Saab is rumoured to be returning to rallying after a long hiatus. The new owners of Saab have reportedly been in negotiations with the organising body behind the World Rally Championship and hope to sign a deal to compete with their upcoming 9-1 small car.
After the mass departure of many of the main players a few years ago, the WRC looked down and out. However, the 2012 season is shaping up to be a return to form.
CAR understands that a statement about the viability of the 9-1 small car project is expected this autumn. Saab is speaking to potential partners, as diverse as BMW (imagine a Mini-based 9-1!) and Chinese car makers. Newly independent Saab cannot go it alone, and teaming up with an ally will make or break this project.
The resurgence of WRC
With Mini, Toyota, Volkswagen and now Saab looking to re-enter the global rallying series, the 2012 field looks certain to offer fans a little more than the sight of just the odd Focus and C4 blasting through forests and fields.
Autosport magazine reports Saab-Spyker CEO Victor Muller has met high-ranking officials from the WRC. It quotes sources at the WRC claiming Saab will make a partial entry into the 2012 season, with full entry commencing in 2013.
An insider told Autosport: ‘The initial meeting has happened and there’s a huge amount of enthusiasm from all concerned. From what we understand, Saab is looking at the World Rally Championship as the perfect platform to launch a new product and to rebuild the brand.'
Saab 9-1: the planned Saab rally car
It is rumoured that Saab intends to use the new smaller 9-1 (né 9-2) when it finally approves the business plan. It hopes to tap into the Swedes' long and illustrious association with rallying to boost its popularity among fans old and new.
The post-war era of rallying is what Saab is most famous for, with the 92 and 93 variants notching up multiple victories. Saab has employed some of the most enduring names in the field with Stig Blomqvist and Per Eklund. The Saab rallying legacy continued through the '60s and '70s until it quit in 1980.
With an ever growing list of competitors lodging interest, WRC promoter Simon Long told Autosport: 'We could have four, possibly five manufacturers competing in the WRC in 2012. People are realising that they need to advertise their way out of the tough times we’ve been through.'
Thanks, in part, to the WRC having a massive global fan base as well as the obvious similarities between race and road spec cars, it would seem manufactures are beginning to realise the potential to use the WRC as an advertising tool as well as launch bed for new models. The 2012 race series is stacking up to be a rather interesting season.