developed and that there is likely a place for it in the future, but SAAB is trying to focus on one technology to be known-for as to not have confusion in the marketplace and that one focus is BioPower. I was given the example of how years ago SAAB was extolling the virtues of the hatchback but then when they came out with the 9000 CD (the notchback variant) people were confused. SAAB really wants to focus on being known as the ethanol specialists.

I tried to get more information on the 9-1 to no avail. Either they don’t know anything about it or they’re keeping tight-lipped on the matter.

Also after dinner over drinks at the bar in our hotel (Fahrenheit at the Ritz-Carlton Georgetown) I asked Steve Shannon why if SAAB has BioPower cars already for sale in Sweden and elsewhere we are being told that we won’t have them in the States until 2009? Mr. Vester pointed-out that “we’re already in 2008”, which is something I had not considered. They’re talking about model-year 2009, not calendar year. And they point out that’s a rough estimate and not set-in-stone. Mr. Shannon gave a reason I had not considered: testing. At first I was thinking to myself, “what kind of testing do they need? They already obviously did testing before they started selling them in Sweden and Great Britain and Australia…” but then Mr. Shannon mentioned that they need to be tested in extreme climates found in the U.S. which would not be found in Sweden for example.

They would need to take cars out to the Arizona desert and run them in 110 degree (Fahrenheit) weather in stop-and-go traffic with the air conditioning running full-blast. They’d need to take them to the coldest parts of Canada where the oil would freeze-up into sludge. I was very impressed as this was not something I had considered, but as I write this it occurred to me that this wasn’t required before they went on sale in Australia, where the hottest parts of the Australian Outback probably get hotter than Arizona in summer. But Mr. Shannon isn’t the President of SAAB Australia, so I won’t pose that question to him… The reason we won’t get them until ’09 is that this testing isn’t currently ongoing. SAAB has to compete for engineering resources from GM powertrain who might be tasked for other more pressing duties for other GM marques. They might be able to get to this testing so that BioPower can be launched in the U.S. come MY2009 (that’s right around when the next-gen 9-5 is due out, right? And the 9-4X?).

As with the event in San Diego I’ve been extremely spoiled and treated like the other journalists (that is to say “like a king”) and I got a “goodie bag”. In this goodie bag were two items I was considering purchasing at the SAAB Owners’ Convention a few days ago and I am now glad I did not. Faithful readers of TS might remember that for the event in San Diego back in February I had purchased a copy of the book “Mr. SAAB” from State of Nine (free plug unless you want to edit this out, Swade) and paid extra to have it shipped across the country via expedited delivery only to get to the event and find-out that a copy was included free in my “goodie bag”! Well, I don’t want to make you all jealous (yes I do…) but I got a 1:43 scale model of the Aero-X to add to the RAC Rally SAAB 96 I got at the San Diego event (and the 9-5 Sport Wagon Swade promised to send me!), a very nice printed booklet about the MY2008 9-3 with attached URSAAB USB drive (I understand attendees at the SAAB Festival in Trollhattan also got these so I’m guessing that Swade already has one). I haven’t yet looked at the contents of the USB drive, but I’m guessing it’s the booklet in electronic format and if so I’ll try to send Swade a copy along with this post.

An interesting thing I see in the booklet is some concrete mentions of timeframes I don’t remember reading before. It says that here in the U.S. the MY2008 9-3 will hit dealer lots in early September which I think was announced at the SAAB Owners’ Convention, if not earlier, but the other timeframe which surprised me (if I’m not mistaken this has been “pushed-out”) is that the XWD 9-3 (to be launched in the Turbo-X) will come “Spring 2008”. I thought I remembered reading that it would be available sometime around January. If I’m not mistaken this pushes the XWD availability out by around two to three months (March, April, May being the northern hemisphere Spring). I don’t know if that also pushes-out the availability of the Bose surround sound system to the same timeframe.

Another interesting fact gleaned from the printed material I was given: 70% of the body panels on the 2008 9-3 Sport Sedan are new.

Not only does the Aero get 30 more horsepower than the 2007 9-3 Aero, but it also gets 30% more torque.

Well, that’s all I can remember as of right now. As with all my posts I’m sure more things I learned will come to mind later and I’ll have to include it in a future post. Tomorrow morning after breakfast we’re being whisked off to a secret location (in a 9-7X Aero, by the way, which has provided us with all of our transportation since we arrived in Washington D.C.) to drive the new 9-3 with XWD on a closed-course track. As I’m not an experienced performance driver, I’ll try my best to test it out and get a feel for how different it is than the FWD models without crashing it (could you imagine!?!?). Wish me luck. Oh, how I suffer for you! I will now go to sleep on the feather bed in my room at the Ritz Carlton. Ta ta.

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  1. Oh, If only I could remember this much only 10 min after a regular meeting at my work… Has to do something with the subject, I guess.

    About Ethanol testing… Why not ship a bunch of them to Aussie land? I guess there are a fem people down there that would gladly take them for a spin through the outback in the summer heat… 🙂

  2. Thanks for the Ethanol clarification Gripen. Expanding BioPower is in line with GM’s live green, go yellow program. The Explanation section about “which vehicles can use it” says:

    “GM is a leader in producing E85 flexible vehicles with 14 different models available this year. This is a large step toward our goal, with DaimlerChrysler and Ford, to have half our annual vehicle production be E85 or *ahem* bio-diesel capable by 2012.” – my emphasis 🙂

    Anyway, Chevy already has 3 Ethanol compatible engines in 9 current models, so at least the US testing procedures should be well established by now.

