GENEVA PREVIEW: Busy Saab readies new baby

By just-auto.com editorial team | 26 February 2008

Saab is entering the busiest phase in its history with a range of new products taking it into new areas. The first of these will be the 9-1 which will be unveiled on the eve of the Geneva motor show.

What's happened to make GM's Swedish division spring into such a frenzy of activity?

"The Saab-GM working relationship never quite clicked until about three years ago," said Saab GB marketing chief David Pugh.

"Now it has and over the next few years we're going to see the fruits of the work we've been doing over the past three years.

"We haven't lost our independence nor our identity and we have access to the biggest toolbox in the world," he added.

"The next three to four years will be the busiest in Saab's history."

This will be good news for Saab's 93 UK dealers.

"We have a really dedicated network and a loyal band of customers," said Pugh.

UK sales last year totalled 23,600 following a record 2006 (26,900).

"Remember that five years ago we were only selling 14,000 cars a year.

"In 2007 sales were down as we expected because we had no new product apart from the facelifted 9-3.

"If we can hold sales at between 23,000 and 24,000 for the next couple of years when the new product arrives, that would be great," said Pugh.

Now sales of the much-anticipated twin-turbo 1.9 litre diesel are beginning to kick in and later this year the Aero XWD arrives.

Jörgen Nylén, vehicle line director for Saab, said that the new products would start with a redesigned 9-5 then a crossover based on the 9-4X concept shown at Detroit in January.

"Saab is an integral part of GM and we now need to expand our product portfolio and strengthen the brand," he said.

The launch of the 9-7X SUV in the USA was part of that expansion but he admitted that Saab has been short of diesel engine models for Europe.

The new XWD - or cross-wheel drive - system going into the 9-3 this year "is the most advanced all-wheel drive system in the car industry today," he said.

It's so good that the team at Saab who developed it have been put in charge of GM's four-wheel drive systems for transverse-engined cars globally, said Annika Lunde, product manager for the 9-3 and 9-5.

"The four-wheel drive system is something Saab had done its own way," she said. "It's permanent 4WD, not an on-demand system; the torque can be split by between 100% and 0% between the front and rear wheels and also from side to side on the rear wheels which is why we call it cross-wheel drive."

This applies to models with the optional rear wheel limited slip differential which will initially be available on the limited edition Turbo X model, 500 of which will be available in the UK from 2,000 sold globally. Prices start from GBP32,495.

The full system will then be seen from September this year on the 9-3 Aero Saloon and SportWagon models.