What are the US going to do with BioPower?

Gripen’s recent report from the press drive of the 2008 Saab 9-3 gave rise to some other interesting news:

The 2.0T BioPower will output 200 hp and is due MY2009

Gripen wondered if it was a typo, and maybe it was, but you’d think they had that sort of thing sorted by the time it came to do a presentation to the press.

The mysterious part of it is the 200hp figure. The base model 9-3 is the 2.0T, a high output turbo model that puts out 210hp. As we’ve seen with BioPower vehicles in other markets, the E85 engine gives more power when running on ethanol. The Saab 9-3 BioPower in the UK, for example, puts out 150hp running on gasoline and 175hp running on E85.

It makes for good press, too. Like this recent road test from The Guardian:

…..very nice it was, too – practical, smooth, comfortable, mildly eccentric and fitted with one of Saab’s aeroplane-style cockpits. And here’s the big news: the 1.8t engine generates more power running on bioethanol than it does on petrol. In other words, you don’t compromise the car’s performance by feeding it liquidised oats – you boost it. I, obviously, am in no position to confirm or deny this. But Saab is Swedish. I can’t see why they’d lie about it. Not in big letters all over the side of the car.

Everyone likes to hear about more power and it’s a real selling point for BioPower.

So are SaabUSA going to limit the output of the BioPower range when it’s released there in 2009?

Well, I’d take a guess and say that the BioPower model that they release will be like a new base model. With the current base standing at 210hp there’s plenty of room underneath, for example, for a 175hp variant that reaches 200hp when running on corn.

Will it still be badged as 2.0T?

I think it’d be a bit confusing if it were. Perhaps just a Saab 9-3 BioPower badge would suffice.


Of course, those in the press who are familiar with Saab and BioPower will know two important things:

– the current base Saab produces 210hp

– Saab’s BioPower setup enables the car to produce more power when running on E85.

So when a 200hp BioPower variant comes out in 2009 it will seem that there’s a lack of reconciliation there. I think potential US-based BioPower buyers might be a little disappointed as well. For the last few years those who read wider than the US literature would know that BioPower’s supposed to provide more – and the US version of it will produce less than what they get in their pre-BioPower base model.

Am I being a bit unfair bringing all this up? Well, Saab highlighted the higher output potental of BioPower themselves when they unveiled the Saab BioPower Concept last year at the Detroit Auto Show. That car featured a (conceptual) 2.3 HOT engine producing 310hp when running on E85.

They’ve set the bar, let’s see if they eventually reach it.

BioPower coming to the US is a great thing, no doubt about it. Here’s to getting the formula right so that it’ll build interest and excitement once it gets there.

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  1. sorry just to be nitpicky, the Saab BioPower Concept that produced 300hp ran on E100, which has even higher level of octane than E85 (I”m sure you know that).

    The Saab 9-3 Biopower in Europe exists in two variants if I am not mistaken: One which has 150hp (1.8t?) (175hp on E85) and one with 175hp (2.0t?) (200hp). You do bring a good point of having a base model that runs on E85 that produces less than 210 hp. I am guessing that Saab would end up bringing the 2.0t back to the states and show that it produces an extra 25hp when running on corn.

    I agree that a Saab 9-3 2.0T BioPower would be more appealing in the eyes of Americans. Maybe Saab will have a new E85 variant out soon enough?

    This was more or less of a ramble. Forgive me.

  2. Bad headline on my part. Should have read “What are SaabUSA going to do….” I shouldn’t write these things whilst watching football.

    Edward, the base I used was from the UK and the numbers are accurate for that market, I believe. Are they the German figures you’re quoting? If so, then that may be the configuration used in the US.

  3. I’ll see your ‘nitpicky’ and raise you a full ‘pigheaded pedantic’, Logan (that’s me being the pedant, not you, by the way). The 310hp BioPower concept I referred to did indeed run on E85. The link in the post will lead you to the full press release.

  4. Well, I’m fortunate to live in Wisconsin, where we have about 8 ethanol plants cranking out E85, and I could fill up with E85 at not one, but two gas stations within 1-2 miles of my house! So I quote Dubya when I say to SaabUSA: “Bring ’em on!”. I would very seriously consider buying a BioPower model — I have long been jonesin’ for a VW TDI in the Passat (I know, I said “Passat” again…). And I’d love even more to get one via the European Delivery Program!

