Do all roads lead back to the turbocharged hatch?

I know there’s a lot of people out there with Saab hatchbacks. A lot of readers here own the more recent sport sedans or sportcombis, but there’s a lot of hatch owners – past and present – here as well. I’m proud to say I’ve got three Saab hatches in the driveway at the moment, even if only one of them’s running properly *blushes*.

We’ve been campaigning here for a long time now on tow separate things that seem to now be converging. One is the fact that most journos just don’t seem to “get” Saabs and their utility and quality in design. Second is the “bring back the hatch” slogan – one that really does need a quality T-shirt.

Some recent news articles seem to be pointing toward a pair of emerging trends that show Saab probably had it right all along.

The first article appeared in the LA Times and covers the fact that more and more vehicles featuring turbocharging are slated for a introduction in the near future.

….last week at the L.A. Auto Show, Ford Chief Executive Alan Mulally announced a major initiative to begin putting turbochargers and a related technology — direct fuel injection — on a large portion of its fleet in the near future, calling the move a “cornerstone of Ford’s near-term plan.”

Then there’s BMW’s recent move into turbocharging, all of the turbodiesels that will be coming to the US and a bunch of others.


Saab would have. In fact, they already did. They started turbocharging 30 years ago and their specialty is the 4-cylinder turbocharged concept that a lot of these manufacturers are talking about.

The second article is in Swedish and appears at Auto Motor and Sport. It’s not an entirely new idea but Daniel R, the guy who emailed it to me, tells me that it’s talking about BMW in terms of a new hatch type vehicle that they might be developing.

BMW recently unveiled their X6 coupe concept that they’re saying will likely make production in the near future in a form very close to the concept. What we have there is a more sporting SUV that does indeed have a lot of hatchback characteristics.

The recent rise of the sporting wagon is another pointer to this anti-SUV trend and the 9-3 Sport Combi was recently referred to in one particular review as THE anti-SUV.

Saab discontinued the hatchback in 2002, though sort-of resurrected it in 2005 with the 9-3 SportCombi. In all the time that it’s owned the company, it’s seemed that GM never quite knew what to do with it’s offbeat little Swedish subsidiary.

Could it be that Saab had the blueprint for key vehicles of the future all along and GM just didn’t recognise it? Would it be a stretch to include GM in with that group of journos and others that don’t quite “get” Saab?



Thanks to Gripen for the LA article.

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  1. Also of note is GM’s decision to turbocharge at least the diesel (Opel Flextreme) and gasoline/ethanol flex-fuel (Chevy Volt) versions of its E-Flex platform. A turbo would be useless on the future hydrogen fuel cell version of the Volt.

    I wonder how much a turbo does for what is essentially a portable generator in the E-Flex, but it must be advantageous if they’re including it. I believe Saab engineers were involved in both the turbo and ethanol integration of the Chevy Volt.

    The question is: how small (in displacement) can you make an engine which is only intended to charge lithium-ion batteries? I would think that even a turbodiesel variant of the E-Flex would have little enough emissions to satisfy even the strictest of emissions laws. So ideally the turbodiesel E-Flex could be sold in the U.S. without having to include any filtering or urea injection. What if Saab gets the diesel version of the E-Flex? They could certify it as capable of running all the way up to B100 biodiesel and be ultra-green.

    The Chevy Volt’s range extender is a turbo-charged flex-fuel 1.0-liter three cylinder engine. The Opel Flextreme’s range extender is a turbo-charged diesel 1.3-liter four-cylinder. Remember, these engines do not directly drive the wheels at any time, they just top-up the charge on the batteries.

    Saab talks about “rightsizing” their engines using BioPower, which is great for first-gen “green” cars, but I think the future is in EV and until battery technology improves the best the technology has to offer is what’s found in the Opel Flextreme concept.

    Then again, Saab had a 1.6-liter five-cylinder supercharged gasoline-powered prototype engine that output V6-like power almost eight years ago! 🙁

    What if… Saab were to BioPower-ize SVC, dropping the displacement to maybe 1.0-liter? They would have hybrid-like fuel consumption with V6-like power.

  2. GM just doesn’t seem to get cars in general.

    They should be taking ideas from Saab and putting that to use in their cars, not the other way around.

  3. Gunnar, I know they make a VERY high margin per unit due to the age of the platform and the money that’s been made on it elsewhere already, but whether they’ve sold enough to recoup the Saabification costs is unknown. I’d say so though. I asked Jan-Ake about this back in June and he wasn’t specific, but he was smiling.

  4. GM made a huge mistake when it killed off the Saab hatch. Just after they did so, other premium manufacturers started making strides with 3 and 5-door designs (like Alpha Romeo!). The 9-5 range should have been offered, as it was, in sport combi and sedan variants, but the 9-3 range should have taken Saab’s 3 and 5-door designs to the next level. This kind of model range would have appealed to a wider audience without the need for “Saaburus and Trollblazers”. The traditionalists could have gone for one of the 9-5 body styles, and more progressive types could have chosen from one of the more versatile 9-3 variants which should have included convertible, 3-door (bring back the SPG!!) and 5-door. If the 9-5 exterior styling had been like that of the current 9-3 models (the sport combi is the best looking wagon I’ve ever seen), and the 9-3 range had brought back more of the classic 900 features, Saab would have had something to please almost everyone. The SUV could have come later as a more 9-3X type of vehicle.

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