My 0.02c on the V8 question

I’m probably making mountains out of molehills here, but I think it’s a fundamental question about Saab’s future direction.

One of the reasons I watch Saab’s development and Saab sales is the hope that GM will enable them to have a model range that promotes growth and thereby investment. The end goal is for Saab to be able to build the type of cars that encompass the things that drew me to the brand in the first place – great design, great performance, and a definite Swedish identity and originality.

Saabs appealed to me because they were unique, very well equipped and had surprisingly plenty to offer when you planted the foot. It was a recipe for instant smiles. The current range are brilliant cars as well. They’re still very well equipped, they’re very reliable, they’re safe and go even faster than what they did before. But the “difference” gap has closed, which is a real concern for the future in my eyes.

Last month I wrote a piece here called Saab are Swedish. It sums up my feelings about the brand pretty well. Here’s an excerpt.

What’s of concern to me is that a brand, or company, as distinctly identifiable as Saab has to maintain strong roots with it’s origins. If Saab aren’t Swedish anymore, if they’re not true to their core values of design, safety, innovation and responsible performance, then they’re just another car company. You can’t just inject Swedishness, as one GM executive espoused a few years ago.

The possibility of a V8 Saab 9-5, in my personal opinion, would close the “difference gap” a little more. And in my eyes that’d be a terrible thing. I didn’t vote in the polls that were posted last night, but if I did I’d have voted “No” on both the non-turbo and turbo polls.

A new 9-5 isn’t likely to be an option for me in the future, so it’s not of particular concern to me as a model choice. The concern for me, though, is the cultural shift that it would represent at the company. Saab wouldn’t be an intelligent company applying their engineering skills to create cars that met needs. They’d be an intelligent company creating cars with a me-too development mentality.

Eggs n Grits quite rightly called this an idealistic stance in comments. And idealism doesn’t run car companies. At a fundamental level, that comes down to building profitable cars that people want to buy. But there’s a little more to it when it comes to niche brands like Saab. There’s a corporate identity and philosophy that enthusiasts buy into. Perhaps those that are lost as that philosophy changes are replaced by new ones who buy into it?

All I know is that if Saab cease to think at a fundamental level like the company that I got into, then maybe it’ll be time for me to re-think as well. I’ll still own and love the Saabs I have, but as I think towards my own automotive future I know that a European version of Cadillac is something I’m not particularly interested in.

I don’t think it’s something Rolf Mellde or Gunnar Ljungstrom would have been that interested in either. Though perhaps they would have built a EuroCaddy back then if the Swedish market of the 1950s could have supported it?

So for me, I’d prefer to see Saab develop and refine a six cylinder car at the most. Back in the 1970s they proved that indeed there was a replacement for displacement. I’d hate to see them go back on that when it came to passenger sedans and their variants.

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46 Comments

  1. If we do go for the ‘numers game’ , where do we stop, why stop at V8? Why not a V10? V12? W24?

    I’d hate to see car engine choice based on big numbers, and people falling for it (okay, people HAVE already fallen for it) like digital camera MegaPixels/ CPU MHz.

    Big MegaPixels means S*** in a compact digital camera, but the averag consumers only understand that number – or marketing people try to lead them that way.

    I’d rather see clever, efficent design that delivers rather than big numbers. If it has to have a V8 option, then let it be the most efficent V8 on the market.

    Like i said before, the Jaguar VX220 has only a V6 twin turbo…

  2. I think it’s not what you do it’s how you do it.
    A 5 liter nonturbo V-8 would be bad. A small turbo V-8 would be a compromise between the V-8 angle and the traditional angle. The 3.6L V-6 with sequential turbo (or hybrid) would preclude the V-8 question, I think.

  3. dip – The LS7 is supercharged, right? So would turbocharging it instead make it an LS6? :p

    And yes, I’d want one really really bad. Chevy actually considered turbocharging the Corvette back in the 80’s, but the decided it was too low-tech and ended up using the Lotus-designed LT5 for the King of the Hill ZR1.

  4. No, it’s naturally aspirated. But there are numerous aftermarket kits for those engines for both turbo- and supercharging, so you can get a rough idea of what it’s capable of. Now imagine the Saab expertise applied to that ;]

  5. Have you forgotten just before GM bought Saab, Saab was working on a V-8 version of there 2.0l DOHC 4 cylinder. To me a Saab is a turbochargered 4, but I learned to drive in the 80’s. Some people think a two stroke is a real Saab, and it was not to long ago that 9000’s were not considered real saabs(and now they are). Saab has been re-inventing itself for a long, I miss their quirkiness but they need to change to sell cars in this world. They’re not artist they are accountants

  6. A Saab-ed up turbo charged LS7 engine would be F***ING AWESOME … in a Corvette.

    Saabs should be powerful, but not to the point that they become dangerous to drive. Any car you can fit a baby seat in shouldn’t have that much power.

