Next 9-3 to remain on current platform
For the most part, the new Saab will be sticking to the short-term game plan laid out at GM. That includes the about-to-go-on-sale 9-5 and the rather stylish CombiCoupe derived from it, as well as next year's 9-4X -- basically a Mexican-built Cadillac SRX derivative powered by Saab's 2.8-liter turbo V-6 (which also powers the uplevel SRX).
Already by the 2012 9-3, though, the trolls are looking to strike out on their own. Rather than move to the next generation, "Epsilon II" platform that underpins the Buick LaCrosse and Regal, the new 9-3, known internally as project Phoenix, will stick with its current, mostly Saab-developed underpinnings. Why? Because that's the fastest, cheapest and most efficient way to reposition the bread-and-butter product.
"It's not a carryover vehicle," emphasizes Victor Muller. "It does look like a new car, and there will be substantial engineering upgrades in all departments." In addition to the five-door hatch, the wagon and the cabriolet, Saab is said to be looking at a sleek, pillarless 9-3 coupe.
Saab 92 and the search for a new partner
Saab hopes its new GM-based products and a restocked dealer network will quickly recover from the doldrums of 2009, when the brand's seemingly imminent death and a production halt sent its global sales spiraling down by some 60 percent. But to get the Trollhattan plant running at full capacity and even add to its workforce, as management expects, Saab needs a fourth product. That critical offering, codenamed 92 after its iconic predecessor from the 1960s, could push Saab's total output to 150,000 or even 175,000 units, Muller claims. But surely Saab does not have the money to develop a brand-new low-volume offering?
"Exactly right," quips the boss. "That's why sharing technology is the way forward for us. The plan is to team up with a European player and to buy know-how as well as componentry."
Rumor has it that Saab may collaborate with BMW-Mini, but so far there is no official confirmation. According to the sketches Muller has loaded onto his iPhone, there will only be one body style, a low-drag torpedo shaped hatchback that looks very modern while incorporating some classic aircraft-style overtones. Predictably, turbocharged engines feature prominently in the future project program. Expect low- and high-pressure turbos, fours and sixes, gas and diesel versions, cylinder deactivation and freewheeling (coasting), plus additional biopower editions. In terms of hybrids, Saab seems to prefer an electric plug-in range extender that can briefly boost the output and silently run on its own for about five miles.