  5. eggsngrits is right. If SAAB decides to sell a “rightsized” engine as their first ethanol offering in the States that would be disasterous. One of the major draws of ethanol is the extra power one gets. With all that extra power one can forget that fuel economy is 20% worse. If the car gets 200 hp on E85, how much will it get on straight gasoline? Just enough to get people complaining about how “gutless” the car is. I’ve already read that the 1.8t engine in Europe is a tad bit underpowered for a car of its size and weight. It would give ethanol a bad name in the States much like early diesel cars tarnished the diesel name.

    Another thing that wasn’t pointed-out is that SAAB has been advertising BioPower in the States and getting us clamoring for it for quite some time (they even had a BioPower 9⁵ wagon on display at S.O.C.) so it’d be just plain cruel to not let us have a BioPower Aero model, but rather start their engine rightsizing with it.

    On top of that it’d be a bad candidate for rightsizing anyway. The whole point of rightsizing is to use a smaller engine and therefore reduce fuel consumption. But E85 has worse fuel economy. I don’t get it.

    It had to have simply been a typo in the presentation…

    Lastly, logan: you’re thinking of the 2.0-liter 300 hp E100 SAAB 9⁵ BioPower 100. Swade was referring to the 2.3-liter 310 hp E85 SAAB 9⁵ BioPower “Beast”.

  6. I’ve been wrestling with the possibility that Swade brought up that it wasn’t a typo, and that’s really scary, IMHO. What could be worse for SAAB to do to ethanol adoption in the U.S. than to release a BioPower model that makes less horsepower than the equivalent gasoline-only model and gets worse fuel economy on E85? I know that this proposed BioPower model would basically be the same as the 1.8t model sold in Europe versus the 2.0T model sold here, but buyers won’t make that connection. They’ll just see the 2.0-liter BioPower makes less horsepower than the 2.0-liter gasoline-only model even assuming they can find E85 to fill it with. On those likely frequent occasions where only gasoline can be found I’d hate to read the car magazines’ reviews on the gutlessness of this BioPower model.

    It’s not like the BioPower model would get much better fuel economy than the 2.0T model. They have the same engine displacement and only the inclusion of the HOT on the 2.0T and the engine management software give it the power advantage w/o a real hit in fuel economy.

    If that wasn’t a typo, I’d like to read the strategy behind this plan. What are they thinking??? This is a sure way to ruin any goodwill SAAB has earned for ethanol in the U.S. Even SAAB has to know that the real draw for E85 is the extra horsepower, as evidenced by the BioPower 100 and BioPower Beast concepts. I didn’t see SAAB come out with a little 1.4-liter LPT model to show how “sensible” ethanol can be. It’s all about the POWER to most people, not the “green factor” for freaks like me.

    IMHO, they should have come out with a BioPower version of the 9⁵ in the States first, like they did in Sweden. That would have helped boost lagging 9⁵ sales ahead of the redesign.

    They also missed the boat in that the Turbo-X should have been BioPower capable, bringing the max output to over 300 bhp when run on ethanol. That would have been a good way to show the effectiveness of the XWD system in delivering the power to the pavement.

  7. Could they be using a variant of the 1.8 litre and make it High Output Turbo, making the 1.8t into a 1.8T BioPower? Could that be where the 200hp comes from? Certainly, boost and pressure can be ‘played’ around with to obtain this.. Just a guess..

  8. Nevitz: If it wasn’t simply a typo, you might be onto something.

    The 1.8t (LPT) outputs 150 bhp on gasoline.
    The 2.0t (LPT) outputs 175 bhp on gasoline.
    The 2.0T (HOT) outputs 210 bhp on gasoline.

    So that would make sense that a 1.8T would output 200 bhp when run on E85 (and probably around 175 bhp when running on pure gasoline).

    I’m still hoping it was just a mistake. What a mistake it would be to introduce ethanol to the U.S. like this.

