Pictures are out there, all over the place now. The world can see the basics of the Saab 9-3 replacement vehicle as designed by Jason Castriota. This isn’t just some guy’s idea of what a future Saab could look like – this is IT.
All images from the awesome gallery over at Auto Motor and Sport.
A personal, historical perspective…..
The most common questions I’ve been asked in the 15 months since Saab’s bankruptcy are “Did you see Jason’s new car? What did you think of it?” – the assumption, of course, is that I’d seen it while working at Saab. My response is that I hadn’t seen the car, so I had no opinion to offer.
That was 99% true.
I saw a rendering on Jason’s laptop in Los Angeles, in late 2010. That was a flat 2D rendering with no color or contour and it was difficult to form any sort of impression on that. In May or June 2011, when I was in Sweden, I saw another image as part of a corporate presentation. It was just a small icon-type image in the top quarter of a powerpoint presentation and I only noticed it just before the slides changed. It’s fair to say that I didn’t like the image that I saw at that time.
When I was working for Saab, I lived in a building next door to one of Saab’s design staff. He never showed me the car, but the things he told me (usually over some ribs at O’Leary’s) really encouraged me. I learned a long time ago to hold my reactions when seeing a new model for the first time and that practice, along with what I heard over a few dinners, gave me a lot of encouragement and hope for the future.
That’s one of the reasons I’m so glad that Jason Castriota has released these more complete renderings instead of just the basic images we saw early on. Having spent some time looking this car over from top to bottom, front to back, I think it looks absolutely sensational.
Here’s a couple of rules about new cars that you can take to the bank. Renderings never look as good as the real thing and the real thing never looks as good at a car show as it does out on the road. A car is a three dimensional object that’s made to be in motion, in natural surroundings. That’s the best way to see them. Saab’s PhoeniX concept never looked so good as when it was on the streets of New York.
I’m happy to have waited before passing comment on this design. The first images that surfaced a month or so ago included the early clay models and they weren’t stellar, it’s fair to say. Anyone who’s seen early clay models of other Saabs know that those models don’t always bear a true resemblance to the final product.
In this case, these new CGI renderings of what would best resemble the production-intent model look fantastic. It is, in my humble opinion, a respectful and progressive movement in Saab design. The car has presence. It looks solid. It’s as sporting as a five-door family car can be and it doesn’t look like it’s trying to be something that it’s not.
The reason I came to love Saab was because it offered the best combination of luxury, utility, safety, comfort and performance that I could find in an automobile. That reasoning was based on the Saabs of old – what Victor Muller first referred to as ‘Saab Saabs’. This car looks like it would have upheld that tradition, and I don’t think I could pay it any higher compliment than that.
We haven’t seen any interior concepts, so we have to work with an assumption that the interior would have been up to par. We know that Saab would have developed the IQon interactive/entertainment system for this car. It was quite advanced when it was first announced and while it wouldn’t have been the first of it’s kind at release, it would have placed Saab well and truly ahead of a lot of competitors.
Couple an innovative and classy interior (assumed) with this good-looking exterior and you’ve got the visual makings of a great package.
What would have set this car apart, however, is the combination of the visual/tactile package with the mechanical. Saab would have had both a new powertrain and a new drivetrain for this car – the BMW-sourced 1.6 turbo engine and the eXWD system being developed in conjunction with eAAM. This mechanical package was being tested at the time of Saab’s bankruptcy. I was in the building at eAAM when they were removing their components from the test cars. This wasn’t vaporware, it was the real deal, and whilst I didn’t get to drive it, I think this car would have offered mechanical advances to the Saab range that would be similar to what Saab achieved with the 99 Turbo.
This would have been a massive car for a re-born Saab. Have no doubt about it.
Let’s take a proper look, shall we? Click to enlarge.
The consequences are all theoretical, of course, but I’m going to take a stab at them for the hell of it.
The Swedish government were happy to throw Saab under the bus. OK, they were happy to see Saab trip over their own shoelaces and fall under the bus. To say that the Swedish government couldn’t have taken a longer-term view and do more to help Saab is to ignore things that governments do every day.
Saab were politically sensitive thanks to the focus placed on them by the Swedish press and the Swedish government were more than happy to take the politically popular line – do as little to help Saab as possible and let the company fall where it may. “We do not plan to get into the car business” they said. “We will not risk taxpayer’s money” they said. Well, we all know what happened.
The Swedish taxpayer’s money was at risk because of loan guarantees to the European Investment Bank. The only way the Swedish taxpayer would end up on the hook for that loan is if Saab failed, which it did. It’s not just the EIB loan, however. There’s also the double-whammy comprising welfare payments and the re-training of former Saab employees, as well as the loss of tax revenue from the wages they earned working for Saab as well as the business taxes the government might have earned from Saab. The Swedish taxpayer is now paying through the nose and they’ve lost one of the cornerstones of their manufacturing industry. And if you don’t think Volvo’s slowly but surely heading the same way, you’re not looking close enough.
If the Swedish government had found a way to provide Saab with meaningful assistance – and I don’t know what that way would have looked like but the governments of Germany and France seem to find a way – I think Saab would have had a chance. We might have made it. We might not. But I believe we had a strong enough brand and a strong enough range to do something special.
The Saab 9-5 launch didn’t go well and Saab knew it. There would have been changes in MY12 and MY13 to address this.
The Saab 9-4x didn’t even get a real chance but having spent some quality seat time in it, I think it would have gone gangbusters (in Saab terms) in the United States. Success there might have opened up other markets for that car, too.
And then you have this new Saab 9-3, which I think would have been a technological gamechanger for Saab. I think this new 9-3 (or 900 as I believe it would have been called) would have captured a LOT of imaginations. I know one guy in the press who got to drive an early eXWD prototype and spoke glowingly of it – and that was a prototype. Imagine the finished product.
Sadly, we’ll never know what might have happened. The Swedish government took their stance and now they’re dealing with a shrinking parts business as a result. GM took their stance and I look forward to watching Victor Muller’s legal case against them. I don’t know whether he has a realistic chance seeing it’s going to be fought in GM’s backyard, but seeing this car I can see why he’s so motivated.
Spyker, of course, turned out to have not enough accessible resources. Their main investor wasn’t allowed into the deal and GM blocked other potential investors, right or wrong.
We’re dealing with imperfect information and a sliding-doors scenario that’s 100% irrelevant in 2013. That’s sad, but that’s the way it is.
So what of NEVS and this Castriota design?
I’ve mentioned before that NEVS must have rocks in their head if they’re not chasing this design – and that was before I’d seen it.
The simple fact is this – this design was based on the architecture that NEVS will use to build their electric Saab. Using this design is by far the most efficient way to get that car to market quickly, both in terms of time and finance. The fact that the design looks good only makes the case more compelling.
Time will tell what they decide.
Congratulations, Jason, on a job well done. You created what I think would have been a truly memorable Saab.
It’s such a shame that we never got to see it or drive it.