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Future models - Saab - 9-5

Saab’s double-or-nothing bet

Scando SUV: Saab's 9-7X is based on the Chevrolet Trailblazer.

Following the 9-3 facelift is an all-new 9-5 and Saab-first SUV and A3 rivals

25 Jun 2007

A LONG-AWAITED replacement for the ageing 9-5 flagship and a global contender in the vital SUV market are next on the agenda for Saab, which has reduced its global sales target by at least 80,000 vehicles but still hopes to be profitable by the end of the decade.

"You can stretch your ambitions for a premium brand too far. Therefore, we have much reduced our volume ambitions, to 160,000 to 170,000," the president of General Motors Europe and chairman of Saab, Carl-Peter Forster, told Automotive News Europe last week.

Saab sold 133,167 cars worldwide last year and, under Mr Forster’s predecessor Peter Augustsson, had previously hoped to sell up to 250,000 vehicles annually.

Launched last week in Sweden, the MY08 version of the Scandinavian car-maker’s staple model, the 9-3, is seen as Saab’s turnaround vehicle and expands consumer choice via all-wheel drive, sports turbo-diesel and BioPower ethanol fuel availability.

"Our priority is the new 9-5 and crossover vehicle," said Saab global managing director Jan-Åke Jonsson on the eve of the facelifted 9-3 release in Sweden.

Importantly, Mr Jonsson promises that all future Saabs sold globally will have bespoke bodies and engineering, referring to the Subaru Impreza II-based 9-2X that the company attempted to sell in the USA.

"And we will never do a vehicle like the 9-2X again. That was a mistake," he said bluntly.

The MkII 9-5, due out next year, will be based on a completely revamped version of the current European Vectra’s platform, which will also form the basis of the fourth-generation Opel Vectra.

Reportedly, this ‘Epsilon II’ architecture is modular in design, so expect a longer and wider wheelbase to accompany a sophisticated multi-link rear suspension set-up.

Speculation also points to air springs, sophisticated electronic software controlling navigation, media, entertainment and safety items, V6 turbo-diesel power and a ramping up of BioPower options across the range.

The MY08 9-3’s XWD Cross-Wheel Drive hardware, which was actually designed to be launched in the new 9-5 first before Saab decided to try it on the current 9-3 – will form the backbone of the next 9-5’s dynamic challenge to rivals such as the BMW 5 Series and Audi A6.

Even Saab’s senior management concede that the original 9-5 – launched globally in 1997 – is well past its use-by date.

Next up will be Saab’s first bespoke Sport Utility Vehicle.

Known internally as a crossover, the 9-4X will reportedly be spun off a combination of the General Motors’ next 9-3/9-5 ‘Epsilon II’ and ‘Theta Premium’ SUV platform.

38 center imageLeft: 9-2X and 9-3 MY08 Sport sedan (below).

The latter is said to use elements of the ‘regular’ Theta SUV architecture that underpins a variety of Pontiac (Torrent), Saturn (Vue), Chevrolet (Equinox), Suzuki (XL7) and GM-DAT (Holden Captiva) models, and may employ a variation of the XWD drivetrain for its Saab application.

Mr Jonsson reveals that the 9-4X will possess SUV signature design cues, extra ground clearance, elevated ride height and sizing somewhere between the current BMW X3 and X5.

Due to be unveiled before the middle of next year, the 9-4X will be paired with a Cadillac version, to be known as the BLX.

Both will be built at Saab’s Trollhatten plant in Sweden, where the 9-3, 9-5 and 9-3-based Cadillac BLS are currently built. However, there is speculation both the 9-3 and 9-5 will be built exclusively at GM Opel's Russelsheim plant in Germany, leaving the Swedes to produce the all-new 9-1 compact hatch.

Perhaps to be dubbed ‘Smartback’, the 9-1 is also in development to underpin Saab’s tilt at the growing premium small-car segment.

This time it is the turn of the next-generation Opel Astra to donate its ‘Delta’ platform – an ironic turn, as Saab sold a rebadged version of the 1979 Lancia Delta in the 1980s. Called the ‘600’ it was also one of Mr Jonsson’s first cars.

The 9-1 may be the first of any GM small car to offer the new small-car underpinnings. As well as front-wheel drive, we understand the baby Saab will utilise a less expensive and complicated version of the revised 9-3's fourth-generation Haldex XWD running gear.

Engine choices will probably include a version of Opel’s recently released 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo-charged petrol engine (1.6t), a detuned 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol unit (1.8t), a more powerful version dubbed 2.0t and a 1.9-litre turbo-diesel unit.

Saab will also offer the inevitable 9-1 BioPower versions of the smaller petrol engines.

The 9-1 will be aimed at the Volvo C30, Audi A3 and BMW 1 Series, and will be available initially as a three-door hatchback.

We have learned that it will possess a few of the styling cues that helped make models such as the 1970s 99 and 900 of the 1980s covetable.

Expect a wraparound windscreen, wide stance and a sporty fastback silhouette.

The third-generation 9-3 should follow in 2010, with four-door sedan and wagon, as well as two-door convertible, derivatives to follow.

However, Saab is also believed to be considering a two-door coupe/hatchback 9-3, in the spirit of the first 900, to tackle the new Audi A5, Mercedes-Benz CLK and BMW 3 Series Coupe.

Such a vehicle would be the company’s image-maker, and of course will offer the XWD hardware should it get the green light.

One Saab insider admitted that a large number of projects were cancelled during the last decade, as General Motors delayed action on the new-model front.

However, since Mr Jonsson took over the leadership in early 2005, Saab has been set on a determined course, with every model at least offering some sort of AWD option. Why? "Because AWD is the price of entry in the premium segment," says Mr Jonsson.

What's coming from Saab:
9-3 MY08 November 2007
9-3 XWD March 2008
9-5 MkII Late 2008/early 2009
9-4X Mid/late 2009
9-1 Late 2009/early 2010
9-3 MkIII Mid/late 2010
9-3 Coupe 2011

Read more:

First drive: All paws for effect as Saab evolves 9-3

First look: BioPower hits Saab's 9-3

Saab 9-5: Saab's counter punch

First drive: Swedish oilers aim to lure conquest sales

Saab offers ‘flex-fuel’ car for Australia

First drive: Saab's overhauled 9-5 goes gothic!

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