GENEVA – The Saab brand’s future is being spelled out in its concept cars, just as Cadillac’s was, says General Motors Corp.’s top designer Ed Welburn, at the unveiling of the Saab 9-X BioHybrid on the eve of the international auto show here.
The 3-door model is about the size of an Audi A3.
“We’re going to enter every segment in the premium market “ says Jan Ake Jonsson, managing director of Saab Automobile.
While that doesn’t include a promise to make a shooting brake (station wagon), a segment that doesn’t exist today, Welburn says there are many reasons to consider the silhouette.
‘’There is a real aerodynamic advantage to the long roofline,” he says. “I love working in the wind tunnel. It’s the one area where designers can make a difference with fuel efficiency.”
For example, in addition to its long roof, the 9-X BioHybrid has a section of the top and a diffuser at the rear of the car that reduces wind friction at speeds of about 44 mph (70 km/h) and higher.
Mark Adams, vice president-design at GM Europe, says Saab concept cars, starting with the AeroX and the TurboX, are announcing the style of next-generation models now in development.
A thin light bar the width of the vehicle’s front and the similar thin red line at the rear will be Saab cues, he says. Where the AeroX has a glass canopy, the 9-X BioHybrid has wraparound-glass look that is enhanced by a thin A-pillar.
“We’re working on that,” Adams says, indicating a windshield that appears to flow through the sides of the car will be another styling cue of the future.
The 9-X BioHybrid concept has a short rear overhang and a long hood. The wheelbase is 106 ins. (270 cm), with the overall length of about 173 ins. (440 cm). That’s not small for Europe, but may indicate the size of a coming small Saab to compete against the A3 and its rivals. The concept is smaller than the 9-3.
“The 9-3 will be around for several more years, says Kjell Ake Ericksson, in charge of Saab’s future product development.
“But it’s inevitable that the market will move to smaller vehicles in all segments, including the premium ones Saab hopes to fill. Future replacements will certainly have to use less mass than their predecessors. Mass is critical to fuel consumption, especially in urban cycles.”
In terms of powertrains, Saab will stick with engines that run on E85. The brand was the European leader in flex-fuel engines last year, and Jonsson says Saab is the only European auto maker offering flex fuel in all of its vehicles.
Europe is demanding biofuels account for 10% of fuels used for vehicle transport by 2020.
Bob Lutz, GM vice chairman-global product development, has said GM sells more flex-fuel vehicles in the world than its competitors and that using E85 ethanol is the fastest way to reduce carbon-dioxide tailpipe emissions.
Oil-independent Sweden has been very supportive of ethanol use; granting tax breaks to flex-fuel vehicles. Nonetheless, says Eriksson, flex-fuel engines today are tuned to run best on gasoline. To make them run best on E85 would require more changes to current gasoline engines.
Still, with ethanol’s greater octane rating, the flex-fuel engine in Saab’s 9-4X BioPower concept introduced in Detroit in January makes 245 hp with gasoline and 300 hp with E85.
The 9X BioHybrid concept shown here reveals Saab’s intention to also turn to hybridization to accomplish lower CO2 emissions.
Eriksson says Saab is developing hybrids in conjunction with GM’s Warren (MI) Technical Center. However, Saab engineers are concentrating on using small engines in hybrid configuration, while the Detroiters are working with larger displacements.
The 9X BioHybrid uses a turbocharged 1.4L engine making 200 hp with a next-generation GM hybrid package, for projected CO2 emissions of 105 g/km using E85 fuel and 117 g/km with gasoline. The European Union has mandated 130 g/km (roughly 45 mpg) by 2012.