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Saab's Mini rivalling 9-2 scooped by CAR

By Tim Pollard (artist's impressions by Motor Forecast/R Varicak)

Spy shots

09 April 2010 06:00

At last month's Geneva motor show, new Saab owner, Spyker CEO Victor Muller, told CAR of his desire to build a new Saab 9-2. Today we publish two new artist's impressions revealing Saab's Mini rival and a dossier on the latest news of the 9-2 project.

Muller has shown selected journalists, including CAR's Gavin Green, his own hand-drawn sketch of the 9-2 he envisages – and these are our interpretation of those drawings. Our CGIs depict a modern take on Saab design, mixing some cues from the past but a healthy dose of modern attitude.

So when is the new Saab 9-2 coming?

Here's the rub. At present, the 9-2 is a twinkle in the eyes of Muller and Saab Automobile chief exec Jan Äke Jonsson. It's not in the current product plan which stretches to 2016, but Muller said there was a real will to make the business case stack up. It would be 'a small car, a quirky car, a Saab in the truest sense of the word.'

Saab's Mini, in other words. It 'would be in the A-segment, slightly north of the Mini,' said Muller. Let's be very clear about this: I don't think a Saab 9-2 would compete with the Mini. It will be as iconic a design as the Mini though... A new Saab 9-2 would not be retro – it would be a massive mistake to make it into a retro car. But to have all the Saab DNA in it and to be a very modern Saab – that would be our wish.'

What's stopping them from building the 9-2?

The small matter of making Saab profitable again. The new management has a plan in place to achieve this through sales of the new 9-5 arriving this summer, the 9-4X coming in 2011 and the new 9-3 in 2012. Those three product lines are keeping newly independent Saab, which built just 39,000 cars in 2009, quite busy enough. It just doesn't have the funds to commit to a 9-2 as well.

But if the business goes according to plan, expect to see the 9-2 approved for production. That's when Saab would need a technology partner to make this cheeky, small hatch a reality. The Swedes are talking to numerous groups on partnerships; likely suitors would include GM (a future Vauxhall Corsa matrix), Ford (think Ka-500 co-opeartion) and maybe even emerging Chinese partners looking to tap into Saab's experience in turbocharging, green fuel tech and western production standards.

Muller said: 'The choice of a tech partner is imperative if we come to do a Saab 9-2. There are so many things that need to happen before you have a proper design, a clay model, to an engineered product to a car in production.'

The 9-2 would most likely be a small front-wheel drive hatch with limited bodystyles and a slew of downsized petrol and diesel engines. Saab's entire range is turbocharged, so expect very low-capacity motors to help cut CO2 and serve up performance required for a Saab; the Swedes are also developing turbo petrol-electric hybrid powertrains.

Best-case scenario. When could we see the new Saab 9-2?

The current business plan runs to 2016-2017, and the 9-2 sadly ain't in it. If revenues recover and Saab sales head far north of 100,000 per year, then it could be approved with Muller eyeing 9-2 sales of between 30,000-50,000 annually. The breakeven point for the newly independent Saab business will be around 80,000 units by 2012.

'It's wonderful to talk to you about the 9-2, but other than this drawing it's just a great plan,' admits Muller. 'We have a business plan with three models which will bring the company into profitability.'

Here's hoping. You somehow just know that a Saab Saab 9-2 will be hugely more exciting than a GM-era Saab 9-2.