Underinvestment in action, or how many Saab innovations are in cars that aren’t Saabs?

Thanks to 1985Gripen for all the ideas that follow:


In my editorial on The Truth About Cars a few days ago I mentioned that if you wanted to describe Saab’s recent history in one word, that word would be underinvestment. That sounds a little unfair on the surface as Saab did some absolutely brilliant work over the years on a pretty small budget. But the fact is that Saab haven’t always had the financial muscle to bring all their ideas to market.

This post will cite only two examples, but I’m sure there’s a few more.

The Solar Cell

Remember the Saab EV-1 concept car? Designed by Bjorn Envall, the removable roof had solar cells embedded in it that drove a vent fan to keep the interior temperature as close to ambient temperature as possible.

Solar cells don’t come cheap nowadays and I can’t imagine what an option like this would have cost back in 1985.

In 2007 it will cost you US$790 as an option on either the Audi A8 or the A6.

Like the EV-1’s solar cell, the Audi solar sunroof drives the fresh air vent in the cabin when required. It works in exactly the same way as Bjorn Envall’s idea 22 years ago.

The electric assist engine

OK, to be fair, this hasn’t been released yet and is theoretically still in ‘concept’ form, but once again Audi are planning for the market introduction of an idea that I first saw on a Saab (it may well have been on another vehicle prior, but I don’t know).

Audi A1This week, Audi took the wraps of their new Mini-fighter, the A1.

In addition to a bunch of other features, the A1 features an electric motor driving the rear wheels providing 30kW of power and 200 Nm of torque. Normally a FWD vehicle, the pocket rocket will have what Audi call ‘tractive power’ of around 440 Nm.

It never received as much attention, but Saab’s BioPower Plugin Hybrid Concept had two electric motors, one of which was a 38kW motor between the rear wheels.

As mentioned, I have to be fair about this one, and it may be that Saab’s investment in this technology will pay off in the future with the adaptation of this drive system into a future 9-5 or 9-3.

The Audi A1 is due in 2009.


That’s two examples of technologies I’ve first seen in Saabs that are being used in other makes rather than in Saabs. I’m sure there’s more, though, so if you know of any then please leave the story in comments.

Saab have done a heck of a lot of innovation for such a small company over the years. It’s a pity that they haven’t always been in a position to capitalise on their own work.

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  1. What about the very VERY nice “Premium” platform that Saab in Pixbo developed, and that is now used by Alfa in the 159 and Brera?
    As readers here will know, Saab pulled out due to financial problem (sic). It was originally intended for Alfa, Lancia, Saab and Opel, for the respective “large” cars.

    Today it’s used only by Alfa, Lancia will probablytag on later. And believe you me: it’s a fantastic platform. I met with one of the core developpers of the platform at a party back in 2005 and he told me Alfa were up in Pixbo on a weekly basis, and all they kept saying was “stiffer” and Saabs responce was “no, we can’t, we need it safer”.

    Ultimately, the platform is stiff like no other out there, and safe like no other out there, but heavy and expensive.

    Alfa uses it – and it’s lovely. It’s all that Audi’s are, but even more so. never treid a chassis as refined as that one. Thank you Saab!

  2. The price Audi’s charging for the “solar sunroof” might seem steep until you consider that the ventilated seats option in the 9⁵ (another Saab innovation other companies now offer) will set you back USD995.00.

    It’s really rather simple. The car already has a ventilation fan for the air conditioning/heating system. Just have an alternate power source and tap-into the ECU to have it come on under solar power when the car’s off. All they’d have to add are the solar cells themselves and wiring. Photovoltaic cells pricing has dropped in the 23 years since Saab first put this feature into the EV-1.

    I think that Saab should make this a standard feature in the next-gen “premium” 9⁵.

    They could sell this as a “green” feature. If the interior of your car is 15 degrees cooler than it would have been without the ventilated parking system, the air conditioning has to work for a shorter time to get the car to the temperature you like, meaning it’s a load on the engine for a shorter period of time, saving you fuel.

    Look at the fuel economy in the Team Ethanol run. It was obviously affected by the air conditioning running the entire time. If you could take that load off the engine, you’d save fuel.

    Saab developed an electric air conditioning compressor for the Saab Hybrid Convertible. Rather than having a belt attached to the engine it ran off the battery. If they could take this air conditioning unit and put it in future Saabs, they could increase fuel economy.

    At that point it’s not much of a jump to expect that the solar cells in the roof of the car power the air conditioning system the majority of the time (except at night or when there’s not enough sunlight due to clouds, at which time it would have to run off the car’s battery). They could then make the ventilated parking feature into an air conditioned parking feature and have the A/C running while the car’s parked so when you get in, it’s the frosty temperature you want, not just 15 degrees cooler than it would have been without the ventilated interior feature!

  3. Forgive my ignorance here, but in the tech industry many innovations get patented and other companies pay to use them – for example Apple was a key developer for FireWire and every other manufacturer has to pay a 25¢ royalty to Apple for each unit with IEEE 1394 ports. Is there not a similar arrangement in the auto industry? If so then does Saab have the patents?

    I don’t think Saab needs a bunch of “exclusive” innovations to gain customers, they just need to focus on delivering the best implementations of the innovations that customers will pay for.

  4. I’ve mentioned this in comments before, but GM has tapped into Saab innovations for use in other brands before. The 2008 Corvette uses the “head-up” display first developed by Saab in the nineties for the Prometheus project (it was first fitted to a 9000 for testing). I’m still trying to find out what happened to such things as the SVC engine (I have a list). SVC was a brilliant concept and was well tested by Saab and proven to be viable. This was a 1.6l engine which developed 225HP and torque of 305nm! I’d love to see some of these Saab innovations go into production, IN SAABS!

  5. MarkS: the last I heard about SVC was that they used the prototype engine to figure out the optimal compression ratio for the BioPower100 concept. It was in the BioPower100 concept press release earlier this year.

    From what I have read about SVC is that they had a problem with longevity of seals. There were some new patents taken-out on the technology a couple years ago though so it seems like there was still at least some development going on. The new patents seemed to suggest that the newest SVC design actually moved the crankshaft up and down! Search the TS archives for more info.

    Here’s another one to add to the “What ever happened to…” file: Saab Combustion Control (SCC).

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