  7. pray tell:

    after apparently being squashed by the 9-7x, how did saab’s “philosophy,” “ethos,” or “core” come back to life, to now plague the remote possibility of a v8 in a 9-5?

  8. 9x – see my last sentence again. Passenger sedans and their variants.

    I can see the commercial need for a SUV and being the size they are, for a V8 in that segment. I think I’ve consistently promoted the 9-7x for what it is – a short term necessity until Saab’s ‘own’ SUV comes.

  9. dip – Oh, oops. I was thinking of that rumored LS9.

    Let’s see…Saab + LS7 = a billion horsepower and enough torque to spin the Earth around and start the day over.

    I think this whole V8 debate comes down to whether you like V8s or not. I like V8s, and I think Saab could do wonderful things with one. Most of the people (not all, Swade doesn’t think this way) seem to be ethically and vehemently opposed to V8s of any sort, anywhere.

  10. More commenters told me that I’m talking about an ideal world not the real one.
    Maybe I’m naive but I hope the world could be changed (very slowly, of course) only by this way of thinking.
    If all people submit themselves to the idols of the profitmaking and the brainwash of marketing, the world became worse day by day. Our world and it’s our childrens world too.
    Do we really need to subordinate the future to the short term interests?
    I know, Saab is also a company founded to make profit. But at least it seemed more responsible for me, than many others, that is one important reason why I’m a Saabist.
    Sorry, If I go to far with this offtopic issue…

  11. I think a nice 3.5-4.0L turbocharged V-8 would be fitting. The M5 had a 4.0L, the M3 has a 4.0L, and the S4/RS4 has/had a 4.2L. So bump displacement down to, say, 3.8L and turbocharge(or twin, but that gets heavy) it. You could even do a 3.2L V-8 in the 9-3 if there was a super-performance model. But definitely no smaller than 3.2L in the 9-5, and no larger than 4.0L. And using sequential turbos would be smart, but also a small turbo on each bank would probably be the best idea since the engine should already be making enough power anyways, without a bigger charger.

  12. Ivan – you talk like people just started looking at profits instead of “how it should be.” Life has been dominated by profits for thousands of years, and idealists have been complaining about it for just as long. It’s not like it’s anything new.

    I doubt the Saab of yesteryear was ignoring their profit margins because they thought they were “saving the world” with their efficient engines. They did it because it made sense and they thought it would sell. They “seem” like they’re more responsible, and they probably are, but the reason they are is because they think they can cash in on their green credentials down the road, and I hope they do. It’s not altruism, it’s a business plan. A plan with a bit of heart and soul, but a plan nonetheless.

    My point – You’re never going to change the way companies think completely. Also, companies aren’t going to change the world, because they’re concerned with money and power so they can stay afloat. Change comes from mass movements and, ultimately, government mandates.

  13. As I recall, Saab got into Turbocharging in the 70s because it was a way to get more power without the expense of designing an entirely new engine.

    Still, a V8 seems wrong when they’ve proven so adept at getting good power from a straight-4.

  14. David – Yes, but it’s a finicky power that you have to stay kind of coerce into working by staying in a certain rev range. V8s are much smoother, but the tradeoff is the gas consumption, obviously.

  15. The irresistible force meets the immovable object. I guess in Europe we could be accused of arrogance over thinking Americans are all inward looking Planet Killers and we really know what is best. The Americans could be accused of arrogance over wanting big engines and Saab should drop their long held principles to suit them.

    Before any one rants I know it is a generalisation but it’s hard to name check over 100 million people in Europe and the US.

    I guess what I am saying is that everyone needs to get off their high horses and think about how to keep US customers happy while keeping Saabs principles alive.

    Eggs made a good point about how the Northstar engine runs different numbers of cylinders.

    For my part I know V8s are well regarded for smoothness. A (good) straight 6 is much smoother than a V anything, so would the US (I mean as a market not individual bloggers) accept a straight 6 like the one in the BMW 335i as a substitute for a V8?

  16. Good write Swade, once again!

    “Back in the 1970s they proved that indeed there was a replacement for displacement. I’d hate to see them go back on that when it came to passenger sedans and their variants.”

    Ditto!