    “Wait, I get an under-powered car when I can’t find E85 and when I do find E85 I get less horsepower than the equivalent-displacement gasoline-only model with less fuel economy!?!? Woo hoo, sign me up!!!” 😉

  9. I just went to Saab’s global site Saab’s global site and started building my own 9-3 SportCombi in Vector trim and one of the nine engine options is “2.0t Biopower 200 hp

    These are the engine specs:

    E85/Petrol engine: Four-cylinder in-line, Aluminium cylinder head and block. Turbocharger, intercooled. DOHC, 16-valve. Balancer shafts

    Ignition/Fuel injection: Saab Trionic 8 engine management. Direct ignition. Multi-point fuel injection.
    Displacement (dm3): 1,998
    Bore/Stroke (mm): 86 / 86
    Compression ratio: 9.5:1
    Max boost pressure (bar): 1.2
    Max. Power (E85): 147 kW (200 hp) at 5500 r/min
    Max. Torque (E85): 300 Nm @ 2500 – 4000 r/min
    Recommended fuel (octane): 95 (min. 91)
    Top speed (km/h): Manual 6-speed (M6) 225; Automatic 5-speed (A5) 220
    0-100 km/h: M6 8.1; A5 9.2
    60-100 km/h fourth gear: M6 7.8
    80-120 km/h fifth gear: M6 10.5
    Fuel consumption (l/100 km)*: M6 11.5/6.4/8.3; A5 13.3/6.9/9.3
    CO2 emissions (g/km): M6 273/153/197; A5 317/166/222

    *City/highway/Combined driving cycle, according to the 1999/100 EC directive. There are no official fuel certification for E85. Therefore the figures is based on petrol consumption. E85 consumes around 30% more fuel than petrol. Regarding CO2 emissions, E85 reduces fossil carbon dioxide up to 80%.

  10. Those are some respectable fuel economy numbers, but remember that there’s always a trade-off and you’re paying for that fuel economy with power.

    The 2.0t BioPower 9³, running on E85 will run 0 to 62 mph (0-100 kph) in 8.1 seconds if you have the manual transmission (versus 7.7 seconds in the 2.0T) and 9.2 seconds if you have the automatic transmission (versus 8.8 seconds in the 2.0T). It’d be significantly slower running on E0.

    Also consider that those fuel economy numbers were while running on pure gasoline. If running E85 the fuel economy is decreased by 30%, so with the manual transmission you can expect to get only 25.725 miles per U.S. gallon highway average best case scenario (manual transmission). Worst case scenario (automatic transmission city) you can expect to get 12.376 average miles per U.S. gallon.

    Americans are spoiled and I don’t think that we’d be willing to put up with a car which is slower and consumes more fuel, even if the CO₂emissions are lower and we reduce our dependence on foreign oil…

    We just don’t have the tax incentives here for “rightsizing” our engines and cutting down on greenhouse gas emissions, I’m sorry to say.

  11. You’re comparing a E85 SportCombi with a petrol Sport Sedan.

    The various SportCombi engine specs are here.

    Sport Sedan engine specs.

    E85 gives you poorer mpg, marginally lower bhp, slightly lower top speed and slower 0-100km/h but is a smidge faster 60-100km/h and 80-120km/h.

  12. I think introducing the 200hp BP in America is going to be a problem. In Europe it is not. As many of you have pointed out this engine will produce 175hp running on normal gasoline.
    The 1.8t, 2.0t and 2.0T are all the same engine. and european customers see/feel the diffence when running the BP versions (1.8t and 2.0t).
    The 175hp vesrion is NOT gutless however; compared to the 2.0T version there is a marginal difference. The 2.0t BP running on E85/200hp is a very sporty drive and I couldn’t really tell the difference between that and the 2.0T Aero (210hp).
    But this actually means nothing because we are talking a figures game and I can’t see how any amount of marketing will change the opinion that 200hp is just as good as 210hp, which everway you ‘spin’ it.
    I agree with most here and I believe the best way for BioPpwer to be marketed in the US is offer a 210hp/240hp BP Aero.

  13. WooDz, I appreciate your comments, but you’ve got to realize there is a cultural difference between America and Europe (though as an American I’m weird and typically think like a European). Here “bigger is better”. It’s hard enough to get an American to understand why a turbocharged four-cylinder engine is better than a big-block V8 truck.

    That is why the 1.8t and 2.0t are not available in America. The smallest engine in the 9³ you can buy here is the 2.0T. In 2007 you couldn’t get a 9⁵ in Linear, Arc, or Vector trim. Only Aero.