  3. Ok, now I’m salty. You were going to be in Georgetown and didn’t let us locals know? I was sitting around my house in Arlington (5 minutes away) last night with absolutely nothing to do. I could have bellied up to the bar at Fahrenheit and subtly ingratiated myself into your converstaion! That is, if they didn’t stop me right at the door (I know they like to keep the riff-raff on the outside there)!

    What track were you running at today?

    I’m so jealous. So, so jealous.

    Keep up the reporting!

  4. The Production of the Turbo-X starts in the 9th Week of ’08, so i think the first cars will arrive earliest mid march at the dealerships!

  5. SOrry I am a bit confused – I thought Gripen was going to report from the Saab Convention starting last Thursday, which included the launch of the MY08 9-3.

    Was there another event in DC as well?

    Please forgive me for impatience, but with all of this wonderful investigative reporting going on, has not one person asked the Saab reps what the deal is with Bluetooth in MY08 9-3 models? It’s like a cover one is talking about it!

    I keep asking because I am like a kid in a candy store trying to make a decision on a MY07 vs 08. As soon as the 08s are here, I am making my decision.

    Anyone else in this dilemma?

  6. Just called Saab. they will be updating the website with new pricing discounts for European delivery options on the new 2008 9-3 on October 1st.

  7. Joe,

    Gripen added this comment to the “Part 1” article:

    “joemama: Bluetooth is a touchy subject. It’s a political thing I think. As you probably already know it’s not an issue in Europe, but here in the States because GM also owns OnStar, I believe it’s seen as a competitor to some of OnStar’s features and is therefore not available. Nobody’s said so much, but I’m guessing that GM requires SAAB to disable Bluetooth in lieu of OnStar.”

    🙁 For me it’s a nice-to-have and not a dealbreaker. However, like you said before, Bluetooth integration is a feature you expect to get from Saab’s competitors.

  8. TimJ- thanks for the note. I don’t know how I missed that – I thought I checked back a bunch of times.

    While I know about the OnStar monster, I would just like a confirmation of “yes” or “no” from Saab about it’s inclusion (or lack there of) in MY08.

    If it’s not in the 08 model because of OnStar and GM does not announce an add-on or something coming later in the year, the decision to buy a MY07 is even easier.

    ..that or purchase the Pioneer Avic head unit.

  9. joemama – Same here, still trying to decide between an 07 or an 08 SportCombi. I’m currently leaning towards an 08 mainly for the reported improvements on isolating road noise. Although the 07 was fairly quite during a previous test drive. I guess I’ll wait until an 08 model is available for a test drive to do a real comparison. BTW, the dealer in Austin recently told me 08s will not be available until November, seems a bit late.

  10. I don’t mean to judge, but if all that keeps someone from buying th new 9-3 is bluetooth, then they have some messed-up priorities. That’s like counting the stitches in your 911 seat.

  11. That’s quite right Jeff. I would hate to think a lack of bluetooth would stop someone from buying an MY08 9-3.

    While we don’t want SAAB to just follow the pack there are some innovations that are worthwhile adopting like bluetooth. When you are paying that kind of money for a new car it is reasonable to expect certain features.

    I wonder whether this may be a US problem particularly. In Australia you can option bluetooth integration for $1000 but this might be an aftermarket kit.

  12. I disagree. If you talk on the phone a lot while driving, then it’s a BIG consideration when buying a car. It’s hardly like counting stitching. Let’s not get carried away.

    If you are looking at comparable cars to purchase, Saab needs to compete. If a 15k Nissan or Chevy has bluetooth, a 30k “luxury” Saab should have it standard.

  13. joemama: there was indeed a special media-only event in Washington this week after the S.O.C. I attended both events at SAAB USA’s invitation.

    I didn’t bother asking about Bluetooth because we have already had the answer. I don’t know what answer you’re looking for. If you have a 2007 9-3 and want Bluetooth capability you can buy that Motorola unit from SAAB that enables it. All other 9-3s are incompatible with Bluetooth due to OnStar I believe. You can either use OnStar or you can buy a third-party adapter yourself. If I keep pelting SAAB with Bluetooth questions they’re just going to get irritated and be less open in the future with us in the community. I’m sure SAAB USA dislikes the idea of having to force OnStar as well, but it’s a GM decision, not SAAB’s. I hope I’m not speaking for SAAB incorrectly in saying this.

    When asked about Bluetooth by Nik Miles of “Miles Around” the other night at dinner at the House of Sweden Jan-Willem Vester said that if you want it on a 2007 there’s that kit they offer, but on a 2008 he really didn’t address it and everyone looked kind of uncomfortable like they couldn’t say any more. So I’m guessing there is no Bluetooth solution on offer for the 2008.

    James: I didn’t give out info about the event in advance particularly for that reason! 🙂

    Thanks for reading these things everyone. I’m on vacation with my family right now but when I get back to L.A. in the next couple of days I’ll try to post more info I got from test driving the 9-3 Aero XWD!

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