  17. Jon, I guess you are right about the importance of US.

    Maybe Saab could build 9-8 model for North America? Made in Mexico, designed in US, very big car with all the good ´ol gadgets and 5.7 liter NA engine. Maybe that would make some customers happy and give Saab engineers possibility to develop something new in the future. Like SVC engine..

    Where are the Wallenbergs when we need them?

  18. I want to question something that’s being tossed around here as a fundamental nugget of truth. I think it’s actually a fallacy.
    Namely, this: how do we know a V8 is going to bring Saab profitability? Yes, only a few people buy Saabs. Yes, their sales are going down the toilet (albeit slowly.) Why would a V8 resurrect their fortunes?
    If Saab had nothing to differentiate itself and were simply limping after Cadillac, Mercedes, BMW, Volvo, etc, no one would have any reason to buy a Saab at all. The car would be a Cadillac with a different face on. People respect Saab’s different-ness, just as they respect the 911’s different-ness.
    Of course the 911 purists would quash this argument, but I think a similar case could be made for the 911 switching to a mid- or front-engined layout and getting a V8. But then, there’s no point in buying a Porsche in the first place.
    Another point: very few people need a V8. Of course the 9-5 needs to be fast and competitive blah blah blah, but, at least here in the Northeast, I see inline-five Volvos everywhere I turn, with happy well-healed New Englanders at their helms.
    Is the respect and differentiation Saab would lose worth the few people who’d buy a V8? I don’t think it is.

  19. I am paying a lot of money for fuel in this place with huge distances to cover. So, if a V8 whether turbo-charged or not would give me the fuel economy of a V6 plus the finese in terms of responsiveness and driveability, I would not bother what is under the hood. Also, how would that effect the green ethos of Saab even though this agenda is set by governments in terms of climate change? Furthermore, the current customer profile of Saab probably would not have much cloud with the Generals Board i.t.o. Saab, who would can any project lest it be profitable, right? Finally, did the Yamaha sourced V8 for Volvo dilute the loyal customer segment or did it post a clear signal of the times we live in?

  20. Saab has a 300hp ethanol engine and tradition of turbocharged small displacement engines and doing things differently. Why at the peak of the enviro crisis would a v8 seem like a good idea? Isn’t this also a bit behind the ball (as if saab would want to follow ‘the ball’) in terms of flagship luxury cars with v8s? I mean I was surprised when the S4 got a v8 a few years back. I understand the bottom line is the dollar sign but brand reputation accounts for much of that.

    As for the performance model, if they choose to have one, I would gladly take a straight 6 (with a turbo of course) but I’d still much rather they spend the R&D on a hatchback coupe and make me really passionate about the brand again instead of just being glad they have “competitive” models.

  21. MJL – Assuming Saab takes a V8 from the GM parts bin and (hopefully) turbocharges it, the extra sales generated would be almost all profit, since there wouldn’t really be any major engine development costs, past tuning the turbocharger. A Saab with a Northstar wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense, but a Saab with a turbocharged Northstar is a good idea, in my opinion.

    I mean, what’s wrong with Saab digging around in the parts bin? That’s where they got the V4 from (Sure, Ford didn’t own Saab at the time, but they still sourced the engine from somewhere else). It’s the same thing. They were going to use a Triumph V8 in the 70’s, but they went with turbocharging, obviously, but who knows what they would have done if the V8 in question wasn’t such a turd?

    You can’t really compare Porsche’s “think different” image to Saab’s “think different” image because Porsche is eternally profitable. Totally different argument.

    As far as the Volvos go, you can’t look to New England for what people really want, those people are weird.

    :p jk

    Frankly, anyone who loses respect for Saab because they put a V8 in one version of one of their cars is just plain narrow-minded. Think of it like the 9-7x: a neccessary evil that allows Saab to keep building their weird little executive cars.

  22. Jeff I have to say you need to research your history of Porsche. They very nearly went under mid 1990s – eary 2000s. Porsche is currently profitable because they now build a world class product VERY efficently.

    Porsche actually is very relevant to Saab. They decided to move away from their core product in the late 1970s and built a front engined RWD V8 coupe. This built was to meet the demands of the US market. It manged to alienate the existing buyers to the extent that Porsche had to keep building the 911. (sound familiar?) Porsche then lost sight of what they were about and nearly went under when they could not turn a profit due to being reliant on the US market and the exchange rate killed them.

    All that said I still dont oppose a V8 and I respect your POV I just think Saab can offer a much better alternative to beat a V8 in any area you can think of from smoothness to power to the sound. I mean if a V8 911 is just wrong why must Saab have one?