    You’d have to explain to an American why a 175 bhp car is “better than” the 210 bhp model you can buy now.

    The 175 bhp model might not be “gutless” (I’m assuming they were referring to the 150 bhp 1.8t), but here in the States we actually have a lot of hills and mountains in some parts and people just don’t have the patience for an underpowered car. Gas is still pretty cheap, relatively.

    Your other points are well-noted, but I disagree with you that there should be a 210hp/240 hp BioPower Aero introduced to the U.S. market. The Aero badge is reserved only for the top-of-the-line 2.8-liter V6 here in the states and to suddenly offer a 2.0-liter Aero as well will only confuse buyers.

  14. Gripen,

    The 175 hp 2.0t previously sold in the U.S. in the 9-3SS Linear model had a smaller turbo (and slightly less lag) than the 210 hp 2.0T engine.

  15. Gripen – Is the 2.0t BioPower replacing the 2.0T in ’09, or being offered in addition? I think Americans are at a tipping point where the price of gas combined with a sluggish economy is resulting in more people placing fuel economy higher on the list of priorities. If the 2.0T is still going to be available then the people who really need the power can select that engine.

    That being said – I wonder how many of us read the fine print that Ethanol doesn’t deliver either better fuel economy or significantly lower prices at the pump. The biggest remaining plus with BioPower is that it is supposed to be green – but growing and processing corn-based ethanol in the US adds enough carbon to the cycle that, from seed to exhaust pipe, you only get an average 15% reduction in CO2 compared to petroleum.

    On Bigger Horsepower – I’m not a good example Gripen’s American. I currently drive a 115 hp 2.0l Jetta Wagon (had to look that up on Edmunds) and I don’t drive up hills daily. I’m also prejudiced against “bigger is better” from dealing with misinformation around CPU performance – aka the MHz Myth. When I see that the 1.9TTiD engine is rated at 180hp and I don’t recall Swade describing it as underpowered, it makes me think there is a sort of Horsepower Myth too [I realize it’s another poor computer analogy 🙂 ].

    MPG is the bigger-better number I want, and the only scenario where I might feel buyer’s remorse after purchasing an ’08 9-3 2.0T is if Saab brings diesel to the US.

  16. Andy: and there’s a reason why they stopped selling that model in the U.S. I’m not saying you’re wrong, but America is a “super size” culture. More and bigger is better. Do you want the 175 bhp model or the 210 bhp model? Before you even get around to explaining that the turbo is smaller, therefore is spools-up faster for less turbo lag in the 175 bhp they’ve already decided they want the 2.8-liter V6 turbo putting out 255 bhp! 🙂

    TimJ: I don’t really know. There has not even been a firm commitment to actually bring BioPower to the U.S. in ’09. That’s a target, not a hard number. They still need to do extreme temperature testing and such before thinking about offering it for sale here. Could you imagine if they brought over the BioPower and had to recall every one of them sold in the Southwestern U.S. due to heat-related issues they hadn’t anticipated while selling the cars in Europe!?!? What a warranty issue that would be!

    Also, it’s not a hard fact that it’ll be the 2.0t 9³ BioPower for sale here. We were just speculating due to the 200 hp number I saw on the PowerPoint slide at the media event last week. I really hope it was a typo and it’s actually going to be the 2.0T 9³ BioPower with closer to 250 hp when running on E85 (210 hp when run on gasoline).

    Your point about fuel economy is well founded, and is the reason why a SAAB buyer would opt for the 2.0-liter 4-cylinder rather than the 2.8-liter 6-cylinder Aero (well, that and price). However, that being said if fuel economy is your major concern than BioPower is not for you. When running on E85, according to SAAB’s own marketing materials, you can expect a 30% drop in fuel economy (it’s in the fine-print at the SAAB International website). So why would you buy a 2.0t and run E85 in it? You’ll get almost the same amount of horsepower as the 2.0T running on straight gasoline but 30% less fuel economy!

    If it were me, I’d want a 2.0T BioPower. When I can’t find E85 (most of the time) I would get 210 hp but when I can fuel up with ethanol I’d get closer to 250 horsepower. That’s some bonus. That would almost make me forget I have to go to the fueling station more often.

