Saab is adding a flexible fuel version of the Saab 9-3 to its line-up, allowing it to sell a complete range of alternative-fuel cars.

According to the automaker, the 1.8t BioPower engine emits 50-70% less carbon dioxide (CO2) than its 1.8t petrol engine equivalent, yet produces 17% more maximum power and 10% more torque when running on bioethanol E85.

"The success of the 9-5 BioPower has encouraged us to extend this concept to the 9-3 range," said Saab Automobile's managing director. "This means we can now offer BioPower variants throughout our core product line-up."

In a statement Saab said that it is already the biggest-seller of flex-fuel cars in Europe and that the launch of 9-3 BioPower at the Geneva motor show next week promises to extend the automaker's leadership in this segment.

The 9-3 BioPower models will be available with manual or automatic transmissions, and will go on sale immediately effect in the right-hand-drive UK and Ireland and left-hand-drive Nordic 'other markets'. Sales in Europe will start later this year.

GM has actively promoted E85 in the US, and is attempting to follow suit in Europe, through the Saab brand initially. This is mainly because flexible fuel technology has taken off in Sweden, with Saab selling over 10,000 9-5 BioPowers in 2006.

A major barrier to the wider use of E85 is the refuelling infrastructure. According to Terry Cullum, GM's director of corporate responsibility and environment & energy, GM has attempted to overcome this in the US by dealing with non-conventional fuel providers such as food retailers.

There are now 2m GM vehicles in use in the US that can run on E85.

Sue Brown