  23. I knew they almost went under, but I figured it was because they made the 911 look all bulbous. :p

    Are you talking about the 928? Didn’t that thing win Euro COTY one year? Odd that it was built to meet the demands of the US market, yet was apparently popular in Europe? There’s even rumors that Porsche is thinking of bringing the 928 back.

    Yeah, I don’t really know anything about Porsche’s history beyond a little bit of 911 lore, but I do know that they can pretty much do whatever they want now. Saab doesn’t have that luxury at this point.

  24. This is all crazy making. Just recently, Saab invoked the words “responsible performance” re: the 9-3 Turbo X. They are also self-aware of being a niche brand. Add this to their ethos, and I see a V8 as antithetical to Saab.

    The Aero X, while *only* a proof of concept, was powered by a 2.8L twin turbo V6 generating 400HP. Yeah, I know, on ethanol. Still, increase displacement half a liter or add DI and you’re doing the same thing on gasoline. Do both and you have a monster.

    It is my sincere hope we see a 9-5 with several sensible engine options, capped by a smart twin turbo 6 for the halo. (A 7 speed gearbox wouldn’t hurt, either.)

    Imagine if Saab came out with a killer of a 6 and claimed the Engine of the Year award out of BMW’s hands.

    Saab can’t afford a late arrival to yet another party with a product that is too similar. People appreciate clever technology, but more importantly Saab people appreciate it. It’s time to leapfrog.

  25. Saab does not need a V8. Heck, they don’t even need a V6. They only have one because GM (Holden) developed one. SAAB needs to make its cars lighter, without jeopardizing the safety and comfort of the car. They don’t need to make their engines bigger. They need an engine that consumes less, not more. That is what will make the car sell. The few of us petrolheads who buy the car for its sporty ride are far outnumbered by the ones who buy it for completely different reasons.

  26. Jeff:
    Interesting point, but what I meant by profitability was not “recouping R&D”, which, as you said, will be minimal, but rather, selling cars. I just can’t imagine people wanting to buy it. The same “but it’s practically free and people like it and it can’t hurt” argument was used on the 9-2X, and (though I love the little critter,) most people can agree that it did serious harm to the Saab brand. I can see a similar problem by offering a V8.
    It WOULD be cheap to do, and it would LOOK cheap to everyone who saw Saab do it. That could have wider-ranging effects than just unsold Saab 9-5 V8s. It could hurt the whole company.

  27. I’d like to point out real quick that, while I’m defending the idea of a V8 in the 9-5, I’d much rather see them go with a twin turbo DI 3.0l-or-so 6.

    With an 8-speed auto! 😀

    I like V8s, a lot, but they should probably leave those to Cadillac.

  28. MJL – I like the 9-2x too (yesterday I saw my third one ever, and the first one in two years!), but…A Saab made out of a Subaru is much much much less Saaby than a Saab with a V8. I think that’s apples to oranges, there.

    Meh, I think if Saab offers one, it shows that their market research shows that people might put Saab on their list if they offered one. It’s not like they’re just going to slap the V8 from the LaCrosse Super in the 9-5 and hope for the best.

    I don’t think it will look cheap, since any V8 that Saab decides to use will probably be Saabified first (turbos and tuning and whatnot). Saabifying an engine would have a lot more credibility than Saabifying a TrailBlazer.

    Also, I think a lot of people are assuming that V8 = giant, inefficient beast. If Saab decided to offer a V8 for the 9-5, you can be sure it would be a small, efficient V8, because that’s what Saab is about. If Saab can’t find/make a V8 that’s at least as efficent and eco-friendly as the 6 that would be the other choice, they won’t offer it.

  29. A Chevy small block pushrod LS4 or LS7 V8 in a Saab…. It just sounds silly. That would be like putting a Saab badge on a Trailblazer and – whoops that has already been done and you are not fooling anyone with that one GM.

    They might as well just build the next 9-5 on GM’s aging “W” car (Grand Prix, Impala etc.) platform and stuff the LS4 and ancient 4T65-E four speed trans in it. Saab owners could now smoke their front tires with the best of the muscle car crowd. And that is just what Saabs are all about – good old fashioned V8’s and straight-line acceleration.

  30. lol.. Good one, Tedjs.. Though, I’ve seen a few Viggens smoke their tires as well as my old mustang did.