    Better yet, I’d want a 9⁵ BioPower Aero Sport Combi, but we’ve already established that I’m weird… 😉

    The 1.8t and 2.0t engines make a whole lot more sense in Europe than they do here, particularly in countries which give favorable tax incentives for owning a flex-fuel car or for having lower CO₂emissions or a smaller displacement engine. These incentives exist nowhere in the U.S., not even in California!

    On your horsepower mention, your diesel Jetta Wagon has “only” 115 hp, but diesels inherently have more torque, which is what is pushing that heavy wagon. That is why the vehicle doesn’t feel “sluggish”. I’m told (it could be wrong as it was just word of mouth) that the 150 bhp 1.8t gasoline engine in the 9³ sold in Europe is just barely adequate. It’s on the underpowered side, considering the vehicle’s weight.

    As for your assertion of not being my stereotypical American, of course you’re not: you wouldn’t be hanging out on a SAAB ‘blog if you were! 🙂

  17. I’m kind of like Russell Crowe’s character in A Beautiful Mind. Sometimes I gather and put together all these apparently separate thoughts into one coherent scenario. Either I’m a genius, or a complete idiot (no, this won’t be a TS poll…). 😮

    While we were eating lunch together a couple of weeks ago at SOC regarding the BioPower potential in the U.S. Steve Shannon said something along the lines of, “what Hollywood star wouldn’t rather pull-up to the red carpet in a SAAB convertible than a Prius?” He pointed-out that the SAAB convertible is so much more sexy than a Toyota Prius hybrid so if SAAB brings over BioPower and can convince left-leaning environmentally-minded (he did name examples like Ed Begley, Jr., Lindsay Lohan (who could use that SAAB safety since she apparently exclusively drives drunk. Maybe there’s an AlcoKey in her future…), Tom Hanks, Darryl Hannah, and more) to drive SAABs and give the brand a higher profile.

    He mentioned it again to the group of journalists over drinks at Fahrenheit in Washington D.C. during the 9³ media launch event the next week.

    I pointed out, “to take that a step further, what Hollywood star wouldn’t want to pull-up to the red carpet in a SAAB convertible hybrid?” He agreed, but not enthusiastically, and I think I just now put together why:

    Perhaps the 2009 SAAB 2.0t 9³ BioPower will debut in the U.S. as a convertible? This might increase SAAB convertible sales as the convertible model was left-out of XWD-capability and most of the body panel design changes (it didn’t get the new door handles, the new door panels (it retains the “bump strips” on the doors) or some of the other changes the sedan and combi received as part of the MCE.

    If they market the vehicle to the Hollywood elite and try to take some Toyota Prius sales, this might be a solid strategy that would cost SAAB very little money to implement. I mean, the car already exists. They just need to bring it here.

    Perhaps I’m dense and just didn’t get all the not-so-subtle hints Steve Shannon was dropping, or perhaps I’m reading too much into it now in hindsight. You decide!

  18. In addition, Mr. Shannon repeatedly brought up the fact that in an opinion piece in the L.A. Times a few weeks ago they ripped-into ethanol and Mr. Shannon also pointed-out the lack of E85 fueling stations “in L.A.”, which I thought odd that he brought up L.A. specifically, rather than California as a whole, but now looking at the “getting stars into SAAB cars” scenario I see now why it would be important to have E85 pumps in L.A.

    I explained that there is one former “USA Gasoline” station in West L.A. (wealthier part of town near Brentwood, Bel Air, and Beverly Hills) which has been trying to convert to a “Conserv Fuels” station with E85. Earlier this year a visit to the NEVA website listed this station as “grand opening June 21”, but then after June 21 that changed to (and remains to this day) “coming soon”. So I don’t know what the hold-up is. My wife works in that area and I have to drive her to work tomorrow so I can take her SAAB into our indie for some new brakes (I’d normally do this, but it’s been 112 degrees here and I don’t have a garage at my house) so maybe I’ll spin by that station and see what progress they’ve made.

  19. Sorry to keep posting comments, but I’ve got an itchy “Post” finger.

    Here’s a link to that L.A. Times opinion piece ripping ethanol Mr. Shannon was apparently alluding to (from 20 August, which would fit-in with Mr. Shannon’s time line as he said “last week” in reference to the article when we were discussing the matter on 25 August at SOC).

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