    While I don’t see a V-8 in a Saab as a bad thing, as I am a V-8 fan and know that Saab will Saabify the engine… I’d much rather see a twin-turbo twin-scroll V6 (or I-6) with all our favorite acronyms. I highly doubt that we’ll see an I-6 in any GM vehicle… unless there is an engine out there that the General is hiding. I’d definitely relate the desired future 9-5 engine to that of the 911 Turbo… just on the other side of the car 😛

  31. Tedjs – See, that’s my whole point, no way is Saab going to use the LS4 or LS7 or LS9.5 or any other LS engine. That would be stupid. Those things are fun in a muscle car or a sports car but they make absolutely no sense in a Saab. Saab would use something less…primitive.

  32. Just found this from Swade
    http://www.trollhattansaab.net/archives/2006/03/v8_saab_900.html

    This shows that pre-GM Saab was thinking of a V8.
    I see this much as the same as those that said Saab shouldn’t make SUVs. Do you people really want Saab to survive? This is a simple supply and demand issue. Saab is in the business of sales. In the U.S. (Saab’s largest market) there is a demand for V8. They would be fools to not consider this. for the rest of the world that do not demand this they can just not offer it in those places.

  33. Maybe Saab should bring back the Straight 8 :p

    People seem to have been a lot more open to the idea of a Saab V8 in that TS article jc7222 linked to…I remember reading that article when I skimmed the archives when I found this site. I wonder why no one cried foul then…

  34. WTF, I know I typed that right. Let’s try again:

    Interesting side note:

    I was looking up information on current GM engines, and I found this:

    “Although over one million were sold between 1978 and 1985, the failure rate of GM’s [diesel] engines ruined the reputation of Diesel engines not just built by GM, but overall in the United States market.”

    Partly explains why GM is so reluctant to bring diesels to America.

  35. Since the comments went off-topic with the Porsche thing, who am I to steer things back on-course? 😉

    I was speaking with the head of Communications for Saab USA, Jan-Willem Vester. He was telling me that before Porsche finally decided to go against all the protests from the hardcore Porsche enthusiasts and introduced the Cayenne SUV it looked as if Porsche would be bought by VW. Then the Cayenne was a huge success and bankrolled development of the Cayman and the sedan they’re to come out with soon (forgot the name) and suddenly it looks like Porsche is going to buy VW!

    So basically, though the enthusiasts might think that Saab “sold out” by producing an SUV or the prospect of putting a V8 into the 9⁵ it may enable Saab to have the money to develop the cars (like the 9¹) the hardcore fans get excited about.

  36. Gripen – See, that’s what I’ve been saying the whole time, and there’s a real world example (it probably won’t be as extreme, though), straight from Porsche, which is very relevant to Saab :p

    Also, the sedan is the Panamera, and that’s what the rumored new 928 is supposedly going to be based off of.

  37. Ok. Porsche owns VW nad has done for a while. And folks, while we like V8s in Europe the main market is the US (CoTY does not mean a car is popular or will sell). My point is that Porsche started to base its selling strategy around satisfying customers who were not diehard fans. When the currency changed those customers went elsewhere. The difference with the Cayenne is that it is not vital for the survival of the company. They got the basics right and can pull the plug on the Cayenne anytime the market downturns.

    I have asked several times but no one seems to tell me what the increased sales would be. I say again I am not opposed to a V8 (I even supported the 9-4x) but I would like some one to tell me why it is vital for the survival of the company. Beyond everyone else has one.

  38. Porsche doesn’t own VW, they have a 30.9% stake. They, by a weird German law, had to offer to buy the company a few months ago, but they didn’t want to so they offered the lowest legal amount, and VW declined, obviously.

    I wouldn’t say it’s vital for the company’s survival, but I would say that it would put the 9-5 on par with its competitors and help Saab’s image with non-Saab enthusiasts. Just the fact that they offer one will draw people to the car who would never have looked at it before.

    As for hard numbers, I’ll say it again: Saab (and GM) would not do it unless they had hard evidence that offering a V8 would increase sales and profits. Rest assured that if they offer it, they’ve looked at the numbers long and hard. If they don’t offer it, well, there you go.

  39. Jon,

    It changes perception and it is a gr8 advertisement in the U.S. We generally take cars with 8 or more cylinders as REALLY serious cars… Is it true? No of course! But, perception is reality and can lead to increased sales.
    Saab had better do it right though cause now they will be continually thrown into competition articles against BMW/Audi/MB.

  40. @ eggsngrits: It’s true, the Porsche purists make us look like Buddhist monks on the tolerance scale. The 911 is going to have water cooling, let’s throw a hissy fit. The Boxster is going to be midengined, throw rocks at the dealerships. At least we’re not that bad! (Are we?)

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